That busty video blackjack dealer is here to stay
It’s difficult to find someone who has negative things to say about electronic table games nowadays, with casino officials and financial experts pointing out their value and the innovative uses on the horizon. As casinos try to control their manpower costs while growing a new player base, many are saying that versions of blackjack, roulette, and craps that operate without the dealer can be one way to accomplish both goals.
ETGs first hit the market in Asia in about 2000, and have since spread to other parts of the world. Today, only about 0.5 percent of slot floor space in the United States is devoted to electronic tables, as opposed to 5 to 10 percent in Asia and Europe, panelists told last year’s attendees at G2E in Las Vegas.
The games are in place at South Florida racetrack casinos and those operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which also has live table games.
At GameOn, a two-day conference for casino gaming operations executives across the country in June at the MGM National Harbor near Washington, D.C., members of a panel discussed ETGs. Among the advantages that were mentioned:
They cost less to operate: Lance Allen, VP of table games operations at FireKeepers Hotel & Casino in Battle Creek, Michigan, noted that ETGs don’t require a dealer or a supervisor. “Plus, they can operate 24-7,” he said.
They’re less intimidating to players: “People are more willing to walk up to a machine and try it, rather than walk up to a table with live players, where players might comment on how they’re playing the game,” Allen said. The price is also less intimidating; in many cases an ETG is the only way, these days, that a casino can offer blackjack at $5 per hand.
They’re an alternative to those who want to take a break from traditional table games: ETGs can give table games regulars a chance to just sit and rest – while still betting. Adds Derek Amundson, VP of table games at the Excalibur Hotel & Casino: “You also can fill a gap … it could be a group just looking for that $20 buy-in that you normally wouldn’t get in other applications.”
They’ve modernized: “Graphically, there have been a lot of advancements,” said John Hemberger, senior vice president of table games for AGS. “The dealers are much more like a real person.” The modern, touch-screen self-service aspect of ETGs also can be appealing to younger players, panel members noted.
Meanwhile, those familiar with ETGs say there are already some signs of innovation. Hemberger points to The Venetian in Las Vegas, which now offers Stadium Blackjack. Up to 44 patrons can play at the same time, as a live dealer turns over the initial two cards, which are the same for all players. Each player makes his or her own decision on what to do next by pressing a button on their terminal. (Split, double down, hit, etc.)
Others have also seen scenarios where larger groups congregate at a machine, as is done in Europe. For example, Resorts World New York at Aqueduct has more than 1,300 gaming positions for electronic tables, including Big Six Wheel and Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em.
Despite their appearance as table games, ETGs are classified as slots in most jurisdictions. But the experts say that coordination between the slots and the table games segments of a casino is vital.
“It was critically important when it came onto the floor that from a rules standpoint to understand what the ETG options were and how we set them up,” Amundson said. “We had to collaborate to make sure our rules were consistent.”
And there’s not much room for tinkering with the games to add other features or gambling options. “In Vegas, with an average trip of three days, we don’t have a lot of time to teach new games,” Amundson noted.
Amundson also cautioned that although his data suggests ETG patrons are brand new players, they don’t spend a lot, about 30 percent less than the average slot player.
“It might suggest it’s something more similar to a Big 6 wheel or a true carnival game type product,” he said. “I look at it from the perspective of being a transitionary product.”
The games have also apparently not lost public trust, despite a lawsuit filed in Florida on January 20 against Interblock and the Isle Casino and Racing in Pompano Beach. The suit claims the dice game took too large of a commission on certain winnings. Interblock has not responded to requests for comment.
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