QUESTION: I was playing at one of those blackjack tables that you touch the screen to bet, but there’s a dealer with real cards. Even though the cards were real, the screen lit up with a total for the hand. How do they do that? I was talking with the dealer, and he thought they were a halfway station to fully automated games, and that one day he’d be out of a job. Do you think that’s what’s happening?
ANSWER: You didn’t tell me what system was being used, but I’ll hazard a guess that it was an iTable from Shuffle Master. The iTable does have video screens for wagering at each player position, and it does use a dealer and real cards. The cards can be dealt from an i-Shoe with optical card recognition. It’s the recognition from the card-reading shoe integrated into the rest of the card-reading system that enables the table to display hand totals on the screens as cards are dealt.
That information also allows the system to offer instant odds on side bets such as whether you’ll win or lose given your first two cards and the dealer’s up card.
That’s the “how do they do that” portion of your question. For the rest, we enter into speculation. Automated and partially animated versions of table games have been with us for a couple of decades now, and they remain niche games. In certain jurisdictions that place greater restrictions on table games, the electronic versions have a bigger place. And we have seen some growth in large, full-service casinos, sparked by the success of Rapid Roulette.
But casinos are going to go where the money leads them, and right now that still favors live versions of table games. There’s a market for fully automated blackjack, and that market is growing. But there’s no imminent danger of fully automated games taking over the market.
I’d be more worried about casinos chasing the market away by the continuing tightening of belts and toughening of games. It doesn’t have to be as bad as the trend toward 6/5 payoffs on blackjacks. It stuns me to see the dealer hitting soft 17 even at low-limit six-deck tables nearly everywhere I go. Not long ago, that used to be a rule for the one-deck and two-deck tables, and when a casino hit soft 17 on a six-deck table you knew it was a joint where the execs wanted both hands in your pockets. Now hitting soft 17 is standard on any table with less than a $25 minimum, and not uncommon in the more expensive seats.
An average player might not know that the game is tougher when the dealer hits soft 17, but over time he’ll notice that his bankroll doesn’t last as long as it used to. To me, that’s a bigger danger for live blackjack than any inroads by electronic versions.
QUESTION: My wife likes the single-player video roulette games. I watched her play for a while, and saw she was getting only 32 on a single number. I was shocked. I told her it was awful that she should go to table if she’s going to play, but she likes the machines. Is there anything in it for players?
ANSWER: You really have to think of these as slot machines, rather than trying to compare them to table games. What’s in it for players is the chance for inexpensive play. The single-player roulette games that have claimed a niche on casino floors are from Bally Technologies, and are available in coin denominations as low as a penny.
No casino operator is going to offer a penny game with a 94.74% -- the equivalent of the 5.26% house edge on nearly all bets at double-zero roulette. And he’s certainly not going to offer a 97.3% game that corresponds to the 2.7% house edge on single-zero roulette.
But operators have put both single-zero and double-zero versions of Bally’s Roulette on their floors. The odds of any bet winning are the same as on table versions, but Bally made the games palatable to operators by offering a variety of pay tables. When the payoff on a single number is only 32-for-1 -- the same as saying 31-to-1 -- the payback percentage is 86.5% on a single-zero game and 84.2% on the double-zero version. Those are numbers right in line with what operators offer on penny slots.
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