In table games, little procedures can cost a lot. Getting just one additional round per hour can lead to an increase in annual revenue of 3% or more. Efforts to speed up games usually focus on the dealers themselves. These front line employees are instructed to attract players to the game, make the game fun, and to deal as fast and accurately as they can. Game pace audits help casinos rank dealing speeds so that the fastest dealers can be placed on the highest value games. Game pace is undeniably the single most important factor in maximizing table revenue. It is therefore worthwhile to ask if there are unnecessary game protection procedures in place that subvert game pace. The first place to look is the greatest time-hog itself, the shuffle.

Recently while I was visiting a property, I observed the procedure the dealer used at the end of the round on a game that used a single-deck automatic shuffler. After the dealer collected all the cards from the table and the discard tray, the dealer completed both a turn and a riffle before placing the deck into the shuffler. As I watched, it became apparent that the time spent on those two moves, the turn and the riffle, created a significant drag on the game’s pace. Of those elements, “turn” and “riffle,” one is essential and the other is a waste of time.

The turn is an essential part of game protection. It should be including in every shuffle procedure where the players can hold their own cards. The turn protects games from an edge sorting vulnerability (see this blog post and this blog post). Edge sorting focuses on natural irregularities cards may have in their edges that can allow advantage players to rotate the cards to allow later identification. Sorting cards by their edges is an advanced move that is much harder to detect than card counting. By breaking the deck in half and rotating one of the halves, any sorting that advantage players may have done will be thwarted.

However, including a riffle before putting the deck into the shuffler should be re-considered. The algorithms that modern shufflers use involve state-of-the-art random number generators. The shuffles these machines produce are no more predictable than the outcome of the next pull of a slot machine.  There is no human-based shuffle procedure that can compete with the level of randomness these machines produce. The question for the casino is one of trust. Either they believe the shufflers are random or they don’t. If a casino believes these shufflers are not random and need extra assistance, then that casino should not have the shufflers at all. If the casinos believe these shufflers are random, then the riffle is time spent without value.

The example of a slot machine is important here to give a sense for how much the riffle costs. Imagine if a casino didn’t trust the random number generator used in its stepper slots (the ones that still have physical reels). This hyper-vigilant casino decided that the reels should be manually spun by a dedicated employee before the slot’s chip determined the stopping points for the next spin. Not only would this slow down the game pace to an unacceptable level, but the cost of an employee whose sole function was to manually spin the reels would be a burden no sane manager would bear. But this is exactly what is going on when the cards are manually riffled before they are put into the shuffler. An employee is hired to perform an unnecessary task whose only result is to slow down the game.

I know of just one argument in favor of the riffle: it gives the appearance of the human element involved in the shuffling procedure. There are players who simply don’t trust automatic shufflers. They believe the machines are set up to configure the cards in a certain way to cheat the players. Some even believe there is a special button on the shuffler that can be pressed to make them lose. Ultimately the casino must gauge if enough of its players have this view to change the time/motion equation in favor of the conspiracy/cheating equation. My view is that these players will always think the casino cheats, no matter what actions the casino takes to look fair. Ultimately, there will be no satisfaction for these players.

It’s easy to analyze the bottom-line effect of the riffle. At the casino I observed, the riffle took approximately 4 seconds to complete. If a table is active for 16 hours per day, at 40 rounds per hour, then about 4 x 16 x 40 = 2560 seconds will be spent on these riffles. This translates to losing over 28 rounds per 16 hour day. If the house edge on the game is 3% and there is an average of $50 wagered across the table per round, then this riffle costs about $42 per day in profit. Multiply that by the total number of tables (6) over the course of a year, and the cost of this unnecessary riffle is about $92,000 per year to the casino.

In any casino table game, after a round is completed, the goal of yield optimization is to move towards the next round as quickly and efficiently as possible. Procedures that slow down the game must be carefully assessed. One reason to insert a game-slowing procedure is on behalf of game protection. But the procedures identified above do nothing to protect the game. Automatic shufflers do not need a human assist any more than a slot machine does. Yield management is about paying attention to the little things.

Received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Arizona in 1983. Eliot has been a Professor of both Mathematics and Computer Science. Eliot retired from academia in 2009. Eliot Jacobson