Cool Xmas present (next year?)

I don’t know anyone that hosts a poker game that wouldn’t think this is cool:

Shuffle Tech to Sell Automatic Shufflers to Consumers for $480, the catch is it isn’t available until Jan ’08…buzz kill.

When Hiro Toyama was asked by a friend to build a poker table with an automatic shuffler built in, just like casinos have, he went straight to work. Upon realizing that an automatic shuffler would set him back more than $16,000, he decided to build one himself for much less. It has taken him two years — probably a bit longer than his friend had anticipated — but Toyama is about to roll out a line of inexpensive automatic shufflers meant for the homegame enthusiast.

“We really put our focus on homegame players, simply because we wanted more — I wanted more,” Toyama said. “And when they said $16,000 … .”

Shuffle Tech, the company that Toyama founded to produce the line of personal shufflers, plans to sell them for $479.99 beginning in late January 2008. The initial production will consist of 500 units, distributed mainly via its website (ShuffleTech.com) and through high-end casino supply stores. The shufflers will go into full mass-production in March.

The Shuffle Tech automatic shuffler Shuffle Tech currently has a prototype of the product, which was personally demonstrated to Card Player. The shuffler is 11 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 6 inches high, and weighs 6 pounds. It will be able to run off of either batteries or via a wall outlet. It has a clear top so that players can see the device in action. And that action doesn’t last very long, at all. The shuffler currently takes 35 seconds for a casino dealer’s combination and 60 seconds for a full randomization (seven riffles with splits and cuts), and those times will likely only get shorter as the product reaches its final stages.

The prototype brought to Card Player was quite loud, but Shuffle Tech CEO Rick Schultz said that the final product will include a plethora of sound-deadening materials, including ABS plastic and sound-proofing padding, of which the prototype had none.

Shuffle Tech will also offer a flush-mounting kit for the shuffler, meant to embed the shuffler into a poker table, just like the way shufflers are mounted in casino tables. The kit will cost an extra $100. Schultz said that while it is the stance of the company to recommend that a professional carpenter install the device into your table to prevent damage, it is not actually a very difficult process.

“To put it into perspective, I’m not particularly handy, and I can install it,” Shultz said. “The flush-mounting kit would come with a template, which defines where you need to drill your corner holes and where you cut with your jigsaw. If you do it properly, there’s no reason a [layman] can’t get it right. And there will be a cover-plate, so you won’t see the exact cut.”

When asked to estimate how well the shufflers would do in the marketplace, Schwartz said that there was no easy way to predict that.

“There’s not really a good benchmark for us to use, because this is a new product,” he said. “There are not existing shufflers on the market. The closest proxy for this would be the $120 riffling machines, and those sell something like 40,000 to 50,000 units a year. It’s hard to say that that’s a good proxy, though, because that’s not really doing the same thing. That’s a riffler, not an automatic shuffler.”

Shultz was, however, convinced of the demand for his company’s product.

“Most consumers, even serious poker players, aren’t willing to spend $16,000 for a new [Deck Mate shuffling unit] made by Shuffle Master,” he said. “And the only other alternatives … cost $3,000 or more through various resellers. At $480, this is the first viable fully automatic shuffler for home games and tournaments.”

Schultz said that the shuffler’s initial $479.99 price tag is speculatively low, but is unlikely to change.

“We need to get our production up just to be able to sustain profitably at $480,” he said. “We’re definitely taking a dive in the first place, because to go out at $600 to $800 would be more profitable in the very short term, but it might sabotage our long-term plan. We’re going out with the right product at the right price. We believe in it based on everything that we’ve seen.”

Plans are also in the works for upgraded models with slimmer dimensions and weights and/or increased gadgetry, with things like timers and readouts for blinds schedules embedded in the device itself.

Schultz says that, while “a robust version of our machine could very well service casinos,” Shuffle Tech is not competing with Shuffle Master.

“Shuffle Master … does very well in the casino environment,” he said. “They’re not a consumer product company. The consumer market is vast, and that’s where we’re focused. The only similarity between us and Shuffle Master is the fact that we make shufflers, but the products are targeted toward entirely different users.”

The shufflers come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a limited one-year warranty. Those interested in the product can go to Shuffle Tech’s website to sign up to be informed when the shuffler is available for purchase. All those who sign up for notification will receive a 10 percent “early bird” discount on the purchase.

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