Saturday, September 6, 2008

electronic dealerless tables

Here is a bit more reaction after my trip on the dealerless tables. I wrote it as a response to an article on Excalibur going dealerless on Vegasmessageboard so some of it is in repsonse to another poster.

Here is the newspaper report on the Excalibur

There is certainly a number of players who enjoy handling chips, and a few very good players who read "tells" effectively by watching the way opponents handle chips.
There is also a lot to be said for having some very pretty dealer to watch and flirt with during the long boring times between playable hands.
However, I have played dealerless at Four Winds New Buffalo Michigan and in the new Horseshoe Casino outside Chicago and there are lots of advantages.

The first is the same advantage I find in all casino games. There is someone else watching the game. In home games I find that so much of my time is taken up monitoring the game itself for misplay and error, that I just get tired. That is one reason I am willing to go to casinos adn pay a rake. It also lessens the possibility of cheating. In the electronic game, the elimination of the dealer eliminates the last of human error and most monitoring is unnecessary. The elimination of physical cards makes marking cards impossible.

The computer deals and cards never get misdealt or mixed up. There is never some card turned over that is the burn card and changes the game in ways you cannot calculate.
No player can play out of turn.
No player or dealer can miscount chips.
The amount of each player's chips is always visible. The amount in the pot is visible in numbers so the math of pot odds does not require converting chips to numbers.
Players who check do it clearly. Never is there ambiguity about who checked or some shifty player making four people after him act before he decides to bet. It can't happen.

Ever sit to the left of the dealer and wonder when it was your turn to bet, or what the player before you looked like as s/he made the bet or evaluated the flop? Ever find it frustrating to protect your cards? In automated poker you see the face of every player just by looking. You can't bet or fold out of turn and neither can any other player. You don't need to protect anything.

If you daydream and forget it is your turn, one of the other players will remind you. They have your name right there in front of them. They easily get your attention.

Also, the speed of the game makes tight play easier to manage without going to sleep with boredom waiting for cards.
This makes the loose guys last for less time. It means waiting out two self destructing maniacs takes half the time it does on a live table.
Dealer changes do not require washing and counting chip trays and shuffling and reminding of blinds.

Screens were easy to learn and use. Most played with their player cards rather than fingers.

Some reported that there was less player interaction, but I think most of those folks have not played much on these machines and just confuse this with playing on the computer at home and so they imagine a similar isolation. If anything, there is more player interaction. No dealer is there to get involved or to dominate every discussion. There might be a bit too much said at times depending on the floor supervision. I would watch for collusion.

Chips may be "fun" just as coins were fun in slots. But frankly I am tired of pushing in the chips on oversized tables to short armed dealers, tired of listening to them whine about it, tired of monitoring some brain dead neighbor player and reminding him to push in his chips because he can't get the idea that the dealer can't reach his chips. No chips drop and scatter when it is time to cash out. No chips splash the pot. No large chips are hidden in the stacks of an opponents smaller chips. Nothing is hidden. I even know the player's name. there is no attempt by some player to give his aging mother across the table chips and no lecture on how only money can be exchanged. There are no uneven split pots, no quarters to build up in my pocket. No noe can underbet by mistake. Try to raise less than a precious player and you just can't raise. No pot will be pushed to the wrong player, the winners cards mucked.

Buy ins do not hold up the game. I can put a few hundred dollars on my card and keep my chipstack at the max of $100, $5 at a time if I want. I don't have to put chips in my pocket and count and recount so as not to be accused of trying to get more than $100 on the table.

Most impressive was the rake reduction in many places. At the Horsehoe the rake was just $3. Compare that to the standard Harrah's $6 rake in their live poker room and add one dollar for dealer tip. They take the promo dollar in spite of the fact that they offer no promotion, only promotion promises.No mention in the article about rake or blinds for Excalibur and yet that certainly makes a big difference in long term play.

However, I think the rakes will change over time to reflect what the market will bear. Right now the idea was to attract new players to the machine games. One fellow reported on a cruise ship where the rake capped at 10%. If it is the only game in town, the rakes will go up. but that has nothing to do with having a delaer or not. It may well have more to do with player apathy. Very disturbing to me is that players just do not care about rakes enough. Rarely are they reported or advertised. In an evaluation of a poker room, I am more apt to learn about how comfortable the chairs are than how much the rake takes or how it is taken. In fact, I never meet a player who undertands how the Wynn rake advertised as 10% capped at $4 on a 3-6 game is much, much better than other rakes capped at $4 and advertised as 10%

Blinds for no limit were 50 cent and 1 dollar in these Midwest games. Another good thing for the low roller and for the tight player waiting for cards.

The Horseshoe put these machines outside their poker room and allowed smoking. So they both attracted smoking players and set up a spot where the live poker players might gather for a smoke. That was the worst for me. The place was worse than the El Cortez in the old days. But for smokers it was a great advantage. The argument for nonsmoking rooms has revolved around dealer health so for casinos that manage to keep a smoking section, these poker tables give them a loophole.

The only annoying thing I have noticed is that it is just too easy, when playing with that little plastic card (works better than fingers for most,) to start mindlessly tapping it on the hard plastic of the poker screen. That can get annoying after a while.

What needs to be invented next is some decorative pointed tool for playing that takes the place of the popular card protectors. I envision a light object that fits over the finger and extends it to a hard dull point, across between artificial nails and an unsharpened pencil. It does not have to be held like a poker card.

I wondered about the settling of disputes. Well, I experienced my first heated argument at a table at the Four Winds. One player would not sit, but insisted on kneeling in his chair. Other players insisted it would affect the bad beat and void it if dealt to this fellow. The argument went to name calling, but soon the floor was called.
The fellow working the floor was not very assertive. He did not insist on his way. Finally, he called his manager. While the player waited to "check the rulebook," he was put in a timeout position and needed to leave the table. He was in effect dealt out.
I thought it worked to diffuse the situation. Dealerless tables do lose the police role of the dealer. But there is less to lecture players about also. The show one/ show all frustration common at the table is eliminated. To show a card or two, you hit a button and the card briefly appears for all to see who are looking. By the way, you can't do this in the middle of the action.

Mohegan Sun in Connecticut takes the $4.75 from everyone every half hour, but I have heard that rakes in Montreal and Hull outside Ottawa are real rakes and not payments for the seat. Ottawa announced they held the largest tournament in the world using dealerless machines.
Turning Stone in NY has a machine or two, but use them only for sit and go games.

I am certain that they will catch on over time. They are a great benefit for the casino as they avoid all the problem of keeping enough dealers around, of labor disputes, of interpersonal difficulties.
The Excalibur argument that poker is somehow fading in popularity is not my experience. I think that is just a casino created excuse to get rid of the personnel issues.
A Vegas dealer I read speculated it had more to do with the position of Excalibur on the strip and with the large number of poker rooms. They simply had not competed well with MGM for the high games and those playing low 2-4 were drifting more to the Imperial Palace and others in that Flamingo strip area, even the little OShea's spread game.




I can't imagine being a dealer and being as open minded as you are here Hurricane Mikey. Very nice analysis. I especially was wondering why Excalibur was talking about the dip in the interest of live poker and your argument makes perfect sense in terms of strip geography. I don't see much dip in poker interest in general. I think if the trend was lessening Mohegan Sun would not have opened their large new pokerroom nor would the Canadians finally get on board with live poker, all dealerless by the way. The casino in Hull outside Ottawa has been advertising the largest tournaments in the world on dealerless machines.

I don't think that computerized blackjack results will dictate the trend in poker because I don't think that the computer improved the BJ game for the player in any way while the computer makes many improvements in the live poker game. One of the hardest aspects of live poker is the time it takes to play it and the patience it requires to wait while the player tosses hands away. The first third of the book Tao of Poker, for instance, offers advice on ways to develop patience. Patience and position are important in live poker. And in automated games twice as many hands are dealt and position comes around twice as fast. This is probably the key advantage to most of the folks who chose these new tables. That an the rake.

You are right that the rakes may go up to what the market will bear. This is especially true if playrs don't look at rakes before they play. But dealerless tables at least makes it possible for a casino to take less money and yet make more money. Competition and consumer choice should do the rest. Your ship example is a perfect case of a situation where there is not competition. Vegas is not an isolated ship.

And I am hoping that live poker players as a group are not as stupid as masses of slot players and VP players who will play anything. But even for them where there is competition, better games emerge to attract the few who know how to read a paytable and loose slots ( or the illusion) will attract customers.

Every hand of blackjack is played. 80% of live poker hands are discarded. Most of the players at the live poker tables point to the speed of hands per hour as a great benefit. Speeding up hands per hour in blackjack for mathematical saavy players (since it is a game with a house advantage for all but a tiny minority) just makes players pay more for their fun.

There is nothing in BJ analogous either to the added stats offered in poker by the computer. The machine tells us at a glance what each player has, what is in the pot, and even offers percentage statistics on all-in hands.
All that adds to the ease of the game.
Also in live blackjack, I don't think anyone plays out of turn as they do in live poker. NOr are other player's affected if one player shows his hand to another for advice.

It is hard to know when it is your turn in live poker. it requires constant monitoring, especially if the dealer is positioned between you and other players when the dealer is really in your way and obstructing your vision.

Sit to the left of a dealer and you have to wonder if the guy before you played yet, wonder how he looked when he checked the board and decided what to do, and protect your cards so the dealer does not swipe them up. And many dealers do not even tap your way unless you ask them and even after asking it is sometimes necessary to "teach" them they must by simply not betting until they in some way indicate it is your turn.

None of this in dealerless tables. You see the face of every player.

No problem with show one/ show all either. No need to monitor that. To show a card or two, a player hits a button as they fold and the card appears briefly for all who care to see it.

As far as the food analogy goes. Vending machines were expected to take over when they were first created, maybe in the 50's, but there the loss of the server who might be able to change the menu item or give advice took away from the experience as well as the assembly line production of the food itself.

Perhaps a more pertinent food analogy is the buffet.

I already tend to choose the buffet over the restaurant because for me it improved the food experience. I don't have to rely on the advice of the server or imagine what the food looks or tastes like. I can try a bit. Sometimes I can even talk to the chef. I no longer have to try to figure out if I want "over easy" or "over medium" eggs. I just tell the cook to make them so the yoke runs but the white is not slimy. Last time I even talked cooks into making me an "omlet" by tossing the fixings right on top of the "over easy/medium eggs." Getting rid of the middleman in that situation is of great benefit.

Also the drinks are included and the tip is less. Often the tip at a restaurant ends up being equal to what I pay for the entire meal at the buffet.

And yesterday at the Four Winds here in Michigan (where alcohol is not free) I cut out another middle man, the cocktail waitressI used their free areas for coffee and soda that they have scattered around the casino and improved the quality and the price of my coffee. Here too I did not have to explain just how much sweet and low I wanted and I could go back and warm up my coffee if it sat too long. And the free coffee was....well, it was free.
I even like the buffets where I get my own drink. That means I can mix my juices, or put a bit of lemonaid in my coke, balance my ice to my own taste, and have my coffee hot, just when I want it simply by walking up and helping myself.
Some like people waiting on them, but for me the best way to be served, is to serve myself.
Some poker rooms in Vegas have free coffee. I think I remember liking the one in Imperial Palace because it displayed a variety of flavors. Again I could add just a bit of hazelnut to my regular.

And while vending machine food did not take much of the food market, fast food places that eliminate the server have done very well, and partly because in the Food Court you leave no tip.

Of course, this is not good news for worker and the dealerless poker table is not good news for the live dealer. I was interested that it might improve service among those who do not care if they do a very good job.

This week I read an old Robert Benchley humorous piece from the 30's in which he described his inept ability to tell the elevator operator which floor he wanted in a loud enough voice and at the correct time. It was funny, just as his essay on the difficulty of getting and keeping enough coal in his furnace was funny. the humor reflected a time before technological innovation made his jokes outdated.

From the dealer's perspective this can't be a good change. From the player's perspective and that of the casino, it is improvement except for those who need live chips in their hands or want the dealer/player interaction and those stuck in comfortable ways like the writers who still only use snail mail. One fellow at my table yesterday brought with him some real chips just so he could continue that shuffling of two stacks into one so popular with poker players. They entertained him in comfortable ways. The fellow next to me had it much easier reading the Poker News between hands.

I know there are folks who go to Vegas just to find a particular dealer who makes them feel good in the way a good bartender might. And I was amused that when the automated blackjack machines created their large blowup screens with virtual dealers, they tended to be beautiful Asian women, indicating that some players want eye candy. Certainly many crave entertainment from a dealer as Imperial Palace found out when they created their Dealertainers.

The problem is that most serious poker players, especially in a no limit game want to concentrate, study other players, and not be distracted. I think electronic poker tables may catch on faster than many expect and that they won't attract beginning players as much as satisfy the needs of those who follow the game well and of those who wait for cards.

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