Atlantic City casinos given OK to test electronic gaming machines

Gamblers here may soon be able to try to bluff a computer while playing a hand of poker.

The state Casino Control Commission gave permission Wednesday for the city’s 11 casinos to test electronic gambling machines that would replace some poker and roulette dealers.

The main reason? Pennsylvania and Delaware slots parlors, which are already laying a beating on Atlantic City casinos, have them.

It’s part of a trend toward electronic gambling that has already eliminated coins from most slot machines in favor of credit slips. Chips could be next to disappear if these machines catch on.

„In a market like Atlantic City, it’s not going to take over,“ said Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, a casino industry consulting firm. „But it can serve as a bridge between slots and table games.“

He said the electronic games are less intimidating than live table games for gamblers who don’t know the rules well, and are more easily linked with casino player’s club cards.

Three Philadelphia-area slots parlors offer electronic blackjack. In Delaware, gamblers can play blackjack, poker, baccarat and Let It Ride on electronic machines.

While the machines are not expected to totally replace live dealers in Atlantic City, they are designed to capture a segment of the market that prefers interacting with a screen rather than a person.

The machines to be used in New Jersey will look like real poker tables, with seats for players, who will watch individual screens where their cards will surface.

One big advantage of the roulette machines will be that bets will be placed and payouts made electronically. This would eliminate the need for lengthy delays between spins while dealers calculate winnings and count out payouts for players with large stacks of chips spread out across the board.

There is no timetable for the first tests of the machines, and no individual casino has yet requested permission to test them, said Dan Heneghan, a spokesman for the casino commission.

Both types of machines have undergone detailed inspection by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

„They’ve gone over it to ensure that the programming is secure and it’s not fixed in any way,“ Heneghan said. „With a poker game, the outcome is determined by the players more than anything else. You want to make sure the cards are adequately shuffled and the deal is completely random. Beyond that, it depends what the individual players do.“

The machines also save on labor costs for casinos, and could possibly increase revenue since there would be much shorter delays between plays. The casino commission acknowledged some dealer jobs could lost.

The United Auto Workers union is trying to organize dealers in all 11 Atlantic City casinos. It has won representation elections at three, and lost at two. Its next target is the Tropicana Casino and Resort, where more than 700 jobs have been eliminated since new ownership took over in January.

Union officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.