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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

No cards ... only computers

19 August 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Can you play poker with no cards, no chips and no dealers?

Poker players at Excalibur are about to find out. When they wander in the casino's poker room on Friday, they will find a fully automated poker room.

Resort officials have decided to equip the casino's poker room with electronic poker tables to boost interest in the game. North Carolina-based PokerTek is providing 12 of its PokerPro tables to the Excalibur for a six-month trial run.

PokerTek received approval from Nevada gaming regulators last week to field test the system. The company placed 12 games in the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City in June and has more than 230 machines worldwide. The company's largest automated poker room is at the Casino du Montreal, which has 25 tables.

PokerTek Chief Executive Officer Chris Halligan called the deal with Excalibur a "major milestone" because it gave the company its first Strip location. The Strip resort's poker room closed at midnight Sunday so remodeling could start for the new automated system.

Excalibur Vice President of Casino Operations Todd DeRemer said the automated poker tables would attract customers back to the poker room.

"In the past three years, interest in poker has declined significantly at the Excalibur," DeRemer said Monday. "We have tried to figure out how to make the room successful and to fit our customer. We've never run high-limit games. We don't have the clientele with that type of interest."

But the change has cost more than 40 Excalibur poker dealers their jobs. DeRemer said some of the poker dealers were transferred to other casinos operated by MGM Mirage, which runs the Excalibur. Some of the dealers were offered different dealing positions within the Excalibur.

"A majority have been placed, and we're working diligently with everyone else," DeRemer said.

One poker player, who plays regularly at the Excalibur, said many of the dealers had been at the casino since it opened in 1990. Dealers were given notice of the change earlier in the month. The player, who asked not to be named, said much of the discussion during a recent game was about the automated system.

"I realize times are tough in Las Vegas, but I don't think that is a reasonable solution," she said. "Several people that were in the same poker game I was playing in said they stayed at the Excalibur because of the ambience in the poker room but will no longer do so."

DeRemer said that the games are cashless and that several casino employees are being trained to help customers if they have questions. The change is being made, he said, because novice poker players can be intimidated by a live poker room.

He and other Excalibur executives played on the automated tables at a casino in California before deciding to make the change.

"It's not intimidating, and we think that aspect will help bring back the customers," DeRemer said.

The 10-person poker table has individual touch screens for each player and a 40-inch flat screen in the middle to display community cards, players' table stakes and the pot.

The individual screens show each player their hole cards. Like live poker, the casino does not know the hole cards nor does the player have to show them after folding. The electronic machines keep a record of the action that could be used to settle disputes about collusion or other allegations.

DeRemer said the machines will allow customers to play Texas hold 'em, seven card stud and Omaha. The betting limits will remain low.

PokerTek officials said the tables lower costs to a casino by replacing dealers. The tables also speed play, which can increase the rake for the house. The change also means players don't have to tip a dealer.

DeRemer said cost savings were not a reason behind the change.

"We like the appeal of the technology," he said. "We think that will be a draw for our casino."

No cards ... only computers is republished from