Poker's Brave New World

Feb 27, 2008 1:32 AM

By David Stratton | Science fiction writers have always enjoyed fantasizing about what life would be like with automatons taking the place of humans in the future.

Well, the future is now in many poker rooms in which automated tables are replacing live dealers.

Earlier this month, Casino de Montreal hosted the world’s largest multi-table poker tournament ever held on automated poker tables. Amazingly, the entire tournament was run with only four, living, breathing staff members.

Casino de Montreal’s tournament was sold-out two weeks in advance, with a record 240 players vying for a piece of the prize pool. The PokerPro tables are manufactured by PokerTek Inc., which holds the patents on their design.

"Running a tournament of this magnitude is what we always envisioned for PokerPro. We are pleased with the success of this tournament and proud of our partnership with Casino de Montreal," says Chris Halligan, CEO of North Carolina-based PokerTek. "The Québécois players have embraced automated poker, as validated by the response to this tournament."

Montreal’s tournament was the second record broken by the property, the first being that they have the largest installation of automated poker tables in the world with 25. Both Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia and Four Winds Casino Resort in New Buffalo, Michigan have run PokerPro tournaments with 100 players.

Also this month, Carnival Cruise Lines, the world’s largest cruise operator, announced its 2008 Carnival PokerPro Challenge, a series of No Limit Texas Hold’em poker satellite tournaments that will be contested on PokerPro tables.

The tourneys will be held on 10 of Carnival’s 22 ships. A spokesman for the cruise line said the automated tables were chosen because they clearly and quickly display players’ bets and table stakes, pot amount and community cards. PokerPro tables also identify the winners at the end of each hand and immediately add the winnings to the player’s table stakes.

The speed and accuracy in which the table’s computer software determines appropriate raise amounts, values of side pots and calculation of winning bets has made the tables attractive to poker room operators.

"There are no mistakes with the tables, there’s never a question over the splitting of pots and the ‘virtual dealer’ never argues with the player," said the manager of a Las Vegas poker room, which is considering investing in the tables. "In addition, the tables deal more games per hour, increasing the room’s revenue and reducing operating expenses."

Players who learned to play poker online say the automated tables are similar to the cyber games played on the Internet.

With such an array of features, it’s easy to understand why the tables are proliferating throughout the poker world.

According to PokerTek’s 2007 financial results, there were 189 PokerPro tables deployed worldwide as of Dec. 31. That’s a 166 percent increase from the 71 tables in operation a year earlier.