ive players sit around a video terminal, and an animated, computerized person deals the cards. The virtual dealer asks players whether they want to “stand,'' “hit'' for another card or ”double down'' and play two hands at once. The minimum bet will be us$ 5. The casino sets the max, which could be us$ 500.
“It's not a live table game, but we hope it'll have some of the same fun,'' Gulfstream vice president Steve Calabro said. Other parimutuels, desperate to derail the Seminole Tribe of Florida's attempt to monopolize table games, also said they would add the blackjack terminals as soon as they could.
The machines got the approval because players compete individually against the dealer and work off of what is called a “random number generator.'' That makes them, technically, slot machines, which Broward and Miami-Dade voters have approved.
About 30 other gambling jurisdictions, including Pennsylvania, California and Delaware, agree the machines have the same inner workings as slot machines. The Florida parimutuels petitioned the state for the games about a year ago, and the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering responded last week by allowing electronic blackjack, Keno and roulette.
The games will not be in operation for about six weeks, pending the usual state review of new casino games. Like slots, the state continually monitors the games to make sure there's no funny business.
The state and the Seminoles have been negotiating a compact that could make the tribe the exclusive venue for blackjack and other live table games. The state's horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons complained, saying Indian casinos have enough advantages, and that adding blackjack would bury them. The parimutuels have had disappointing gambling revenues since opening almost three years ago.
Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen said Monday that the state's approval of virtual blackjack is an impediment to the ongoing talks. “It makes it difficult to keep negotiating a compact when the exclusivity of the game continues to erode,'' he said.
The parimutuels still believe they are at a disadvantage. At the same time, sitting in a half-circle around a TV screen showing the animated dealer and pushing buttons instead of handling chips and cards is the best they can do for now, they say. Gulfstream's Calabro said: “The real game is significantly different than the electronic game. If the real blackjack is a 10, then this is a 1 or 2.''
But Isle Casino & Racing general manager Mike Bloom said, “It's certainly a huge help.''
“We're hoping as an alternative there'll be a large number of customers who'll like this game,'' he said. Because the random-number generator plays each person one-on-one, he added, “There's no intimidation. There's no, “You took my 10.' ''
Calabro and Bloom are uncertain how many games they will install. Mardi Gras Gaming & Racetrack in Hallandale Beach can also add them, as can Flagler Greyhound Racing & Poker and Calder Casino & Race Course in Miami-Dade, both set to open as racinos in the next few months. Dania Jai-alai and Miami Jai-alai have no slots, and no expansion plans.
Bally, International Game Technology and Shuffle Master manufacture the games and lease them to casinos. The casinos can set the game's rules, such as whether to pay 3-to-2 or 6-to-5 on a blackjack and when players can double down on their bets. Card counters looking for an edge will be short-circuited because the machine doesn't disclose when new decks are introduced.
The machines are popular in Pennsylvania, which has no live table games, and some Las Vegas casinos use them because the machines whip out more hands (read: profit) per hour. Players like them because there is no dealer to tip. Syndicated blackjack columnist Mark Pilarski said it's “real blackjack.''
“It's a good thing for the player, a good way to get your training wheels,'' he said, noting that casinos can't afford to keep us$ 5 tables open. “Virtual dealers don't ask for holidays off and healthcare,'' he said. His only caution: Don't get caught up in playing too fast, because this virtual game can eat your real bankroll.