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Bits, Bytes and Bets

Casinos are going high-tech converting cache into cash
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

It is an NBA Sunday in Nevada. Across the state, odds makers nudge point-spreads, gamblers scrutinize fluctuating lines, and casino clerks process last-minute blizzards of incoming wagers. From glitzy palaces in Las Vegas to bare-boned dumps in the hinterlands, all of this amounts to business as usual for bettors.

Walk up to the counter, hand over your money, receive a slip in return, and take your chances. In case you show up after the opening tip-off, well... tough luck. You're locked out of the action. Things have been done that way since time immemorial.

But at five casinos in Vegas, it is a whole other story; a brand new story. Gamblers have money on account, they place their bets from computer terminals or handheld tablets known as eDecks that can be used anywhere on the gambling floor or out by the pool, and they're in action (if they choose to be) all through the game. They bet on whether or not a player will hit a foul shot, whether Kobe will outscore LeBron and on the outcome of the contest as it progresses.

Show up a few minutes late and it's no big deal. You can still bet on which team will win the game-albeit, with a reconfigured line. In this system, the odds continually shift, and the savviest gamblers hedge in and out of positions as if they're day-trading futures on the NASDAQ. During time-outs or lulls in the game (or right in the heat of things for the truest action junkies) they busy themselves by playing steroidal versions of baccarat and blackjack on the very monitors and tablets from which they've been sliding in sports wagers. Think your 16 will have a shot at beating the dealer's up card of a King? Bet on it, and the game, XtraOdds Blackjack, will give you a price.

This form of futuristic gambling is the brainchild of Lee Amaitis, formerly the CEO of the investment-world giant Cantor Fitzgerald International and now the president/CEO of Cantor Gaming. He and his new form of sports betting-launched in the Las Vegas book of M Resort, and now available at Tropicana, Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Hard Rock, Palazzo and Venetian as well-are emblematic of the new, technologically engaged Las Vegas.

Gambling entities that had been notoriously slow to embrace new technology are marching into the 21st century. Slot machines that communicate with you, players club programs that anticipate your desires and blackjack tables with electronic chips rank among the newest innovations.

"The pit had been behind the times in terms of technology," acknowledges Jim Jackson, senior vice president of product development at Shuffle Master, the game development company that has devised the computerized blackjack table. "A little bit of that is related to cost," says Jackson. It is, after all, a lot more expensive to buy a blackjack table implanted with a hard drive and touch screen than one that is made from wood and felt. Additionally, Jackson adds "a little bit of that is related to superstition."

In other words, casinos made plenty of money by doing things the old-fashioned way. There was no need to rattle customers and bean counters by introducing anything newfangled. But then the recession hit, technology got cheaper, visitation to Vegas dipped and it began to look as if maintaining the status quo could be the biggest risk of all. And if you know anything about casinos, you know that they are in the business of managing risks, not taking them.

Of all the new, geeked-out ways to put your money into peril and get the most out of your gambling, the Cantor sports betting operation appears to be the most revolutionary, not only for players, but for Amaitis. Besides offering play-by-play In Running (the betting format that allows for wagering on outcomes during the actual game), Cantor is also willing to take the largest action from the sharpest bettors in town.

This runs totally against the old fashioned way of doing things. Traditionally, managers of casino sports books have shunned smart players with deep bankrolls. This is done for a simple reason: They don't want to accept bets from people who tend to win.

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