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A Whole New Way To Play

Electronic games bring new ideas to the table, along with bonuses that appeal to all players

By John Grochowski

While there will always be players who want to interact with live dealers and have a stack of chips to riffle, instead of an electronic betting screen to touch, games with electronic components do bring exciting possibilities.

There is a school of thought that says you’re either a table games player, or a slot player.  Sure, a lot of players enjoy crossing over now and then; there will always be craps players who take an occasional spin on the slots, and video poker players who enjoy trying their hand at blackjack. But we tend to define ourselves, as gamblers, in terms of one of those two categories.

This distinction, though, has become blurred with the rise of electronic table games. Spurred by the success of Shuffle Master’s Rapid Roulette, these machines have started to enter the casino mainstream. And while there will always be players who want to interact with live dealers and have a stack of chips to riffle, instead of an electronic betting screen to touch, games with electronic components do bring exciting possibilities.

The games don’t have to be entirely electronic; Shuffle Master’s iTable uses live dealers and physical cards. What matters most are the bonus possibilities these high-tech games are able to offer, creating an experience that one table games director called “a home run out of the park.”

electronic games

The initial release of iTable gives blackjack players the option to make the same side bets that are available on Shuffle Master’s live tables (including Royal Match). Used in combination with a Shuffle Master card-reading shoe, it also can put up odds for side bets after you’ve seen your cards. For example, if you have a 17 against a dealer’s 9, or a 16 against a 7, it can offer you odds on winning the hand.

Slot manufacturing giant IGT (International Game Technology) has also started down this road with its Table iD system. Instead of using a video betting screen, it uses RFID chips—chips embedded with radio frequency identification chips—to improve accuracy in player tracking. The first bonusing application was Lucky Draw, which allows players to earn “tickets” to a virtual drawing as they play.

Extra blackjack bonuses—such as giving players who are using their rewards cards an entry for each two-card 21—can be done in a virtual way, without players needing to fill in names and addresses on paper tickets. Operators can use their imaginations to create drawing games. An IGT representative suggested a Fourth of July promotion could be “Fours on the Fourth,” with a virtual ticket for each pair of 4s. Or there could be a “Win for Losing” promotion, with players earning a ticket every time the dealer receives a blackjack.

If more players begin to embrace table games with electronic components, the sky’s the limit for bonusing possibilities. Beyond that, there are plenty of reasons for casino operators to utilize electronic or partially electronic tables. They include:

** The games are faster, with more action. Less time spent dealing cards or making payoffs means more hands will be played per hour.

** Reduced labor costs. Live tables requires not only a dealer at each game, but pit supervisors to oversee everything. Electronic games reduce or eliminate these costs. This allows casinos to offer electronic versions of table games with lower minimum bets than on live tables. A blackjack newbie might be able to get their wet at $1 or $2 a hand, even in a casino where their live tables have $10 minimums.

**Electronic payoffs eliminate dealer mistakes and the possibility of dealer-player collusion.

** Electronic wagering allows the casino to track every wager by a customer using a players club card, just as is done on slot machines. This leads to more accurate player rewards.

The big question remains player acceptance, and in the coming years you can expect to see some experimentation as casino execs figure out what’s working. In the meantime, here are a few games to keep your eye out for, and the features that make them special:

Rapid Table Games, by Shuffle Master: With Rapid Roulette as a starting point, Shuffle Master has expanded into Rapid Baccarat, Craps and Sic Bo. In the breakthrough game Rapid Roulette, each player has a screen on which to place bets. There remains a live dealer and a physical wheel, but the responsibility for tracking bets and accounting for chips is removed from the dealer. Cheating scams such as past posting (sneaking a bet onto the layout after the ball has fallen into a numbered slot) are eliminated. The dealer spins the wheel and interacts with the players, but the system tracks the bets.

Players who like to play—or avoid—the most recent numbers, or those that have hit frequently in recent spins, will have a blast with Rapid Roulette. Plasma screens track the numbers and give percentages. How often has No. 18 hit? What percentage of spins have been red? Even? Etc. It takes the roulette traditions of posting recent numbers on a lighted board, or allowing players to track numbers with pencil and paper, to the nth degree.

Table Master, by Shuffle Master: Unlike its cousin, the iTable, Table Master is fully automated. Games use a five-seat console; a touch-screen playing surface; and a curved center screen standing upright behind the table with a video representation of a dealer. The dealer interacts with the players, says hello, and makes comments; the eyes even follow the players as they sit down and make their bets. Making things even more realistic, there are a number of video dealers with different personalities and they change periodically, just as live dealers change tables and take breaks.

In some jurisdictions, fully automated games such as Table Master are licensed as slot machines, meaning casinos that are not approved for table play can offer them. Blackjack and baccarat are available on Table Master, as are Shuffle Master games including Let It Ride, Three Card Poker, Three Card Bonus and Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

Digital 21, Blackjack Dice, Baccarito, World Poker Tour All-In Hold’em, Dragon Bacc, Texas Hold’em Xtreme, Tarracab and more, by DigiDeal. DigiDeal has been the American pioneer in electronic table games for years, and figures to get an even higher profile under a new alliance with IGT.

The initial version of Digital 21 uses a live “host” and chips—it’s the cards that are dealt digitally—but the next generation game, on what DigiDeal calls its DTS-X platform, uses virtual chips. Played on a traditional horseshoe-shaped blackjack table, Digital 21 has a screen at each player position to display cards. The casino employee at the table is a host, rather than a dealer. He or she deals no cards, but makes payoffs and interacts with players.

PokerPro, by PokerTek: One of the big success stories in electronic gaming, PokerPro has been carving out its niche with fully automated electronic poker tables. Tables can be configured for Limit, No Limit, Pot Limit Texas Hold’em and Omaha cash games, or single and multi-table tournaments. They use neither chips nor cards. Each player has a screen in front of their seat, and there’s a larger screen at the center of the table to show common cards, such as the flop, turn and river in Hold’em.

When players receive their cards, they are face down, just as in live poker games. To see what they have, players touch the representations of the cards, and just the corners turn up. By cupping their other arm in front of the cards and peeking at the corners, players can keep their hands just as secure as at a live table.

PokerPro Heads-Up, meanwhile, is a two-seated poker table offering the game variations, but allows players to compete head to head.  These showdowns are something you never see in traditional poker rooms, since it would be too costly for operators to staff two-player tables.

Is PokerPro going to replace live tables overnight? Of course not, nor are Shuffle Master or DigiDeal products going to replace live blackjack. There’s no question, however, that these machines brings a lot to the table and are carving their own niche in casinos—with many more types of electronic games, and exciting features, to come.

A Whole New Way To Play – Electronic Games.

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