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Living It Up With Online Casinos

Live Dealer is the hottest thing at online casinos because it replicates the real-life casino. Players can communicate with the dealer and other players for a true “live” experience.

When it comes to online gambling, slot machines are the no-brainer decision. They are easily replicated and contain most of the graphics and sounds like the real-life games.

For the online operator, the more the merrier and there are often hundreds of slot games available to their customers at any given time. And with no physical restrictions, operators can continue to add new games without removing others. This gives players a distinct advantage when it comes to choosing which game to play.

In the early days of online gaming, table games were the ugly step sister of iGaming. Yes, you need to have them because there are some smart players who know that slots are typically a loser for most gamblers. But initially online table games were very much like online slot games. Hook them up to a basic random number generator (RNG), add some graphics, and that’s all you need. It’s head to head vs. the virtual dealer, and the experience is really nothing like the real thing.

But man against machine isn’t what live gaming is all about, so the search was on for the holy grail of live gaming online.

Todd Haushalter is the chief product officer for Evolution Gaming, the company that invented live dealer and now the dominant player in the market. Haushalter was senior vice president of table games for MGM Resorts prior to joining Evolution.

Launching live dealer took some effort.

“In those days you didn’t have decent bandwidth,” he says, “and it was really pushing the technological boundaries. The founders of Evolution made a huge bet and they built five tables and they decided to run them 24/7—it’s labor intensive and nobody’s waking up in the morning looking for live dealer.”

After some stops and starts, Haushalter says it was easy to see when live dealer “jumped the shark.”

“It was when you saw live casino get its own tab,” he says. “So you’d have sports, sports betting and then casino and then live casino. So that was a huge win.”

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Universal Appeal 

So why wasn’t the player satisfied with the static electronic version of their favorite table game? After all, the odds are the same and the decisions come much quicker. The player decides when the cards are dealt, not the live dealer.

According to Oliver Bartlett, the director of gaming for BetMGM, it caters to what the players want. 

“I think gambling at a table is quite familiar, almost as second nature, to a lot of Americans,” he says. “They prefer that kind of community feel, which obviously live casino gives far more than those RNG games. If I’m at the table with you, I can chat with you. I can chat with the dealer, and we can all have a good time, send out some virtual high fives, and kind of win and lose together, which is an added element of fun.”

The “chat” is not actually a verbal chat, it’s chat boxes embedded into the game where a player can chat with all or individual players via text messages.

Adam Glass, the director of B2B services for Rush Street Interactive, the operator of BetRivers and PlaySugarhouse, believes live dealer is a big upgrade from the RNG games.

“The live stream video is very unique in the sense it gives the player the ability to interact not only with the dealer, but with the other players at the table, just as if you’re at a land based casino. So many players actually want that. They want that feeling that they get from the brick-and-mortar experience online to actually see the cards being shuffled out in front of them and communicate with the folks sitting next to them. It adds a level of comradery and community, but most importantly, a level of trust of the betting experience, seeing those cards fly in front of them, it’s as close to authentic as possible without being at the brick-and-mortar property.”

It comes down to two elements, Haushalter says.  

“The first is overwhelmingly trust,” he says. “People are risking their hard earned money on an uncertain event and you know how it goes. When you’re sitting at the blackjack table, you don’t blame yourself, you blame the guy sitting next to you. You’re always looking for somebody to blame. I think the gambler really wants to ensure they got a good gamble. If it’s a pure RNG game for a lot of people, that’s just not gonna cut it when the dealer pulls a digital card out of a digital shoe and draws a five card 21 to beat your 20. That doesn’t sit well with a lot of people.”  

“And a very close number two—it’s almost a tie—is the social element. Right. Even if people don’t want to chat I think they just enjoy being around other people. It’s a little bit like people will go to a bar to have a drink, but not to talk to anybody. They could have a drink at home, but they still like to go to the bar and have a drink. So I think it satisfies the social appetite as well. And then of course, some people form full relationships with the dealers and other players. There you’re recognized by name, which is always a good thing.”    

Edo Haitin managing director of live dealer for Playtech, a giant in the online gaming supplier field, says it’s even more deep than the simple connection.  

“Live dealer is a way to add to the player entertainment experience,” said Haitin, “because eventually we’re providing an experience, not just a place to bet. If the player starts to lose, and suddenly is not enjoying himself, at least he’s being entertained. They’re looking at it from that perspective.”

While it’s possible players could snipe at each other for making what one might think was a bad decision, like taking the dealer’s bust card when he’s showing a Six, Bartlett says that has been few and far between in his experience.    

“Well at least it’s nasty messages instead of nasty elbows in a real casino table,” he laughs. “But that’s why we offer plenty of choices of blackjack games, different rules, different limits. If a player wanted to play alone, they could search for a table, which no one’s occupying at the moment. Or if a player prefers to play a lower limit with other players, maybe just a short message and say hitting on 16 against a Six probably would not be worth it.”

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The Name of the Game 

All online casinos offer the standard live dealer games of baccarat, roulette and blackjack. The first two games have the advantage that you can host hundreds, even thousands of players at each table since there’s no decision to be made by the players after placing their bets. Blackjack, however, is different and the normal seven spots at a real-life table is replicated online. 

“Blackjack is the only capacity constrained game,” says Bartlett. “We manage that capacity with Evolution and obviously looking at our own space. In Michigan, we launched with six private blackjack tables versus roulette table and one baccarat table. We’ll always look at the capacity of those blackjack tables. If I need to go to 10 or 15 tables, we’ll work with Evolution to get them built. 

“We also have another option in the live casino space called Infinite Blackjack. That’s a standard blackjack game with potentially 10,000 people betting on one hand, where decisions you can hit and stand are left to the original player, so it kind of bridges the gap quite nicely between RNG electronic table games and the real version of blackjack.”

The wild card of traditional casino games is craps, but solutions are even being worked up for that game. It really feeds off of the excitement of the players. Haushalter admits it’s a challenge.

“You feed off the energy of the other people at the craps table,” he says. “That’s just the reality. We’ve done our best to create a vibe, so we’ve built a set that it’s looks like a 1920s, underground speakeasy and you feel like it’s this underground table.

As for the game play, says Haushalter, in many ways it’s better than land based.

“It’s faster. We have a re-bet button so if all your numbers get taken down, you can immediately re-bet by pressing a button. It’s super easy. With one click you can see the user interface to explain to you what’s going on at all times. So in many ways it’s superior to the land based experience.”

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The Future of Live

Evolution Gaming has already given us a glimpse into the future with live “game shows.” They’ve converted the Deal or No Deal TV program into something you can bet on.

“We look for a central format of a game show,” says Haushalter. “For example, we’ve taken the big six wheel, pepper it with all kinds of different things that can happen, but some of those things take you off into this bonus game. It gives the player a lot to look at, with incredible variety.

Barrett says he’s looking forward to a game show-style game that is popular now in Europe, Crazy Time.

“It’s a good name because it’s genuinely a crazy game,” says Barrett. “Right now there’s probably 10,000 people playing that game in Europe. It’s by far the most popular sort of game show in the world in the online gaming space, I would love Evolution and us to bring that over to the U.S. I think it would really work because you need to build essentially a whole new casino in each state, you enter for Evolution.”

Glass agrees that the game-show concept is just in its infancy, but there is other growth potential.

“We’ll see a lot of variation in the game show style games,” he says. “I think we’ll see more variations in the table games and side bets. Localization is going be a huge key piece for that, especially as we expand internationally as well. And our high value, there will be further personalization for that cohort of players.” 

Haitin believes that technology will lead the way.

“Technology is always part of it,” he says, “different kinds of technology, to be sure—obviously video, but also products using analytic technology applied to live gaming. This will allow us to make sort of a leap of quality of experience for the users.”

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As the online casino and the live dealer games continue to evolve, iGaming Player will be front and center in the online player media space. Stay tuned as we all grow and learn the nuances of these games. Best of luck and always bet responsibly.

The National Council on Problem Gambling operates the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network (1-800-522-4700). The network is a single national access point to local resources for those seeking help for a gambling problem. The network consists of 28 call centers that provide resources and referrals for all 50 states, Canada, and the US Virgin Islands. Help is available 24/7 and is 100% confidential.

The National Problem Gambling Helpline Network also includes text and chat services. These features enable those who are gambling online or on their mobile phone to access help the same way they play. One call, text, or chat will get you to problem gambling help anywhere in the U.S. 24/7/365.

Help is also available via an online peer support forum at www.gamtalk.org.

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