Casino dealers may work in warehouses, deal live to online players
It’s 5:45 a.m. — almost time to start the day’s shift as a casino dealer.
Even in a town that never sleeps, this time of day isn’t busy on the Strip. But the evening is just getting started on the Pacific Rim. And that’s the time that really matters at your casino; that’s when the daily crush begins.
As you drive up, your casino doesn’t look anything like the palaces lining the Strip. Your workplace is a nondescript building in the suburbs — a warehouse, to the untrained eye.
Walk in, take your place behind a blackjack table. Behind you is a blue screen. In front of you, where you once remembered players sitting, are several cameras.
Below each are signal lights, telling you whether a player Pengeluaran HK connected to your table via the Internet wants to hit, stand, split or double down. Another camera hovers above you. This warehouse is filled with dozens of dealers, all in similar sound-stage-type setups designed for this latest evolution of Internet gambling.
You know this isn’t a casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Yet thousands of miles away in Tokyo, Hong Kong or Seoul, South Korea, your customers don’t know that. To those players, the blue screen is transformed into what appears to be the interior of a Strip casino. And you’re apparently right in the middle of it.
A computer screen in front of the table begins scrolling text, and you begin friendly chatter with your players. It took some time to get used to having a conversation with a computer monitor, but you got used to it. Eventually.
It can get lonely at times. But then again, you don’t have players blowing smoke in your face, you don’t have to pause to clean a spilled drink off the table. There’s no way a player 10,000 miles away can get in your face after a string of bad luck. And on busy nights — when there are 500 players stacked around each baccarat and roulette table — the tokes can be substantial. Very substantial.
And as you shuffle and deal, a thought flits through your mind that’s been there dozens of times before. Who, in their right mind, could ever have imagined this 10 years ago?
A new reality
There were two key reasons casino-style gambling spread from its nest in Nevada across the country in the 1990s: taxes and jobs.
Casinos are job-creation machines, and nowhere is the evidence of this clearer than in Nevada. One out of every four workers relies directly on the gaming industry for a paycheck. Eleven of the state’s 15 largest employers are Strip casinos.
If legal Internet gambling becomes a reality in this country, what will happen to these Las Vegas jobs?
Nothing, the experts say. The simple reason is that the experience of the Las Vegas Strip cannot be replicated on the Internet.
“These (Strip casinos) are entertainment centers with gambling at the core,” said Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at UNR. “There has always been a great fear that new technologies are going to wipe out existing industries. I seriously doubt that’s going to happen to the casino industry … Las Vegas in particular.”
What is disputed is whether Internet casinos will create the kinds of jobs traditional casinos have. A lack of new jobs could make the pill of Internet gaming harder to swallow across the United States, American Gaming Association Chief Executive Frank Fahrenkopf said.
“I don’t see it as an engine of job creation,” Fahrenkopf said. “I don’t see that many jobs resulting from Internet gambling. And in (gambling) jurisdictions, particularly new jurisdictions, the job creation and economic development … has been critical for the acceptance of it (legalized gambling).”
But suppose you could take part of the Las Vegas experience — the interaction with a real dealer at a real table game — and bring it to the Internet? That would offer the player a more realistic casino experience, and it gives gaming regulators a physical game to watch and regulate.
“The idea fascinates me, and I’d say I’d be very likely to play under those conditions,” said Richard Munchkin, a writer from Santa Clarita, Calif., and frequent Internet gambler. “I play (on the Internet) quite a bit, anything from blackjack to roulette to slot machines. Supposedly everything is honest. But if you’re watching a game that’s taking place in a casino live in Las Vegas, I’d feel much more comfortable that the game is 100 percent honest.
“It’s not the same as playing in Las Vegas, but if you can’t be there, it sounds like the next best thing.”
It isn’t science fiction. The idea of bringing a live game to a remote player is 20 years old. And a Caribbean Internet casino, owned by Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho, is now offering games with live dealers to gamblers through the Internet. DrHo.com claims it had 23 million “hits” in its first six months of operation.
Companies are ready
If Nevada decides to legalize Internet gaming, a number of companies are ready to move in that direction as well.
One is a name all of Las Vegas is familiar with: Station Casinos Inc. Tony Fontaine, Station’s vice president of complex business solutions, envisions a day when the company could operate warehouse-style filming complexes, broadcasting live dealers to the world.
“Everyone’s spending a lot of money trying to recreate a virtual rendition of their casino,” Fontaine said. “What I’m doing is saying, ‘Here’s the real casino.’ The only difference is you don’t have to have it in a nice place. You can put it in a warehouse, dress it up inside, but it can be located off the Strip.”
If Nevada takes that step, proponents of live Internet gambling say more jobs than ever before will be created by this new technology. And those jobs could be far different than anything a Las Vegas dealer knows today. Consider, for example, Playboy Enterprises’ for-fun casino, which combines video poker with strip poker.
“If you’re Playboy, you could have a (Playboy) Bunny as a dealer (on a live Internet casino),” Fontaine said.
But there will also be room for today’s dealers, asserts deedee Molnick, chief executive of i2 Corp. of Las Vegas.
“They would become stars,” Molnick said. “They’re not going to be peons behind a table. They’re going to be stars.”
Coming up with a concept and patenting it is one thing. Making the idea a viable business is another.
While DrHo.com is operating its own live Internet casino, the U.S. companies exploring the idea don’t plan to take that route.
i2, for example, has built its financial house on a single asset: the strength of its patent. The company, majority-owned by the Molnick family, claims patent protection over any form of remote, live wagering that uses electronic transactions to make or pay off bets. Revenues would be generated by licensing that patent to other companies in exchange for a cut of gambling profits, along with providing consulting services.
Since Internet gambling is already a thriving business, i2 could be generating revenues today, President Chris Almida said. But the company hasn’t done so because it doesn’t want to jeopardize its standing before the Nevada Gaming Control Board if Internet gaming does become legal.
So for now, most of i2’s efforts have been focused on educating gaming companies and regulators about Internet gambling — and suing those companies that bring live Internet gambling to market without paying royalties.
These legal efforts have been quite successful. In February 2000, i2 won a federal court order forcing First Live Casino, a Caribbean Internet gambling site, to stop offering live games on its website. An order against Interactive Television Services Inc. of Roswell, Ga., followed.
“I’m the only person in the world that’s been able to shut down an Internet casino,” Molnick said.
Now, i2 has the powerful Stanley Ho in its sights. In July, i2 filed suit against DrHo.com, claiming it was infringing the i2 patent. DrHo.com officials have denied their site violates the patent.
But i2’s efforts have caught the attention of other companies, including Station Casinos.
Station’s Internet efforts are being focused through GameCast Live LLC, a newly formed subsidiary. For now, GameCast is focused on a non-Internet application: offering guests in a casino hotel the ability to play a live slot machine from a remote location, such as their hotel room. That would allow Station to generate revenues from the venture before a decision is made on Internet gambling’s legality in Nevada and the United States.
Fontaine hopes to offer the service in Station’s properties one day, but Nevada gaming regulations don’t allow that at the moment. Station has proposed regulation changes to the Nevada Gaming Commission, but doesn’t expect they will to come to fruition until next year. So Station has launched its marketing efforts with Indian casinos and cruise lines.
But Fontaine is thinking ahead. He sees a day when GameCast could be used to offer live table games across the world, starting with blackjack.
And he’s well aware of the i2 patent.
“It doesn’t cover live gaming, it covers financial transactions related to live gaming,” Fontaine said. “If you’re tied into a third-party financial system, like a credit card … that’s what the patent covers. We leave that end alone, because we don’t want to infringe on the patent. If we sell to someone who wants to get into credit cards … they call (i2), and cut a deal with them. That’s the stand we’ve taken.”
Station is looking at two business models. The first is offering to install the system for a casino operator, but letting the operator provide the dealers and run the games. Station could also run the entire casino using the brands of the client.
But Fontaine said it’s unlikely Station would try to become an Internet gambling power itself.
“Station Casinos doesn’t have the media power to create that draw,” Fontaine said. “We’d prefer to license to a Park Place (Entertainment Corp.), or an MGM MIRAGE, or a Mandalay Resort Group.”
And allowing those companies to recreate the Las Vegas experience in cyberspace might actually help the continuing evolution of the Las Vegas Strip, UNLV professor and gambling expert Bill Thompson argues.
“If it’s legal, then we can participate, then we can promote our casinos through it, then we can keep the profits from the gambling, then the profits can go into the expansion of Vegas,” Thompson said. “Our best defense is to make them (Internet casinos) legal and operate them.”
But even those who patronize online casinos say there’s no comparison between Las Vegas and the Internet.
“It’s no replacement at all,” Munchkin said. “There’s so much more to Las Vegas than just the gambling. There’s the whole excitement of being in a casino in Las Vegas, the energy. I enjoy being around other people when I gamble, being around other players.
“I think it (Internet gambling) is like fast food compared to a banquet (gambling on the Strip).”
And as long as Las Vegas casino companies believe they can still make a buck on the Strip, they’ll build more megaresorts, no matter what the future may bring.
“If there’s a market to build a billion-dollar place, people will do it,” MGM MIRAGE spokesman Alan Feldman said. “No one has ever done it (built a Strip megaresort) thinking they won’t make money.”