Groups of five cluster around a poker table, staring intently at the high-def screens while facsimile cards fly their way.
In their midst one night last week, Jamie Tsottles kept his eyes on the small tabletop screen showing dice being tossed by an automated craps machine at another table. But he would rather have been playing poker with a human croupier, known in the trade as a live dealer.
“I enjoy the conversation with a dealer,” said Tsottles, an information technology specialist from Glen Burnie. “It’s more social. And you’re going to have different kinds of gamblers — someone with $500,000 to spend versus people who bring $40 and don’t go over their limit.”
Whether tight-budgeted or high-flying, gamblers may soon notice a big change in Maryland’s casinos. The state legislature passed Wednesday, and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) swiftly signed, a law permitting live dealers at tabletop games such as blackjack, roulette, poker and craps. If voters approve a referendum on the measure in November, Prince George’s County also could add the state’s sixth casino.
In what may be the ultimate man vs. machine story, the back-to-the-future move to bring in human dealers is more about money and marketing than nostalgia. Casino operators, players, dealers and therapists who treat problem gamblers say the presence of live dealers makes gambling more entertaining and more lucrative than in casinos equipped just with electronic games.
It draws more experienced gamblers who place bigger bets. The games themselves become less of a solitary experience, as players eyeball one another’s every move in search of a subtle tell, and alternately rejoice with winners and commiserate with losers. Dealers may dispense advice to players, giving quick tutorials to novices or suggesting to someone who’s too drunk or too broke that it’s time to take a break.
For most casino habitues, live dealers make gambling more fun.
“Electronic games are faceless,” said Jeffrey A. Lowenhar, a casino marketing consultant who heads Gaming Research in Las Vegas and calls himself Dr. Jeff. “You put in your money, you make a decision and you win or lose.
“With table games, you’re interacting with other people. You could be sitting at a table with five or seven people, and 15 or 20 people standing behind you. There’s the excitement of yelling and screaming when you win. You can’t do that in isolation when you’re playing electronic games and literally talking to yourself.”
Still, the slots of today are more advanced than the one-armed bandits that used to line casino floors. And the technology in the electronic table games, such as roulette and blackjack, is state of the art. For some, the experience is preferable.