Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Thursday, June 08, 2006

PokerPro Dealerless Poker Table

So I noticed this redhead standing in line next to me at the rebuy/add-on table wearing a fleece jacket with a PokerTek logo. Being the naturally gregarious guy that I am, and never passing up an opportunity to find out about new poker toys, I said “Isn’t that the folks that make the computerized poker table?”

“PokerPro? Yes. Have you heard of it?”

“Yeah, my buddy Tripjax wrote it up in his blog, and I saw them down at the Tampa Bay Hard Rock.”

“Did you play on them?”

“Nah, if I wanna play poker on a computer screen, I’ll do it online.”

“Well, it’s pretty different from online poker.”

“Do you work for them?”

“Yes, I do.”

The above conversation is reconstructed wholly from my fuzzy-ass memory and the type of things that I would typically say. Most of those words in some assortment probably happened at some point. So that’s how I met Becca, the Branding Specialist for Pokertek, who are indeed the folks that have a new product called the PokerPro poker table, a dealerless poker table. Turns out that their offices are just outside of Charlotte, so I played the internet writer card, and lo and behold, they set up a little meeting and tournament on their table for me!

So I’ve never sat down at one of their tables before, but I had read an article in last month’s Bluff magazine by Antonio Esfandiari raving about the tables, and I checked out their website to do a little research. I found the screen interface super-easy to navigate, and the setup was simple as well. When you arrive at the casino, you get yourself an account card at a kiosk, put cash on it, and sign up on a list to play. Currently they support single-table tournaments and ring games, with multi-table tournaments available soon on networked tables. And over in the corner of the demo room was a new product that looked totally badass that I promised not to say anything specific about so all I'll say is watch this space for details. Yeah, that was cheap, I know.

So when your game is called, you sit down at the table, slip your card in the reader, it deducts that tourney buy-in (or amount for your ring game) from your account, and you’re golden. So you're playing against other live players, and the money is real, but the chips and cards are virtual. I thought this would be kinda silly, but I had an absolute blast! It helped that I won the first tourney and was 2nd in the other (I think they took it easy on the writer guy).

Each seat has a touchscreen built into the table, and there a much larger display in the center of the table where the community cards appear. They also appear on the smaller monitors, along with your options to bet, raise, fold, check, etc. My initial concern of playing with a monitor in front of me was “How do I hide my cards? Am I gonna have to sit here all night with my hand on this monitor?” Ummm, no. The cards are “dealt” face-down, and you have to cup your hand around the cards for the corners to bend up, just like you’re squeezing cards on a table. Pretty damn neat graphical job there, I must say.

And speaking of dealing, just like any reputable online site, PokerTek has had their RNG (random number generator) certified by an outside firm. And UNLIKE online sites, they have set up their random number generator to “burn” a card before dealing the flop, turn and river, in an effort to more accurately mimic the traditional game.

That sentence actually took a little while to craft, because my first instinct was to use the phrase “mimic the live game,” but it IS a live game, just a hybrid between traditional poker and internet poker. I’m gonna need a bit of a lexicon upgrade, I think.

So we played a couple of SNGs, me against 3 of the PokerTek folks, and it only took me a matter of seconds to grasp the use of the touchscreen. All the buttons were big enough, and the graphical representations of chips were neat, and easy to read and bet with. We played one round on the new tables, which are under review by gaming licensing folks and one round on the original table, which is what’s currently installed in casinos like the Winstar and the Florida Hard Rocks.

So what did I like about them? Faster, faster, faster. It speeds up the game by about 50%, because there’s none of the mechanics of getting cards to people, getting chips into the pot, etc. The possibility of dealer error is reduced to, ummm, nil. And dealers are people, which means they’re going to make mistakes. Especially with as many new rooms as are being opened up and as many new dealers that are being hired, trained or not. And did I mention it’s faster?

Then there’s the video-game aspect. People that are slot machine junkies or video poker junkies will sit down at one of these, because they don’t have to mess with chips, they don’t have to deal with cards, it’s a familiar place for them, in front of a screen.

Now, I don’t see this as a product that is going to replace poker dealers. Entirely. I see this as a product that facilities that are opening new, smaller poker rooms may want to invest in because it is lower overhead. Yes, I’m sure the tables are expensive (I didn’t ask because I didn’t really care), but when you look at a room the size of the Imperial Palace, with maybe 10 tables, the infrastructure in cards, chips (at nearly a buck apiece!) and dealers, it’s gonna take a long time to amortize that with the rake that you get at low limits. So I see this as an addition to traditional tables, like they have in Florida.

It’s absolutely perfect for low buy-in SNG tourneys, because who really wants to deal one of those anyway? A $40 tourney with 9 people isn’t going to tip, so why not put it on a table without a dealer? A $2/4 NL table isn’t going to tip much, so why not put those on your dealerless tables? Save your dealers for your higher buy-in games, your big tourneys and your games that require some explanation to the new Hold Em kiddies, like O8 or Stud.

BTW, they do have the possibility to charge time with the PokerPro table, either on the hour, or per player based on how long the player has been there. So instead of having the dealer collect time when she sits down, each player is hit for time when they’ve been at the table for 30 minutes. Seems much more fair to me, but I’ve never played at a time pot table, so I dunno.

I also see this as a great addition to some of those terrible backwoods places that can’t have poker. Oh yeah, I live in one of those. It seems like a no-brainer that NC, with it’s provision to allow digital blackjack at Harrah’s Cherokee, would pretty easily allow digital poker. But not yet. I hope soon. I’d love to get some of those grannies across one of these tables. It can also go well in a bar, in the back room next to the pool tables to generate revenue for the bar owner without much overhead.

Okay, what did I not like about it? Not much, and my one complaint is something that would fade with practice. I found myself spending a lot of time looking at the screen in front of me, or the screen in the center of the table, rather than looking at the other players. But this was due to lack of familiarity with the interface, and as the tourneys went on, my comfort level with the buttons I needed to tap increased to let me pay more attention.

What about tells? They’re different, but they exist. It’s not often, at least at the levels that I play, that you can pick up a reliable physical tell anyway, but obviously the things like reaching for chips, looking at stacks, etc. are all gone. But you can watch as people move their hand around different areas of the screen once you’re familiar with the layout, and see if their first instinct is to push bet, fold, or check. I caught myself doing that a couple of times, reaching for the button I intended to push, and I’m sure if anyone was paying close attention, they could have picked up on that.

Oh yeah, and the best part? It’s beer-proof. I asked, and was told that even the card slot has been crafted so that any liquid poured into it is redirected out of the table, about where the offending player’s leg should be. Nice to have a sense of humour about these things.

So I had a great visit, was very impressed by the product, and think it could make a great addition to a casino’s poker room. I don’t think it will ever totally replace dealers, but it would be a good solution to single-table tourneys, low-limit tables, satellite tourneys, and maybe save some folks from the influx of new, bad dealers while making the good ones valued for the service that they provide.


DadWarbucks said...

mWell I would love to try that table just for fun. Being shy and retiring as I am (NOT) I have a few comments.
1. "Faster, faster": Your comments led me to believe that this was a good thing. IT IS if you own the table in a casino or where ever. They never lose and speed brings in more money and FASTER.
2. I played blackjack in Cherokee on tables similar to these. You have to place chips on the electronic eye and there is a "raker/payer" person. I won $50 but did not like the electronic aspects.
3. Finally, as an old fart, I have come to despise the general speed of life that is pervasive in America. We (not me) want everything from the news to the outcome of a wager instantaneously and fool proof. Even my favorite form of gambling (horse racing) is predominately supported by the speed freaks. Every race track has video feeds from tracks all over the country and sometimes the world so you can place a bet every few minutes. Again, the house wins only faster.
What I enjoy is sitting down with my friends and playing a relaxing game of chance OR spending an entire afternoon at the race track and only placing a bet every 20 to 30 minutes.

Drizztdj said...

Will they have Blackjack in the upper right hand corner for Waffles?

Shelly said...

interesting.... how many days till vegas??? late-leaving-leftovers are we!

Felicia :) said...

HA! I knew it! God I love being right.

Great write-up. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and I'm so glad my prediction about this machines was spot-on.

--S said...

I look forward to seeing one of the tables. I'm not too afraid of it taking my job. The only thing I'd disagree with you about is your statement that a $2-4 NL game isn't going to tip much. So far, I've found that the lower the limits, the more I make in tips. As a former technosweeb, I still want to see one of these, though!

Falstaff said...

Interesting - since I've never been in the box I didn't know that it would be more profitable to deal the lower limits. Makes sense though, since that's gonna have more recreational players than the higher limits.

TripJax said...

almost every hand at 3/6 limit that we played in okie was tipped. not sure about 2/4.

you know i'm already a fan of these tables - even not having played on one - just because of the potential i know they offer. i can't wait to give one a try and hope to do so soon, since I'm only about an hour and a half from the facility...

Nice write up falstaff.

Anonymous said...

This is really an incredible piece of technology. Inside information, it will be coming to the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Ct in early 2007.

Phil said...

Whoever wrote this article is obviously working for the company... w/e im not going to stare at a screen im going to feel the game. 50% faster? wtf poker is suppose to be fun and enjoyable not a game to rush you top act at an instant notice. Im sorry those dealers are already pretty fast, and i love them to much to to pay on a screen.

billy said...

Been playing these tables @ Mohegan in CT for a couple of months. U may as well get used to them cause in a few years there will be no dealers. Personally, I like them. Antes are up, blinds are posted, pots are divided and u still have plenty of time to make your play when it's your action.

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