Gaming Partners International (GPI) literally makes “the money the world plays with,” and it’s a motto the company takes very seriously. As the world’s top casino currency manufacturer and the casino industry leader in RFID technology, GPI is dedicated to quality, security, safety and customer service—and all at a competitive price. Everything GPI does is for the customer, from R&D to manufacturing to sales to installations. It’s your one-stop shop for any and all things table games.
Formed in 2002, GPI, as we know it today, is a relatively young company. But the companies that put the “P” in GPI have been around for much longer. In 1925, chipmaker Bourgogne et Grasset (B&G) was started in France, and purchased by GPI CEO Gerard Charlier’s father-in-law, Daniel Senard in 1946. Senard, who expanded the company’s reach worldwide, also foresaw casino chips with microchips embedded in them. Charlier then co-purchased B&G through an LBO in 1994. In 1997, François Caretté, owner of Holding Wilson, bought B&G with the understanding that Charlier would continue to manage it. Fast forward to 2000, when B&G acquired Bud Jones (known for gaming chips, dice and tables), then 2002, when the company merged with Paulson (popular for gaming tables, clay chips, dice, cards and layouts), and you have what is now known as Gaming Partners International Corporation, with Holding Wilson owning more than 50 percent of its shares. Today, the company maintains the B&G, Bud Jones and Paulson brands within the scope of GPI.
Emmanuel Gelinotte, GPI’s RFID technology product development manager, believes that changing the name of the group to Gaming Partners International in 2004 emphasized that its products cover all areas of the gaming floor. “Since 2004, the group has worked under the same umbrella leveraging the synergies of the different products while offering the best service possible to our customers,” he said. “The most important thing is the three companies had complementary products and expertise.”
But the task of combining these three large, distinct and historically competitive companies into a single global powerhouse was certainly not without its challenges. In fact, they may have been some of GPI’s toughest to date. However, Justin Woodard, sales manager for GPI North America, says that GPI was ultimately able to channel those challenges to the company’s advantage. “We have all managed to come together to create a new innovative culture,” he said. “I think we’re all working very well together to promote and increase sales across the spectrum of the three different brands we offer.”
With facilities in multiple countries, including its headquarters in Las Vegas, offices in Atlantic City, Gulfport, Miss., and Beaune, France, and manufacturing facilities in the U.S., France and Mexico, GPI also had to overcome language and cultural barriers, product overlap and integration issues. Gregory Gronau, executive vice president and COO—and soon to be CEO—feels the company is stronger because of it. “Paulson is still the dominant chip used in the U.S. market,” he said. “Bud Jones has the advantage of being both a U.S. and international brand. And of course B&G has always been known as the international leader. This means no matter what size casino you have or what kind of issue you face, we can supply a whole range of products and solutions to meet your needs in cards, dice, layouts, furniture, casino currency and RFID applications.”
Despite the company’s traction in table games products, GPI’s best-known and best-selling products are still its chips. And after decades spent perfecting the product, it’s no surprise they’re the No. 1 casino gaming chip manufacturer in the world. With so many years of experience, the GPI brands are known for credibility and reliability, and according to Christophe Leparoux, international sales and marketing manager, that’s what sets the company apart. “People know that when they order from us, they will get their chips on time, along with the service they know and trust,” Leparoux said. “I think we provide more than just chips—we also provide the security features customers expect and the comprehensive and secure service that goes along with it.”
Commitment to Security
Security is definitely a common denominator in all of GPI’s products. “We work with each customer to individually custom design multiple levels of security for them, depending on the value of the chip and the market,” Gronau said. GPI also works with its clients to develop proprietary security features, either proprietary to the casino or proprietary to GPI.
With this range of security and design features, and with three different currency product lines, GPI provides its customers with the widest range of options available. “Part of the company’s policy is having very strong security procedures in place that are proven for many years,” Gelinotte explained. “In a sense, we manufacture money, which can sometimes be in very high denominations. That means we need to have an extremely secure manufacturing process that ensures compliance with gaming boards, customers or special services audits at any time. To do this, we track everything.”
That means lots of testing, both internally in GPI labs and in conjunction with private labs to ensure the best quality and most secure product. “We have a very special process starting from project definition and ending with what we call the AMM—Authorization to Manufacture and Market, as it is done in the pharmaceutical industry—which is a group commitment and formalization of the product rollout,” Gelinotte said. “When top management signs an AMM, it means that all the development steps have been achieved successfully.”
With such high quality control, it’s no wonder GPI’s products are in high demand. “We produced our first chips for Macau back in 1967, and we’ve been supplying the market ever since,” said Leparoux. “We have 90 percent market share in chip supplies in Asia. Basically, we work everywhere worldwide. We’re not only in Macau, but also the rest of Asia, Europe, Australia, South Africa, South America and Central America.”
Not only does GPI manufacture internationally acclaimed secure chips, but it also produces, and is the industry leader in RFID. “RFID is very important for GPI,” Gelinotte explained. “Bourgogne et Grasset started working with this technology in 1993. At that time, the focus was on security. Also at that time, the technology was very expensive and not really mature, which was quite difficult for the company.”
Integration of RFID in plaques, jetons and chips is difficult. To make an RFID plaque, jeton, or gaming chip, it still has to be a regular plaque or a chip with the same look, feel, weight, etc., that dealers and players are used to. The product has to keep its original features and specifications. The company created a strong R&D program for these new manufacturing processes, and its first order of RFID chips was sold to the Casino Regina in Sask., Canada, in 1996. GPI soon became the market leader in RFID chips and products such as readers for data collection, systems to process the data, which integrate with sophisticated software programs promoted by GPI’s partners for table management.
GPI’s pioneering work with RFID has paid off big. The company received the 2009 International Gaming Award for Best Technology Manufacturer for its RFID Table Top Authenticator. “That was very important to us, and it confirmed that GPI was an expert in the security RFID offered,” Gelinotte said.
According to Leparoux, GPI has already sold more than12 million RFID chips to casinos on five continents. Some casinos that have deployed GPI’s RFIDPoker game technology realized an increase in play by up to 25 percent more hands per hour. Another benefit to casinos is easier inventory. “Those casinos with RFID chips can just push a button and have instant inventory of the day before,” Leparoux explained. “That’s one way to save dollars and cents. [RFID] is not new, but it’s definitely the thing of the future.”
“Chip security was really the impetus for that technology,” Woodard added. “I think it has given operators greater flexibility and accuracy they likely didn’t have before for tracking inventory as well as play at their tables.”
Economy Drives Innovation
Nearly every company, regardless of what sort of business it’s in, has been affected by the economic downturn. But instead of getting bogged down, GPI sees the recession as a chance to better serve its customer. “This is probably one of the toughest economies that I’ve seen the casino industry go through,” Gronau said. “I think we have a responsibility to work more closely with our customers to help them reduce costs. I believe stronger relationships will come out of it.”
The company has also introduced some new products with the budget-conscious casino buyer in mind. “We’ve come out with another line of cards, that, from a technology standpoint, were designed with shufflers and baccarat in mind and are a little bit less expensive than our premium brand of cards,” Gronau explained.
GPI will soon be introducing a value-priced line of dice and new layouts that combine sublimation-type graphics with the wearability of GPI’s patented FX product. “This will be a key product because it reduces the costs associated with changing out layouts,” Gronau said.
“We also have a couple new programs coming out that will be specifically designed to help marketing departments drive interest in casino events,” he added. “We’ve also come out with a line of application-specific software, which is software tied to RFID and the use of RFID chips in the casino, that will allow the customer to either improve security or decrease labor costs. I think there are a lot of casinos that need specific things geared to their unique environment. That’s what these are custom developed for.”
The Future of GPI
Since 1994, starting with B&G, current CEO Gerard Charlier has been driving the company through several successes to its current position. Now Charlier is retiring, though he will remain on the parent company’s board of directors, and Gronau, who has been working with Charlier since October 2008, will step up to the CEO plate effective Sept 12, 2009.
Already the world leader in chips and RFID for casinos, what else could be in GPI’s future? “Our objective is still the same: to be the casino’s partner,” Gronau said. “Everything we can do to help them, from increasing their business to helping them with security and tracking to providing marketing tools to help them better understand their players, is part of the scope of GPI.”
“Ideally we’d like to see a time where the industry standard is RFID chips,” Woodard commented. Gronau agreed, only adding that GPI is committed to expanding its already diversified product line.
GPI Works for You
With its wide range of products, the company’s years of experience and extreme dedication to the customer, and its proven and trusted track record, GPI must be doing something right. Its dedication to getting customers the best products at the best prices with the best service is rare. Look for this proven, yet still rising, company at upcoming trade shows to see just what it takes to make the money the world plays with.