They were fast, mistake-proof and didn't need to be tipped. But they had no personality. So now they're gone.
Atlantic City's experiment with electronic poker tables proved to be a resounding failure because it seems humans prefer other humans when it comes to dealing the cards.
"I'd rather have a human dealer. It's a friendlier atmosphere," Ira Cohen, a poker player from Brooklyn, N.Y., said Thursday at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.
Trump Plaza has removed Atlantic City's only batch of automated poker tables after trying them out for a few months in hopes that they would attract a younger generation of gamblers.
The machines never came close to generating the revenue that Trump executives had anticipated. The goal was $1.8 million in annual revenue, but the best month was only $45,000, according to Jim Rigot, Trump Plaza's general manager.
"For us, that was pretty discouraging, to say the least," he said.
Trump Plaza introduced 14 of the PokerTek Inc. machines last June as the centerpiece of a refurbished gambling area in the casino's East Tower. A dozen tables featured seating for as many as 10 players, while the other two were two-seaters for head-to-head competition.
Electronic poker tables mimic the live games -- except that they don't have betting chips or humans dealing the cards.
Although the machines were faster than human dealers and didn't make mistakes, the new technology just couldn't replace the old-fashioned experience of live poker, Rigot acknowledged.
"Poker players like to play with chips," he said. "They like to have real cards in their hands if given the chance."
When the machines made their debut, Atlantic City dealers represented by the United Auto Workers union feared they were the start of a broader trend of electronic gambling that could eventually cost casino employees their tip-dependent jobs. The dealers declined to comment this week about Trump Plaza removing the PokerTek tables.
Rigot maintained it was never the casino's intention to replace human dealers with machines. He said electronic gambling was simply another attraction to complement the live poker tables and generate more business during the recession.
"We were adding to our product to bring more people to Trump Plaza. We were looking to help the dealers out," Rigot said.
The electronic games automatically shuffle and deal video-style cards that appear on a large display screen in the middle of the table. Each player has a smaller display screen in front of them equipped with touch controls to place their bets, call or fold. Winners are automatically identified after each hand.
Rigot said electronic gambling is more popular in casino markets that don't have live table games. At Pennsylvania's slot parlors, for instance, electronic blackjack games are considered a form of slot gambling and represent a major attraction.
While Atlantic City may not be ready yet for electronic poker, there is a chance it will make a comeback when the economy recovers and people are more willing to spend their money on different types of gambling, Rigot predicted.
"It's not to say that we may not resurrect it in the future," he said.
Cohen, the poker player at Trump Plaza, said he has no interest in electronic gambling. He urged Trump Plaza to open a live poker room now that the automated tables are gone.
"I don't play them. I have mixed feelings about the machines," Cohen said. "I would rather have people."
For now, Trump Plaza has closed most of the East Tower's gaming space, including the area where the electronic poker tables once dominated. A black curtain has been drawn across the entrance, with a sign attached saying, "Please pardon our appearance while we make changes to serve you better."
Rigot said the East Tower's 14,000 square feet of casino space will be transformed into a multifunctional room for special events, gaming tournaments and perhaps even a nightclub on weekends.
E-mail Donald Wittkowski: DWittkowski@pressofac.com
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Trump Plaza gets rid of e-poker machines
This is an article that appeared in The Press of Atlantic City today.
at 10:37 PM