Dec 5, 2006 1:28 AM

Based on the products unveiled at last month’s G2E Expo, one of the dominant prevailing trends is movement toward electronic table-game play.

Any number of products featuring virtual dealers and electronic touch-screen player terminals were on display, running the gamut from roulette and blackjack to Texas Hold’em poker.

While it’s too early to suggest dealers might become endangered species, but there is no doubt that electronic, computer-driven table games are going to make a sizable impact.

Many established gaming companies already are in on the ground level with the new technology and new ones are emerging all the time, but one of the developers leading the charge is Shuffle Master.

The company that made its mark in the industry more than a decade ago with its automatic card-shuffling machines is blazing new frontiers with electronic and virtual table games.

One of them, Rapid Roulette, which is already making an impact in casinos throughout Nevada. The game has even made its way to the Midwest at Caesar’s in Indiana, Harrah’s and the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Harrah’s in North Kansas City, Mo.

Rapid Roulette strikes a happy technological medium. It does not eliminate the need for a live dealer, nor does it take away a real spinning wheel with a ball. The table and the traditional color-coded roulette chips are replaced with video touch-screen player’s stations that surround the wheel.

A dealer, stationed in the center of the playing area, spins the wheel and drops the ball.

No more arms and elbows reaching across the felt layout to place bets. With Rapid Roulette, you buy into the game with cash the dealer "loads" into your terminal.

Then it’s a matter of touching the computer-generated roulette table layout on your screen to make your bets. All wagers are settled on a centralized computer monitor as soon as the dealer confirms the winning number.

Casinos have embraced this 21st-century version of the gaming floor staple because it speeds up the action (as many as 50 to 60 games can be played per hour). Plus, as many as 12 people can play, whereas eight players at the traditional table version made for a very crowded, uncomfortable and tedious experience.

Players appear to like to Rapid Roulette because there is still an interactive human element. It’s also a very relaxing and comfortable playing environment. The game by its very nature is easy to play and understand. Besides, almost no one these days is intimidated by touch-screen technology, which has taken over the slot machine market.

Other "Rapid Table Game" products from Shuffle Master include Rapid Sic Bo and Rapid Big Wheel, although neither has the broad distribution of Rapid Roulette. The company also is about to come out with Rapid Mini Baccarat.