#134 © Copyright 2007, all rights reserved worldwide. Gambling and the Law® is a registered trademark of Professor I. Nelson Rose, www.GamblingAndTheLaw.com
The casino of the future can be found today, in the most unexpected places – in countries like Vietnam and Cambodia.
It is not unusual for communist countries to have casinos. I played at a casino at the top of the Hilton in Budapest in the 1980s, when Hungary was still part of the Soviet Bloc. Gaming is a way to extract hard currency from tourists. Then all bets had to be made in German Deutschmarks. In the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, it is U.S. dollars.
And many countries as poor as the Kingdom of Cambodia have allowed casinos, restricted to foreign tourists. The ones I visited were in hotels in Siem Reap, near the famous ruins of Angkor Wat.
What is unusual is to see table games like roulette and baccarat. In a majority of jurisdictions in the world today, casinos are limited to slot machines.
I didn’t see any human dealers in Hanoi or Ho Chin Min City. But the casinos had the latest in gaming technology, which includes innovative ways to get around the prohibition on table games.
The sold-out gaming conference, G2E Asia, in Macau in June 2007, was as much about computer technology as it was about gambling. Most of the exhibit space was devoted to conventional slot machines, although there were no machines with actual reels and handles, and the slots were for players’ cards, not coins. The casino of today has video games, linked to central computers to allow instant auditing and market analysis. The slot machines of tomorrow will be downloadable, allowing managers to change the appearance of their gaming devices with the press of a button.
Conventional table games are also about to be updated. At least four manufacturers were selling RFID (radio-frequency identification) gaming chips. Although these look and feel the same as conventional poker chips, each one contains a tiny transmitter that allows the casino to know exactly where the chip is at all times. When used at tables that are equipped with playing card readers, these can prevent most cheating and dealer errors. Tied in with player loyalty cards, the casino can know as much about its table players as it now knows about its slot players.
The casino of the immediate future has gaming fusion: machines that allow patrons to play table games. Exhibitors displayed gaming devices for virtually every game found in western and Asian casinos: blackjack, poker, baccarat, sic bo and fan tan. There were at least a dozen manufacturers of automated roulette wheels.
The technology ranged from simple to ingenious. Most common was linked video screens. For example, each player at a Texas Hold ‘Em table has his own video screen for his down cards and a larger screen in the center for the community cards. A more sophisticated version allows a player to play using his BlackBerry.
Asian players have historically disliked slot machines. So, much thought has been put into how to make games “real,” and yet automated. All of the roulette games had real spinning wheels; some had video cameras to allow players to actually see the ball drop into the slot.
To introduce Asian players to gaming devices, a Hong Kong company has developed the multi-station “LIVE Baccarat.” There is a real human dealer dealing real paper cards. But her image is projected on a large screen. And players bet on their own video monitors. I saw 40 machines linked in one game in a casino in Macau. Up to 100 patrons can play at one time in stadium-style seating.
The next step is to eliminate the player and cards. Blackjack with holographic dealers has been around for years. But in the land of anime and manga, the dealers were animations. My favorite was the cartoon blue-eyed blond at the Wynne Macau, who spoke perfect Cantonese on one screen, and perfect Mandarin on another.
A Taiwan company took another route. Its “Robot Casino” has an automatic shuffler and a cute robot arm deal real paper cards. The game is baccarat, so everything is behind glass. The robot shows the cards to the players, who are betting on terminals. I saw a simpler version in a Cambodia casino, where the gaming device simply dealt cards face up.
Necessity, in the form of local laws, is the mother of invention. The law in Taiwan prohibits anyone from touching the gaming tools. So, bars use bingo ball blowers with 52 balls painted to look like playing cards to play baccarat.
Are these slot machines? Usually operators argue that they are, because table games are prohibited. But at least three card clubs have convinced regulators in California that a video poker table is still poker, because players are playing against each other, not the machine.
Regulators are finding it difficult to keep up with these changes. Most jurisdictions don’t have clear statutory definitions of what is allowed, let alone standards for testing these gaming devices.
Private enterprise can act, and react, faster than government. So the independent Gaming Laboratories International is already testing and certifying many of these inventions.
Large, established gaming jurisdictions are more cautious. And the procedures for promulgating regulations can drag out the process.
In the past, states and nations looked to Las Vegas and Monte Carlo for their models of what a casino should look like. But if you want to see a casino of the immediate future today, you have to go to Vietnam.
NOTE: A month after I wrote this column, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission amended its regulations to let Atlantic City casinos try out electronic table games. The Commission said it approved the test of roulette and poker without human dealers in response to the gaming devices being put in racinos in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
© Copyright 2007. Professor I. Nelson Rose is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on gambling law. His latest books, Internet Gaming Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials, are available through his website, www.GamblingAndTheLaw.com.