In an age where even dating is becoming a digital pastime it is not surprising that casinos around the globe are beginning to use electronic poker tables; and the companies producing these systems claim they are the future of poker. PokerTek Inc., a company which created and markets the PokerPro system, boasts on its website that its tables have been incorporated into poker rooms of 19 casinos and eight cruise lines worldwide. While only eight of these casinos are in the United States, and are mostly smaller-scale, the PokerPro technology is definitely growing in popularity and finds itself being major component in poker rooms outside the United States. Lightning Poker Inc., the only other company besides PokerTek allowed to market electronic tables in North America, is also making headway into the poker world. According to their website, they have secured a U.S. Patent and contracts with the popular Turning Stone and Commerce Casinos.
So far, electronic poker has been synonymous with online poker. Around the world, the number of people playing online poker is staggering and only continues to increase. However, if seasoned players have one complaint about these gaming clients it would be that playing online does not allow players to see their opponents. This essentially removes body language, facial expressions, and other various in-person tells from the equation (no, not that there are a massive number of bad beats which has a perfectly reasonable mathematical explanation). But PokerTek explains, with this new brand of electronic poker, reading people will not be an issue because only the dealing, shuffling, and betting is electronic; there are no avatars, and the other players are sitting at the table with you. Therefore, it is possible to observe all other players’ actions as one would be able to in a regular live game. Lightning Poker’s system is very similar to PokerPro and the same ideas would hold true.
Now, it can be argued that not being able to see other players’ chips eliminates a vital element, especially for players like Daniel Negreanu, who claimed to be able to read people solely based on the color of the chips they used to bet. Also, some people, myself included, enjoy having the chips and the cards right in front of you. But, if more hands-per-minute and not having to fumble with cards and chips are you thing, PokerPro or Lightning Poker may be for you.
I have had the experience of using the PokerPro system in Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia. At first when I saw the system I was certain I wouldn’t use it, it seemed absurd to me that one would want to take the time to go to a casino and not want to play in a run-of-the-mill live game; I mean, isn’t that what we leave our computer screens for? But then, after discovering a tournament being conducted in the card-and-chips section of the poker room, I thought, “What the hell?”, and gave it a shot. Using the system was easy and it worked efficiently. The cards are “dealt” much like they would be on any online client and your hand can be cupped over the cards to see what’s in your pocket. Betting can be achieved by typing in value amounts or pressing on chip icons, all found on the touch-screen in front of you.
Although, I’m sure it is true that PokerPro can be fun and exciting for players of all skill levels, as the website says, I found the PokerPro tables attracted a larger quantity of bad players (which was nice until I used my winnings to play craps). This lack in skill was most likely due to a decrease in intimidation compared to a regular table because in PokerPro there is essentially no way to fold out of turn or accidentally flip over your cards. Also, the console is similar to playing online so many people who play online regularly and feel less comfortable at a casino would feel PokerPro an easy transition before tackling the higher-stakes live tables.
Overall, my experience was good, although when it was all said and done, I just like traditional poker tables better. I found people were staring at their screens a lot instead of socializing and although the other players were at the table, it felt like a much less cohesive system than we’re use to. Dealers weren’t bringing together chips from different ends of the table and telling us who is in the hand, and the interaction among players that almost always takes place in messing around with cards and chips while milling over calls, folds, and raises, was absent at these electronic tables. Of course neither the PokerTek nor the Lightning Poker website have dissenting opinions about their systems and Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak, both well-respected professionals, give testimonials in favor of PokerPro. “It is the coolest table I have ever played on,” Esfandiari says. “No dealer error and at least one and a half to two times as many hands.” Phil Laak also praises PokerPro stating, “[It] brings all the good things from online into the casino.” Also, for some of the more frugal players out there, like online, playing PokerPro and Lightning Poker mean you don’t have to tip the dealer. But, with this sort of implementation of technology into the poker world, there will surely be mixed opinions.
The PokerPro and Lightning Poker technologies will surely continue to grow larger in the number of casinos using them as time goes on, but to what extent is unclear. It seems a good fit for cruise lines due to the ease in use for clientele who are not necessarily solely there to gamble, unlike visitors to a casino. For larger poker rooms, such as the obvious Vegas casinos and various well-known card rooms outside of it, it is doubtful their venues will ever become fully electronic. However, having a section set aside for the PokerPro or Lightning Poker systems would not be a bad idea. PokerPro and Lightning Poker may be seen at a casino near you in the future but is it the future of poker?—Well, would you use the simulator in the proshop instead of going out to play the golf course? Electronics aren’t for all of us.