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Florida Allows "Virtual Blackjack" at State Pari-Mutuel Facilities

Florida has approved a virtual blackjack game that is just a live casino dealer away from the actual thing. Five gamers sit around a terminal and an animated dealer gives out the cards. The dealer asks participants whether they want to "stand", "hit" for an additional card or "double down". Players can also play two card hands at the same time. The minimum wager will be $5.

The casino sets the maximum, which could be as much as $500. Gulfstream vice president Steve Calabro said that it is not a live casino table game but they are hoping that their players will love it. Other pari-mutuel facilities, who are desperate to block the Seminoles' attempt to monopolize casino table games, also said that they would install blackjack terminals as soon as they can.

The machines got the approval because gamers compete individually against the virtual dealer and the RNG or Random Number Generator. That makes them technically slot machines, which the voters in Miami-Dade and Broward County approved. About thirty other gaming jurisdictions including the states of California, Pennsylvania and Delaware agree that the machines have the same inner processes as slot machines.

The pari-mutuels in Florida petitioned the state government for the game a year ago and the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering responded by permitting electronic blackjack, roulette and keno. The new games will not be in operation for about six weeks, pending the usual state evaluation of new casino games. Like slot machines, Florida continually monitors the game to make sure that they are following the rules.

Florida and the Seminole tribe have been negotiating a gaming compact that could permit the tribe the exclusive right to offer blackjack and other live casino table games. Florida's horse racing tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons complained, saying that tribal-owned casino have a lot of unfair advantages and that adding blackjack to that list of advantages will spell disaster for them.

The pari-mutuel facilities have had disappointing gaming revenues since opening three years ago. Seminole Gaming Chief Executive Officer James Allen said that the approval of virtual blackjack is a block to the ongoing negotiation. He said that it makes it very difficult to keep negotiating a gaming compact when the exclusivity of blackjack continues to erode.

Isle Casino and Racing general manager Mike Bloom said that the new machines will help them compete effectively. Calabro and Bloom are not certain how many games they will install. Mardi-Gras Gaming and Racetrack in Hallandale, Beach can also offer the new games. International Game Technology, Shuffle Master and Bally created the games and lease them to the gaming facilities.

The casinos can decide the rules of the game like whether to pay three-to-two or six-to-five on a blackjack and when gamers can double down on their wagers. Players using card counting will not be able to use their skill because the machines does not show when new decks of cards are introduced.

The machines are very popular in the state of Florida, which has no live casino table games and some casinos in Las Vegas use them because it gives out more hands per hour, which translates into more profits for casino facilities. Players also love them because there is no casino dealer that they have to give a tip.

Blackjack columnist Mark Pilarski said that it is like real blackjack but players should not play too fast because it can demolish their bankroll immediately.


Sunday, October 25 , 2009
Tim Arnell