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Could robots work in Las Vegas casinos in the next two decades?


13 Apr 2018

A discussion panel last year at the Venetian Resort in Macau during Global Gaming Expo (G2E) Asia 2017 touched on the subject of robot dealers one day being recruited by casinos.

Although it was concluded that such a shift was unlikely in the immediate future and that live dealers would never completely be replaced because of the human interaction element they offer, there was the consensus that robots would be introduced at some point.

Primarily, they may offer a solution to combatting rising dealer costs, which have been noted in recent years. It was raised that robot dealers could have the role of taking over during quieter periods at the tables.

Aside from the financial savings, there are other benefits to a casino should they have the opportunity to employ a robot dealer.

Among them is the novelty value they would offer, especially in their early days, security as the urge to cheat the casino will be non existent and efficiency, both in terms of speed of dealing cards and not needing breaks, annual leave etc.

We considered both the positives and negatives of robot dealers in more detail previously here.

In fact, a lifelike female prototype called Min was created in 2016, which had the capacity to deal cards. Further developments were in the pipeline too, such as being able to speak to customers in various languages and even potentially to recognise their faces.

When it comes to involvement within Las Vegas establishments, the robots may be more imminent than many believe.

Robots and automation in Vegas

At the Renaissance Hotel, near the Las Vegas Strip, robots are already in operation.

Two robots named Elvis and Priscilla are being utilised up and down the hallways, carrying out simple delivery tasks. These include sending new towels or daily newspapers to rooms.

Such developments are in line with projections highlighted in a study from the University of Redlands in California last year.

The research by the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis indicated that Las Vegas would be the hardest hit metropolitan area in the US over the next two decades in terms of job losses to automation.

It was estimated that as many as 65% of jobs in Las Vegas could be automated in this period.

Professor Johannes Moenius, founding director of ISEA, said: “The replacement of jobs by machines has been happening continuously since the Industrial Revolution, but it’s expected to significantly accelerate in the coming 10 or 20 years.”

In terms of the types of jobs that naturally most lend themselves to a robot takeover, it is those with repetitive elements that could be heavily at risk.

Casino dealers do fit into this category, as do many others within the retail sector.

Should such developments happen by 2038, it wouldn’t be the first instance of casino staff losing jobs to automation.

Previous technological upgrades have allowed casino’s to run with fewer floor staff to complete tasks, such as frequently needing to empty coins from slot machines.

The importance of customer acceptance

The switch to robot dealers could heavily hinge on how well they are accepted by casino customers.

Many players like the challenge of attempting to beat a dealer, even if the dealer is simply following pre-determined rules when handling games, rather than using any personal skill.

A different vibe would be given off by a robot dealer, primarily through the consensus that they have been built to be unbeatable.

Four professional poker players played 120,000 hands of Texas Holdem against a robot last year, which had been programmed with algorithms to play the perfect statistical game.

The end result was the robot being up the equivalent of 17,000 big blinds and all four players being down on the initial chip stack.

Furthermore, having more efficient robot dealers capable of distributing a greater number of cards to players per hour may turn enjoyment into exhaustion.

There would be the risk of a shift from a gaming session being played at a leisurely pace with time to make decisions, to something much more frantic and frenetic.

Finally, dealers aren’t just there to deal cards, collect losing chips or pay out winning bets. There are other ways they can enhance a casino experience.

They can engage in much more detailed conversation, deal with queries more efficiently and tickle players with amusing recollections of past events.

There is certainly a valid argument as to whether a robot dealer would have the ability to keep games progressing as smoothly as a human one.

But will the savings in labour costs outweigh the potential negatives in customer experience? Wait 20 years and we may just find out.