The year was 1982 and I was a dealer at Caesars Atlantic City. Hours were long, players were surly and the work boring. My cousin’s girlfriend at the time, Dawna, was working in the casino office and got a strange request. Someone was calling and asking if the office could refer them to dealers who might be interested in appearing on a video computer blackjack game that featured human dealers announcing the results of each hand on a slot-style game.
It wasn’t surprising when the management at Caesars didn’t cooperate with this request. After all, the highest-tech video games were Pac-Man or Space Invaders. But when Dawna jokingly told me about it, I had the thought that I could provide the dealers. The main problem was getting a couple of days off at the same time, but we all managed to do that.
So I got together half a dozen dealers, all good-looking people. For some reason they didn’t use me on camera—I was just the organizer—go figure. We were whisked off to the studio in Boston, put up in a fine hotel, and filmed for two straight days. Each dealer had to repeat all the phrases you would use at a blackjack game—all the numbers, surrender, double down, split, etc. The producers didn’t want any animation or enthusiasm (kind of like a real blackjack game in Atlantic City in those days), just the numbers and phrases, thank you.
After it was over, I would occasionally call and inquire about the progress of getting this game to market, but kept hearing discouraging reports. Eventually it was determined that the technology was not up to speed—literally. The time for the appropriate phrase to load between the player making a choice about whether to hit or stand or whatever was in the neighborhood of a couple of seconds. So a player staring at a frozen screen wasn’t going to work.
Of course these problems were resolved about a decade later. I remember seeing the Sega dealer games at a trade show when they were first introduced and flashing back to those days in Boston. And today, the “live” dealers in online casinos are positively futuristic.
It seems that we humans have great imaginations that often can’t keep up with either the technology or the response of other humans.
Remember the introduction of ticket-in/ticket-out (TITO) in the early ’90s? It was a disaster when it first hit the casino floor, but over the years as technology and marketing improved (let’s make sure we still hear the sound of the coins dropping even if actual coins don’t drop), TITO was gradually accepted and today it’s a required part of any slot machine.
And don’t even start with RFID chips! Again, I harken back to the early ’90s, when then-Bally Technologies debuted a table that had a product that supposedly could read the cards coming out of the shoe and the chips in the rack and in the betting circles. It was amazing technology but it did not work. Even today, with the giant technological leaps, there are still problems.
And how about server-based gaming? It was to be the panacea for all casino operators where you could pick and choose what games to offer, where to offer them and what to charge for them. While today, SBG is widespread, it was far from the magic bullet that proponents were predicting.
So gaming and technology have a long and tortured history. Sometimes they are perfect together, and other times they’re at loggerheads. Sometimes it’s just that technology can’t do what the operators want, and in others it can’t do what the regulators deem necessary.
Many companies are trying to address the payment processing issue these days. Why can you insert, swipe or wave your credit card in front of some device and have money transferred painlessly, but at a slot machine you still have to use dirty and outdated cash? Good luck solving that issue to the regulators’ satisfaction.
But time heals all wounds. If it’s a good idea, people accept it, technology can achieve it and the developers have lots of time to wait and refine, any product can be successful. Just ask the guys who dumped all that money into the blackjack machine almost 40 years ago. They can tell you.