Before and during this interview with Macau Business, Alidad Tash made clear several times that “It was not I who invented non-commission baccarat (NCB). I was only the person who popularised it in Macau”. NCB, the game that is helping overturn the revenue paradigm of the VIP market
NCB has for 10 years been the most popular game in casino betting for the mass market, a game that has boosted revenues at casinos such as The Venetian and City of Dreams, the game that is helping overturn the revenue paradigm of the VIP market.
And as the history of gambling in these 20 years is written, the influence of this 53-year-old Iranian living in Macau since 2006 will be paramount.
In 2006, Alidad Tash challenged himself to forego the comforts of Las Vegas to embark upon an adventure in Macau by helping Sands develop its projects – primarily The Venetian, which would open a year later.
“I knew enough to know I knew nothing” about gambling in this region, Alidad admits. Thus, he began to travel “to begin an investigation” which took him the length and breadth of Asia.
Aboard a gaming ship arriving in Malaysia, and later in Genting casino, Alidad saw the future. “What’s this?!” – He was shocked when confronted with the popularity of a game he did not know and that was designated non-commission baccarat (NCB).
“It was really amazing,” he tells Macau Business of that lightbulb moment.
Alidad Tash returned to Macau and began not only to explain what he had seen but to understand it in depth.
What is special about NCB?
From his research two conclusions evolved: NCB is a variant of baccarat invented many years ago in Nepal, which travelled to South America, and then to Australia and Malaysia, and, more surprisingly, was not new to Macau . . .
At least in Crystal Palace – one of SJM’s small satellite casinos – there were three NCB tables – which was great because it avoided having to ask the Gaming Inspection and Co-ordination Bureau for their authorizations. With only months before The Venetian opened there was no time to waste.
In other contexts, Alidad has been labelled the inventor of NCB in Macau. “I did not,” he insists. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
The NCB was an almost instant success in The Venetian and when Alidad Tash subsequently joined City of Dreams he aggressively converted all mass and most premium mass baccarat tables to NCB.
So what is so special about NCB?
“The difference is the pay out,” he explains.
NCB is “a perfect substitute for traditional baccarat” because the table layout, rules, and player experience are exactly the same as traditional baccarat – with only one difference – which is why it is so easy to adapt to by players (see text in these pages).
Alidad doesn’t save the adjectives in describing it as both “genius” and “amazing”. In short, it is as if the old game now brings more customer satisfaction and more money to casinos.
If today nobody can imagine the mass market without NCB, in the beginning this was not the case.
“Of course there was some resistance,” he concedes, even though Sands had already opened in 2004 and was a big hit with conventional baccarat. But the results spoke louder and within a few months NCB had picked up considerable momentum.
“My role was to evangelise the advantages of this game,” he says. “What I did was to popularise something that already existed in Macau”.
The popularity of NCB does not mean, and will not mean, the end of traditional baccarat. Twelve years after appearing in Sands and The Venetian, NCB is the dominant baccarat variety of the mass market in every major casino in Macau; in the high limits stakes games NCB is on a par with traditional baccarat (varying between 25 to 75 per cent).
The junket areas, however, remain uniformly anti-NCB because its players are far more sensitive to small changes in house advantage, Alidad Tash explains.
Alidad left The Venetian in 2010 to join Melco Resorts, first running analytics before assuming responsibilities as Senior VP of Gaming Operations & Strategy at Melco Resorts & Entertainment, where ‘he helped guide the company to becoming the ultimate premium mass destination in Macau from 2012 (when he took over gaming operations) to 2016, posting the highest win per table figures and featuring the highest table minimums in Macau’ (from the 2NT8 website).
His time there coincided with the mass table hold percentage – a key metric – increasing from a sub-par 21 per cent to an industry-leading 36 per cent.
The seeds thrown at this time have left good fruit. “Last year, Macau’s casinos combined to win 38 billion USD, of which 18 billion was in VIP tables, another 18 billion was mass tables, and the remaining 2 billion in slots. Roughly half the mass table win (between 8 to 10 billion) came from NCB,” Alidad did the math. “If NCB had never arrived in Macau, much of its winnings would have been collected by the slower Traditional Baccarat, but not all. Conservatively, 1 billion, and aggressively, 3 billion a year, would’ve disappeared from the casinos’ winnings,” he states.
Alidad left City of Dreams in late 2016 “for various reasons” – but mainly, maybe, because he wanted “to adventure on my own. It was a nice departure, friendly. All my guys are still there”.
Next, Alidad Tash founded 2NT8, of which he is Managing Director, and is promoted as ‘a full-service gaming and Integrated Resorts firm comprised of senior industry leaders with extensive experience throughout the gaming world’.
“I’m assisting European and American companies that are trying to reach Japan and South Korea,” he says, but he does not close the door on returning to Macau or teaming up with companies from Macau, a place he considers his own, proudly proved by displaying his Macau passport, which he obtained to the detriment of a US document.
From 1979 Iran
Alidad Tash was 13 years old when his homeland, Iran, underwent one of its most transformative moments. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 led to the replacement of the government of the last Shah of Iran and heralded the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Alidad’s parents realised that living in in Iran was no longer an option. They were in such a hurry to get him out, in fact, that they could not wait for him to obtain his own passport. Instead he entered the US – legally – as an accompanying minor on his father’s passport.
His father dropped him off at a boarding school and told him to wait a few months while he returned to Iran prior to emigrating to the US with Alidad’s mother and sister. But upon his return to Iran his father had his passport taken away for five years – leaving Alidad’s immigration status in the US in “a bizarre – legal limbo – situation”.
Eventually, Alidad obtained his own passport, but the only visa he was granted stipulated that he had to stay in the United States and study, unable to return if he left. As a consequence of this turn of events, Alidad became “stuck” in the US from the age of 13 to 24. During this time, his parents found it very difficult to obtain visas to see him – with his mother managing to visit him just once, and his father twice, due to repeated rejections from embassies around the world.
He managed to obtain permanent residency in 1990 upon completion of his studies, following which he finally returned to Iran, and having obtained two Master’s degrees in the US. The first is in mechanical engineering from the University of California, while the second is in statistics from the University of Southern California.
Alidad’s first experience in the gaming industry was with The Venetian Las Vegas in 2000, overseeing casino marketing analysis and gaming machine optimisation. He moved to Macau in early 2006 “to explore the new gaming frontier”.
NCB – 35 per cent more money
Whereas in traditional baccarat the dealer takes a 5 per cent commission for every winning Banker bet, NCB does not – hence the name. The only exception is when the winning bet is exactly 6 (which occurs about once every 19 hands), in which case the commission is 50 per cent.
Alidad helps us understand how that single variation makes all the difference to the three parties involved.
The first group – the dealers – like NCB because they don’t have to calculate and deduct the 5 per cent commission, and then use more chips to pay less. For a winning $1,000 bet on the Banker, for example, the NCB dealer pays back the same $1,000 which uses just one chip. But traditional baccarat requires the dealer to first calculate and deduct the $50 commission, and then use six (!) chips to pay $950: one $500 chip, four $100 chips and one $50 chip. This takes longer, and can lead to errors and time-wasting disputes.
The second group – the players – like NCB because it is faster and does not tax their winnings, except on the rare six. They are aware that the odds of NCB are slightly lower because of the 50 per cent commission on six, but the overall difference is not viewed as exorbitant.
The third group – casino management – like NCB because it not only has a higher house advantage but generates more hands per hour. As a result, all things being equal, NCB makes around 35 per cent more money than traditional baccarat.