Human error being what it is, retail casinos are always at risk of leaving money on the table, literally and figuratively. According to some estimates, preventable losses for the industry could be as high as $12 billion annually.
Table games are particularly problematic due to the need for human dealers and pit bosses. Casino workers have to juggle multiple responsibilities, which include identifying cheaters, ensuring correct payouts, and rating play.
For the pit bosses, the job is even more challenging. They need to handle questions from dealers and players and refill chip trays, all while relying on guesstimation to track how long players stay at the tables and how much they spend.
Montreal-based HookMotion believes automated data collection is the magic bullet to reduce human errors. It says its solutions can help brick-and-mortar casinos optimize their table games. It also has products to assist with live dealer games for online casinos.
Those live dealer games are one way online casinos are becoming more like their brick-and-mortar counterparts. HookMotion’s products are also about convergence, but coming at things from the other angle, providing retail casino operators with data that rivals what’s possible with online play.
What is HookMotion?
HookMotion traces its origins to an online conversation between its founders and the former VP of Surveillance at Sands China.
Engineer Dominic Morin-Proulx and his partners Matthieu Clas and Samy Zarour spoke to William F. Bonar, a 35-year veteran, about table games, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI). They were interested in the potential of using AI to analyze events on a baccarat table. That idea led the trio to found HookMotion in 2019.
These days, Clas serves as CEO and Zrour as CTO. Their company’s flagship product is TableMotion Plus, which uses computer vision software to monitor table games. For the time being, their focus is on the two most popular card-based table games in the US and Asia: blackjack and baccarat.
Clas explains that HookMotion’s software tracks and logs each event during the course of a table game. These events include the placing of bets, dealing of cards, win/loss determinations, and payouts. TableMotion logs that game summary on the HookMotion server.
Meanwhile, HookMotion provides the casino with tools to analyze that data to spot cheating and identify other potential leaks like incorrect payouts by the dealer.
Looking Beyond Loss Prevention
The company’s focus has since expanded beyond that core functionality. It now offers features to help rate players, track game performance data, and optimize the casino floor.
TableMotion’s latest iteration gathers and analyzes a range of table game data. It tracks dealer performance, side bets and player behavior. Casinos can use this information to identify the following:
- When to open or close tables
- When to adjust table limits
- High-value players to target with promotions
Beyond compiling this data in real-time, HookMotion also touts the low-overhead nature of its solutions. Unlike hardware-heavy legacy systems, deployment of TableMotion Plus requires only a company-installed server and a feed from an existing surveillance system. Proper utilization of that data could help casinos find their way out of that “dark corner.”
For all of its promise, HookMotion is still in its infancy as a company. For now, it has only rolled out pilot projects in Canada, the US, Mexico and Russia. In the meantime, US casinos have been eagerly embracing AI and are unlikely to let go.
The terrestrial casino space certainly figures prominently into HookMotion’s ambitions. However, the online gaming world is full of growth and innovation. Live dealer games represent another significant opportunity for the company.
Live dealer games aim to provide online players with an immersive retail-like experience in the comfort of their homes. Studios like Evolution replace the usual digital randomization with actual human dealers on a live stream. According to some estimates, live dealer games may represent as much as 30% of the current iGaming market.
That success has brought new competitors to the US space, with Playtech up and running and Light & Wonder coming soon.
Cheating by players is much less of a risk in such a setting. However, AI can still provide value to operators by observing players’ behavioral patterns.
All in all, it seems that the difference between live and online play is growing smaller by the day.
The Risk of Over-Optimization
There is, of course, a risk associated with using an AI-driven approach to optimizing gaming revenue. Machines only care about numbers and can’t consider anything other than the data they’re fed.
From an ethical perspective, it bears asking: At what point does optimizing revenue-per-player with AI cross the line into driving addiction? Conversely, can AI help with responsible gambling? The latter is a question some other companies are currently working on.
More granular data on gamblers’ habits and preferences provide the opportunity to tempt players with customized promotions. The fear is that this optimized marketing could have human and regulatory consequences.
The casino industry, and online gaming in particular, are in an unending state of evolution. New, innovative technology is central to that evolution. The solutions offered by companies like HookMotion, once fully developed and widely deployed, promise another step forward in terms of player experience and efficiency for casino operators.
However, there are still a lot of ways that could play out, both good and bad. The course of progress is rarely a straight line, and there are plenty of pitfalls along the way.