PokerTek Finishes First Round of BlackjackPro Rollout

I may have to take back my words when it comes to PokerTek’s BlackjackPro automatic blackjack table. Back in November of last year I made it known that I was on the skeptical side of BlackjackPro. And really, can you blame me when one of their features allows the casino to set the game up with their own rules? Such a feature allows casino operators the ability to set up another blackjack table or blackjack variation with rules that are not player friendly.

However, response to the BlackjackPro system has been positive. Hopefully this means that players are not only taken with automated blackjack tables but also with blackjack games whose rules are not stacked more than normal against them.

A quick reminder: BlackjackPro automatic blackjack tables feature a center screen with six seats around it. It is on this screen that players see the game happen rather than on seven individual screens. This helps to improve group play and camaraderie at the table, which I can now commend as it has been a success.

As for the rollout, the entire batch of original BlackjackPro tables have found homes, with the last of the automated tables installed at the end of last month. This means that ninety six BlackjackPro tables have found homes in land casinos and on cruise ships. And the demand for them continues:

“Demand has exceeded our inventory during this initial rollout phase with our available supply now fully absorbed. In response to the favorable product performance and customer demand, production is underway to provide additional inventory for second half installations,” said Mark Roberson, PokerTek’s CEO.

This means that PokerTek will continue to build BlackjackPro tables with the ProCore system. The BlackjackPro tables have been the saving grace of PokerTek, so let’s hear it for blackjack! Considering the success of the BlackjackPro automated blackjack tables, it seems that players like them. Just please be wary of the rules the casinos set them up with as well as side bets that are set up in how the casinos program them.

Are CSMs Fair in Blackjack?

It is a question I hear fairly often: Are CSMs fair to use in blackjack? CSMs by the way are Continuous Shuffle Machines. Most blackjack players hate them. The ones that do not hate them learn to dislike them once they understand what they do. Blackjack players who count cards particularly hate them.

When a CSM is being used at a blackjack table, the dealer will collect all of the cards that were just used in the last round and pop them into the CSM. The CSM then immediately shuffles the just used cards back into the deck. At no point is there a stack of discards at a table that is using a CSM. It is the lack of discards and the constant shuffling that makes blackjack players hate CSMs.

But to answer the question, yes, CSMs are fair to use in blackjack. We may not like them, but there is nothing anywhere that says that they cannot be used. Sucks, right? Right.

Online blackjack players really do not have much to say on the idea of a constantly shuffled deck. But that is because the RNG used in online blackjack games creates an effect similar to a CSM. There are no discards in a game of online blackjack. At the beginning of a new round the RNG will pull at random the two starting cards of the player from all possible two starting cards; and will pull at random the dealer’s up card from all possible up cards for the dealer to have. Each card that is dealt is dealt from all possibilities. This is a similar effect to a CSM since the cards from a previous round are not removed from the possibilities.

Casinos can use that similarity as a means to back up the idea that it is fair for them to use a CSM. But at the end of the day, CSMs are fair game to be used in a casino no matter how much players do not like them.

Fighting for Blackjack Tables: Maryland’s Turn

Over the last couple of years we have see several states put forth legislation that would allow their slot parlors to expand with table games such as blackjack, poker and roulette; other bills have been for the allowing of new fully fledged brick and mortar casinos. Now Maryland is moving forward in their lawmakers scraping for blackjack tables.

The name of the bill that would give the state blackjack tables, poker tables and other table games is House Bill 331. House Bill 331 would allow the five establishments that already offer casino gambling in the form of slot machines the opportunity to apply for a gambling expansion in the form of table games.

Naturally the reason for the bill is to allow Maryland to generate more revenue and to allow their existing gambling facilities to compete with neighboring states who are now offering gambling establishments with both slot machines and table games. Delegate Frank Turner, who is the head supporter of House Bill 331, said, “It is a matter of staying competitive with other states around us.”

And he is right in saying so. Think about it: if you were looking to do some gambling in a brick and mortar casino, would you go to a slots parlor where your only playing options were slot machines, or would you make the drive to a brick and mortar casino with blackjack and poker as well as slot machines? The answer is simple. Americans desire variety, and even if they only wind up playing one kind of casino game, they will tend toward the option that gives them the most options.

Yesterday saw a lot of talk of gambling options for Maryland in the General Assembly. But it will take more than one meeting of the general assembly to determine whether or not to move forward in the table games expansion debate.

BlackjackPro May Be the Saving Grace of PokerTek

Last year I brought to light a United States based gaming table company who specializes in poker. Well, poker tables that is. Automated ones. In November I discussed how PokerTek was expanding their product line with the introduction of automated blackjack tables called BlackjackPro. This would also change their specialization from poker to automated casino game tables in general.

This month with the installation of the first round of several BlackjackPro installations. Two things were revealed by CEO Mark Roberson with the first round of installation of BlackjackPro. 1. PokerTek was looking to expand its offering of automated table games, calling the forth coming tables ProCore, and BlackjackPro would be the first of the ProCore series; and 2. The expanded offerings were to generate more revenue.

At first the expansion openly detailed to increase expansion might raise eyebrows—boy, aren’t they cocky some might say. But it turns out there is a reason behind the expansion due to increase revenue.

PokerTek is a six year old company that has yet to show profit. In their fourth quarter they reported a $481,453 loss on their revenue that totaled at $1.6 million for that quarter. PokerTek has experience consistent loss in the last two years, although 2010 was not as bad as 2009, but then the first BlackjackPro tables would have sold right at the very end of 2010. While that helped to make losses not as bad, it still did not show a profit.

In 2009 PokerTek lost $5.67 million compared to revenue generated of $5.41 million. Like I said 2010 was not as bad: $4.02 million on $5.9 million.

Hopefully the expansion of offering an array of automated tables will help PokerTek stick around in the casino game industry. If BlackjackPro tables helped cut down on the losses for 2010, then it is possible that they might be the beginning of the saving grace for PokerTek.

Proof that Blackjack Works in Pennsylvania

Remember about a year ago when the subject of adding blackjack and other table games to existing Pennsylvania brick and mortar casinos was being discussed? Also on that topic was the opening of new Pennsylvania brick and mortar casinos. And like any legislation—be it state or federal—that is in favor of either increasing or adding new gambling options there were those that were opposed to the idea.

Well they might want to reconsider their nay-saying when it comes to the Pennsylvania blackjack and other table games. For one thing there was the blackjack revenue generated in August, the first full month that all nine of the Pennsylvania brick and mortar casinos were up and running with their blackjack tables.

Now some might say that such figures are not a sign of success; that those figures on reflect on the newness of the blackjack tables—kind of like comparing a bunch of adults to a wild pack of five year olds with a shiny new toy. Not a very nice comparison to say the least.

But here we are a little more than six months out from when the blackjack tables were installed, and they are just as popular with Pennsylvania casino goers, if not more so.

The Sands Casino in Bethlehem is seeking permission from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to increase their table games, with particular emphasis on blackjack tables. Of the twenty nine requested table games, twenty of those tables would be allotted for blackjack; of the remaining nine, eight would be allotted for Baccarat and one for Roulette.

So to the nay-sayers, those blackjack tables are still bringing in increased revenue. And if the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board approves the table game increase, which is thought to be likely, it would not only further increase revenue, it would also create 139 new jobs ranging from dealers to housekeeping. There is plenty of proof that the addition of blackjack tables to the brick and mortar casinos of Pennsylvania was a success.

Now if only we could get the federal government to think about online gambling like this.

Blackjack Games Not to Play: MindPlay Tables

Part of being a savvy blackjack player is knowing strategy and how to play the game to squeeze the best odds out of a game. But another part of being a savvy blackjack player is knowing where to play and where not to play. I am not talking about specific casinos. I am talking about specific games of specific rules to avoid.

That being said, there is one specific blackjack game that I recently heard of that I feel compelled to tell of. In fact, this is more a type of blackjack table than a blackjack variation’s rules. The type of table is called a MindPlay table.

A MindPlay table is a specifically built table with a purpose. That purpose is to track the cards and chips on the table; it is programmed to determine a player’s skill level, track wagers, count the deck and how long a player has played at that table. MindPlay tables use specifically marked decks; they are not marked where a player can see the marks of course, but they are indeed marked.

Play at a MindPlay begins with the dealer removing the decks from the shuffle machine and placing them in a sort of well in the table to the right of the dealer. Once in this well-like space, an optical device then scans the deck, counting the marks, and creating an order of the cards. The cards are then dealt and played in that order.

Once play has begun the MindPlay program counts the cards as they are played, similar to how a blackjack player counts cards. When the MindPlay device’s count reaches a certain number, the dealer is ordered to reinsert the cards into the shuffler and then reinsert them into the well-like space for scanning. This counting and pre-programmed command to reshuffle is in place so that players will not be able to squeeze an advantage out of the decks through card counting.

But the optical device of a MindPlay table does more. It can track how much a player is betting, calculate their average bet and how long a player has been playing at that table. This information can be used by pit bosses when it comes to comps for players. A player can ask the pit boss for a comp, telling him or her that they have wagered this much in this much time at that blackjack table over there; the pit boss can then check the program in the MindPlay table to see if what the player says is true or not. Casinos like this feature because it will allow them better—and tighter—control on comping players.

But comping aside, the scanning and tracking of the order of the deck and the increased odds it gives players is enough to give blackjack players a reason to avoid MindPlay tables. It seems though that casinos are saying that it is not okay for players to count cards, but it is okay for them to count and track the cards.

So, blackjack players, this is one type of blackjack table to avoid. Unfortunately these tables are not labeled with signs or the like; you will not see a ‘MindPlay Blackjack’ sign sitting on the felt. The giveaway is the black well-like device in the table on the dealer’s right—in other words, near the third base position. If you see that well-like device it is highly likely that the blackjack table is a MindPlay table. Avoid it, and encourage other players to avoid it.

Automated Blackjack Tables

I have been doing some more thinking about those automated blackjack tables that PokerTek has created. My mind keeps coming back to the idea that PokerTek believes that these automated blackjack tables will increase the social interaction between players at the table.

The whole reason for their belief in increased social interaction is because of the main screen. This central, main screen will have players all looking at the same place on the table. Players then use the controls in front of them to choose how to play out their hands, kind of like how you click on the appropriate button in a game of online blackjack.

But here is the thing that keeps tripping my mind. Blackjack is a one-on-one game, just you and the dealer. The other players’ plays do not impact your own game against the dealer. It is not like poker in where what the other players do matters. And it is not a social game for the most part. Sure, some people will talk at the table but it is not like craps where everyone is all excited and jumping around and all talking at once. At least that is how craps seems to me.

While I am sure that PokerTek has good intentions—meaning, they are trying to create a unique product and drive their business—I do not think that they can really change the essence of blackjack. And while I have no doubt that players will still play at automated blackjack tables, I doubt those players are going to have more “social interaction” than players at regular blackjack tables. It is just in the nature of blackjack—it is a one-on-one kind of game—and no automated blackjack tables are going to change that.

Poker Gaming Company Makes Automated Blackjack Table

PokerTek, a licensed gaming company that specializes in electronic solutions—read: games that do not require the hiring of people—to casinos’ table games, will be unveiling their latest automated table game at this year’s Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas: Blackjack Pro.

Blackjack Pro is like any other blackjack table except that there is no dealer. The entire game is automated with the basic rules of blackjack already programmed into its software. Basic rules aside, casino operators will have the power to set up and alter some of the rules, such as whether or not a player can double down after splitting a pair, or split a second pair of Aces. So the house edge on these automated blackjack tables is not really set.

Casino operators will also be able to adjust the payout options as well. Meaning that if they want to set a Blackjack Pro table to have a 6-5 payout on a natural blackjack instead of a 3-2 because they are using the automated table to support a blackjack variation instead of a standard game, it is possible.

Each Blackjack Pro table will have a central screen so that players sitting around the table are looking at the same screen, rather than each player having their very own screen. PokerTek claims that this will increase social interaction amongst blackjack players.

But what PokerTek fails to understand is that, despite a table holding seven players, blackjack is a one-on-one game of the player versus the dealer. The plays that the other players make do not impact the outcome of my hand.

I am sure that PokerTek means will with its automated blackjack table, but Blackjack Pro is not going to change the basis of blackjack, and it will not turn blackjack into a social game like poker.

Which Blackjack Table to Play at—Part II

When I left you this morning you had just stepped onto the casino floor and were faced with the choosing which blackjack table is the best to play at. Yes, real casinos will have more than four blackjack tables, but in this instance there are only four. Think of it as a really, really small casino.

So which blackjack table did you decide was the best to play at?

If you chose table 2 then you chose correctly.

Table 2 had the two guys playing a quiet game through a streak of low cards.

So why this blackjack table and not any of the others? It comes down to the cards.

Well, the guys at table 1 are experiencing a run of high cards. The problem with this table is that jumping in now would mean that you do not get to play through the entire high card streak, causing you to lose out on some profit opportunities.

Table 3 would be the table to join if you were new to the game of blackjack. But if you are an experienced player, the rounds would go very slowly and no doubt wear on your patience. And if only one or two of the ladies is winning in each round, it means that a streak is not happening with which to judge the table with. Table 3 is a table for novices. If you are not a novice, this is not the table for you.

A large pile of chips is not an indicator of how good a blackjack table is. Those players at table 4 could easily have started with larger bankrolls rather than won all those chips. The indicator is that the cards at that table are mixed, indicating that there are no streaks present—like at table 3.

The low streak at table 2 means that the low cards are passing out of play and that high cards are likely to be on their way. Judge how good a blackjack table is by the cards. Always, always look at the cards. And remember that a table with a low card streak is a good table to jump in on if possible.

Which Blackjack Table to Play at

Casinos are exciting places to visit. Lights, sounds, just the general atmosphere pulls you in and surrounds you creating a one of a kind feeling. With all the excitement it can be rather hard to choose which blackjack table is best to play at.

Wait, am I saying that there is a way to choose which blackjack table is best to play at?

Why, yes, I am.

We are going to pretend that you just walked out onto the casino floor and are looking to play blackjack. You head to where the balckajck tables are and find that you have a few options. I am going to give a few different types of tables and see if you can guess which table is the best blackjack table to play at.

Table 1: The table has six of its seven seats filled by some rather rowdy guys. They are rowdy because they have been winning fairly often. They are also all friends and have been drinking some as well.

Table 2: This table only has a couple of people at it. They are playing quietly, rarely speaking and communicating their plays to the dealer in hand signals. You notice that they keep getting more low cards than high, and the dealer is winning more. You attribute this to the reason why the two players are being so serious.

Table 3: At the third table the dealer appears to be offering help to a group of ladies who do not seem to really understand the game. The dealer is being very nice about helping them, and at least one or two of the ladies beats him each round.

Table 4: The final table is only half full and each player has a large pile of chips in front them. The cards are mixed, with no real leaning on high or low cards.

Those are your four blackjack tables to choose from. Imagine that you are standing on the casino floor and have to choose one. Which blackjack table is the best to play at.?

Check back this afternoon and I will tell you which blackjack table is the best to play at and why.