Every so often, an innovation comes along that burns its way through the gambling industry like wildfire. The Live Dealer option has had just such an effect in recent years, injecting excitement and glamour – and even a touch of increased security – into a previously rather lonely and joyless gaming experience. Here we’ll look at what exactly Live Dealer is, and whether it’s all that it’s cracked up to be. But first, let’s go back and look at what it’s replacing.
Initially, many casino sites relied on an RNG (Random Number Generator) to pick cards at random. Technically, these sites are monitored very closely, and it’s not possible for the house to cheat the player with manipulated numbers. In reality, it’s doubtful whether the oversight extends to much more than looking at the percentages and making sure that, overall, everything’s above board. That certainly doesn’t preclude a casino from massaging the numbers at key points, or from targeting a particular player. It’s also fair to say that, while the graphics have become fairly slick in recent years, you’re still very much aware that you’re playing a computer simulation. It’s you against the machine and, for many players, that lack of a human presence makes the whole experience feel somewhat downbeat.
That’s not to say that RNGs aren’t without their charms. Unlike the situation in a casino, you’re the only person playing. Therefore, the pace of the game can be adjusted to suit you. If you want to remove all the bells and whistles, and play a dozen hands a minute, you can. On the other hand, if you want to relax and deliberate (perhaps over a beer), you can do it that way too. The RNG is all about you in so many ways. And that’s both its strength and its downfall.
A Live Dealer game, on the other hand, does away with (at least part of) the computer interface. Instead, you lock into a live video stream of a dealer (quite frequently female and highly attractive!), and watch the cards being dealt out in front of you. The experience suddenly feels a lot more real, especially if you get to play alongside other live players, joining in with their trials and tribulations. Some platforms even allow you to talk directly to the dealer and (possibly) the other players. It’s this sense of being part of something that makes Live Dealer a great option for many people. There’s also a sense of greater trust, as you see the cards being dealt in front of you, so the game has to be more trustworthy. Right? Well, we’ll come back to that one in due course..
Live Dealer games do offer considerably more in terms of pressure. You’re always aware that you’re being asked to make a decision, and the sense that other people are waiting for you can ratchet up the tension. This, of course, is one of the aspects that makes Live Dealer a more exciting experience. It could, though, make it less enjoyable for some players. You also have to go at a fixed pace, so you can’t cut down on the options in order to speed things up. There’s little doubt, though, that many see Live Dealer as a more attractive way of playing the game.
Smoke and Mirrors
Not that things are necessarily as they seem to be on the surface. Although it appears that the live videofeed is coming directly from a real casino, in most cases the stream is beamed from a custom-made set. There are exceptions, and Dublinbet’s feed, for instance, is set in a genuine location – Fitzwilliam’s Casino and Card Club in Ireland. As a rule, though, the casinos are artificial. That’s done essentially for practical reasons. The multiple cameras and OCR technology used to display and read cards would be hard to accommodate in a real casino. It’s easier to light properly, and there’s no chance that the filming can disrupt players who are physically present.
It’s also worth remembering that when you play Live Dealer games, the stream is usually coming from a third party (the platform provider). If you’re betting with William Hill, Bet365, Betfair or BetFred, for instance, the stream will probably be provided by Playtech. 888, Paddy Power and Unibet use the Evolution platform. Other names include MicroGaming, CWC, and Vuetec. This use of other companies isn’t as strange as it might seem, as most casino software used by online sites has been provided by a third party – worth considering next time you shout at your betting site after a string of bad cards. The use of third party streams does, though, throw up the peculiar situation where you might be playing alongside people from another site completely – so William Hill customers, for instance, could find themselves swapping battle scars with a player from B365, for instance. Alternatively, it might explain why, occasionally, you’ll end up with the same dealer you saw earlier in the day, even though you’ve switched to another site in the meantime.
Trust is the Thing
So how trustworthy are these Live Dealer games? For Blackjack players, that’s a particularly pertinent question, since this game is prime turf for card counting. RNGs tend to throw out cards at random, so there’s little chance that you can count the number of cards and try and predict what might be coming up. On the other hand, Live Dealers are drawing from a proper pack so, theoretically, a long run of low cards will suggest that some higher ones are due imminently – and vice versa. The problem is, you can’t guarantee this. Decks are generally changed at regular intervals, and often you can’t tell from the filming whether a deck has been altered or not. Casinos don’t see it as being in their interests to entertain card counters, so they’re quick to make it difficult, if not impossible, for such systems to work. A few players have claimed victory here, but generally, the consensus is that card counting won’t work, even with Live Dealer games.
The games do, undoubtedly, have higher levels of trust associated with them. Live video isn’t impossible to ‘fix’ – multiple outcomes could be videoed, and then dropped in to suit the situation. However, it is undoubtedly more time consuming to fiddle than a simple RNG. And because the same feeds are used for multiple players, it would be very difficult indeed to target a particular player. Given that casino games generally have a built-in edge in any case, it seems highly unlikely that casino sites and platform providers are colluding to cheat specific players. In truth, the Live Dealer option is probably the best for the sceptical gambler believing the sites are out to rob them of their money.
Is Live Dealer the Future?
The idea of the Live Dealer is unlikely to go away, although it will undoubtedly evolve. The video will become higher resolution, and as new user-input devices and Augmented Reality techniques are developed, the entire experience will become more natural to the feel, and more realistic. For Blackjack players looking for the ultimate online kick, that can only be a good thing.