Monday, March 29, 2010

What's new in the casino world?

The world never stands still too long. If it does, this may mean it's dying and has nowhere else to go. The eternal question for every business lucky enough to hit a winning formula is whether to change it and, if so, by how much and how quickly. In one shape or form, casinos have been around for centuries. They were gambling in Ancient China and Rome long before anyone thought of building in the Nevada desert. Yet, the basic idea has remained the same. If your luck is in, a small bet will win you a fortune. It's a remarkably seductive temptation. Just think. All you need is for the dice to fall just so, or the next card to be the 8. The games may change their appearance, but the principle of betting on the outcome of random events remains the same. To that extent, gambling never changes and probably never will change significantly. If there is change, it's superficial. Say, from the one-armed bandit invented by Charles Fey to the video slots version you start by the press of a button. This makes the arrival of online casinos the first real revolution for at least a century. People have always gathered together to gamble. It could be in a friend's home, a private club or a place with public access. The internet does away with the requirement for a "place". Now people can stay home and still enjoy the pure experience of gambling. It avoids the inconvenience and expense of travel, buying food and drinks in more impressive surroundings and, in many cases, finding somewhere to stay overnight. All you have to tolerate is the quality of the animation and the annoying soundtrack of "live" players and the games. Over the last decade, real world casinos have come under real competitive pressure. They are not doing too well. But, before you all celebrate, this means the states take less in revenue and, as their deficits rise, tax hikes may have to fill in the gap.

This article brings two "back-to-basics" gambits by the competing forms. Let's start in Atlantic City. There has been a significant drop in the number of players in all venues and for all games. The recession is biting hard. So, albeit only on a trial basis, the management has gone back to the $2 game at two blackjack tables. The thinking is easy to explain. High table minimums frighten away the learners and the more conservative gamblers. People want the maximum gambling experience for the least possible outlay. The casino assures us that, if the trial is a success, more tables will go back to the $2 minimum. Except there's a twist. If you only bet in the range $2 to $5, you pay a fee of 25 cents per hand as a "contribution toward the operating costs". It seems casino managements cannot resist biting gamblers in the ass.

Going to online blackjack, Microgaming is introducing a live dealer version. You will be able to interact with the no doubt sexy dealer through the wonder of streamed video. Better still, it makes the online experience more obviously "fair". Although we have all come to trust the RNG, it's always more reassuring to see someone deal real cards. Others can also Bet Behind on the seated players and you can book a seat with your favorite dealer. It will be interesting to see whether live dealers represent a new nail in the real world casinos' coffin.

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