Robot dealers? Why some are not keen on future casino direction

There has been plenty of debate regarding the high costs involved in employing and maintaining casino dealers in land-based and live casinos.

Not many are yet convinced that casino players would be happy to have a robot dealing their cards at the casinos.
Not many are yet convinced that casino players would be happy to have a robot dealing their cards at the casinos. Pictures: Thinkstock

One idea that has often been floated is the possibility of automating casinos by introducing robot dealers. This was one of the main discussion points at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) Asia 2017 – a industry even in Macau seen as showcasing some of the future developments players can look forward to.

According to the GGRAsia news site, the first expert to highlight the issue was Alidad Tash, the gaming and strategy vice president at Benchmark Solutions Ltd. While speaking during the panel discussion Tash highlighted the fact that dealer salaries had gone up almost 150% over the last decade, which is causing casino owners to think of how to cut costs.

It was said that even in regulated markets such as Macau, which statistically has a full employment policy, there are some table games that have automated betting as well as a live dealer for bet settlement.

Skepticism over how popular robot dealers will be

A number of manufacturers are also experimenting with automated robot arms to deal cards. Despite all this, Ken Jolly of Scientific Games Corp mentioned that the idea of robot dealers may not appeal to the Asian market. He said: “We find that the Asian players like to play with a live dealer. Sure enough there might be some robots coming into some table games over time, but I can’t see it dominating the industry.” Jolly added a practical example by citing Chinese players who generally prefer to challenge and ‘out-do’ the live dealer which seemingly gives them some control of the game.

Despite the lively discourse among the participants, the panel discussion did not delve deeper into the political nuances involved in the possible replacement of live dealers with robots, according to GGRAsia.

In Macau, casino dealer jobs have been reserved for those who possess a Macau identity card and when rumors started going around about possible jobs cuts due to automation, there were plenty of public rallies against the idea. The panel discussions also steered clear of the anti-corruption drive by China which has led to a significant decline in gross gaming revenues from 2014. Recently however, Macau casino income seems to be on the rise again.

The recreational aspect

Charles Cohen of International Game Technology (IGT) Plc highlighted the important role that live dealers played in the entertainment aspect of casinos.

Cohen stated that at the moment it would not be feasible for robots to take over because it would diminish the all-important human factor. ‘If you had a ‘super dealer’ who was able to deal at twice the speed of a human dealer; would it be enjoyable to play at that table? Could you really increase the number of hands per hour?… I think it would be exhausting. I don’t think that’s why people come and sit at the table to play, it’s a leisure activity,’ Cohen stated, according to GGRAsia.

Is the market ready?

Varun Nayak from Tanngam Systems Inc pointed out that robot technology already existed in some markets but questioned whether the casinos would be able to fully embrace the new technology. He said: “I think the question is whether the market will accept it, and whether or not the [right] economics exist for whatever part of the market that chooses to accept robot dealers.”

Shifts

Although there was a general consensus that replacing live dealers with robots is not yet feasible in the Asian market, Ken Jolly pointed out that robots can be used as sufficient temporary stand-ins for live dealers.

“There are systems now where you can have a live dealer at certain times and then switch over after hours or in quieter times to virtual dealers, so you can mitigate costs by not having a dealer to front [the product].” Jolly noted that this could be the best compromise for all parties involved.

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