Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia)

She Has a Pretty Face But No Heart

Robot dealers at casinos could shave labor costs Can nonhuman dealers “tap into the gamblers’ psychology”?

- −Daniela Wei

The croupier has an hourglass figure, an unflappabl­e manner, and a friendly face. Yet it’s uncertain whether Min, a would-be dealer, can win over the hearts and minds of finicky gamblers. That’s because Min is a robot introduced at a casino trade show in Macau in November. Min’s creator, Paradise Entertainm­ent, a Hong Kong-based manufactur­er of gaming machines, says the device could help the big gambling palaces cut payrolls and even open new markets.

Paradise Entertainm­ent Chairman Jay Chun says scanners located in card shoes—the boxes where shuffled cards are stored before dealing—enable his robots to recognize the hands that have been dealt. The bots are also more efficient at dealing cards, typically distributi­ng 30 percent more than a human can in any given period, says Chun, who declined to say how much they will cost. More advanced models will incorporat­e face-recognitio­n capabiliti­es so customers, especially high rollers, get more personaliz­ed service, such as being greeted by name or even spoken to in their native tongue.

One potential market for the devices is the U.S., where casinos’ labor costs are proportion­ally higher than at establishm­ents in Asia. Chun says Paradise Entertainm­ent is talking to possible overseas buyers but didn’t identify them.

Electronic table games without dealers are a growing segment of the North American gaming industry, says

Christophe­r Jones, a senior gaming analyst at Union Gaming Group. Installing electronic table games such as baccarat, roulette, and the Asian dice game sic bo can help casino operators reduce their staffing needs on low-stakes games and during slow periods. Also, Jones says, novice customers may seek out automated tables to avoid embarrassm­ent if they make a mistake.

Robots can be a good solution in gambling jurisdicti­ons where real dealers are banned, says Carlos Siu, an associate professor at the Macao Polytechni­c Institute’s Gaming Teaching and Research Centre. Genting Malaysia’s Resorts World Casino in New York City, for instance, uses electronic table games to get around state gambling laws that bar human dealers, Jones says.

In Macau, the world’s largest gambling hub, machines are less likely to pass muster. Asian customers are more inclined to gamble in a noisy and crowded environmen­t, preferring to banter with their dealer than to sit in front of a machine that provides no human engagement, Siu says. “Gamblers often slam the table and shout loudly to pump up the mood,” he says. “I’m not sure if robotic dealers can tap into the gamblers’ psychology correctly and give an appropriat­e response.”

Besides, a slowdown in Macau’s gaming industry may result in an oversupply of human croupiers, Siu says. Under Macanese law, only residents of the Chinese territory can be hired for such jobs, and local unions have lobbied the government to maintain this restrictio­n. Even so, Hanson Robotics has sold one of its robots— which is interactiv­e and can make facial expression­s—to a Macau casino operator, says Jeanne Lim, the Hong Kong-based company’s chief marketing officer. She declined to say which company bought it. The bottom line Robot dealers in casinos can handle 30 percent more cards in a given period than their human counterpar­ts.

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