International Game Technology (IGT), the world’s leading slot machine maker, went public in 1981. It was the same year that they introduced the “random number generator” (RNG) to slot play. This technology allowed electronics to replace mechanics, so that computers could be linked to video screens and simulate spinning reels. Over the next two decades, RNG technology was applied to video poker and then online slots and table games, including Blackjack.
But not everyone trusts the technology. Many continue to believe that the programming of virtual games is somehow manipulated or skewed in the casino’s favor. They claim that the cards are not truly randomized. In order to win over such skeptics in the past decade, online casinos have introduced “Live Dealer” casino games. They have taken advantage of new video-streaming technologies and faster Internet connection speeds to bring real dealers and croupiers directly to players’ computer screens.
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Evolving at High-Speed
The very first service provider to bring “Live Gaming” to the Internet was software developer Playtech. In 2003, they coupled live dealers with real-time video-streaming so that players could bet and chat one-on-one. Blackjack was among the original games offered, along with Roulette and Baccarat.
That same year, Casino Web Cam was launched by owners and specialist Live Dealer platform providers CWC Gaming. Their Blackjack games originated from a studio based and licensed in San Jose, Costa Rica, which soon attracted a clientele that included Ladbrokes, BetInternet and Bet UK. Among their unique selling points is one of the biggest teams of live dealers anywhere.
Another early leader was EntwineTech, an Alderney-based live casino software supplier with more than 33 licensees worldwide. They began broadcasting from two separate studio settings in Macau, offering the capacity to serve thousands of players concurrently. Victor Chandler and 888.com were two of their early customers.
Among Eastern European nations, Latvia became one of the first to legalize Internet gambling. The initial live dealer Blackjack games in Latvia were developed by a company called Evolution, pairing online gaming with live video feeds of actual dealers operating real table games. They were soon supplying feeds to G Casino, Blue Square, Unibet and Paddy Power. Playtech followed suit in 2009 and established their own “European Dealer Room” in Latvia.
Today, the vast majority of live dealer broadcast studios are in the city of Riga. Almost overnight, they have transformed the Latvian capital into the largest “Live Dealer” casino game broadcasting center in the world. Oddly enough, the studios there are available under license only to offshore casinos, not to local operators.
Providing Live Games
Playtech’s main game is standard multiplayer blackjack dealt from an 8-deck shoe machine. Reshuffles are conducted whenever approximately four decks are left in shoe. Online casinos with access to the Latvian feeds include William Hill, and Betfred to name a few. Playtech also operates an Asian Dealer Room, providing feeds to Vegas Red, and 21 Nova, among others.
Competitor Microgaming broadcasts its live dealer eight-deck Blackjack from Riga through Roxy Palace, Royal Vegas, Canbet and Platinum Play. HoGaming’s dealer studio in the Philippines is the source for Bodog 88’s live dealer Blackjack games. London-based SuperCasino has live blackjack available for play on the Internet as well as via dedicated SKY, Freesat and Freeview TV channels. Meanwhile, live dealer Blackjack is streamed from the Fitzwilliam Card Club and Casino in Dublin, Ireland by Vuetec Ltd. to players at Dublinbet and Lucklive Casino.
Several of the live dealer sources offer six-deck versions of Blackjack. They include Bogart Casino, BetPhoenix and Smart Live Casino along with Visionary iGaming’s clients—Fairway Casino, Celtic Casino and Castle Casino. For a change of pace, EntwineTech offers “Live Crazy 21,” a Blackjack variation featuring a “pairs” side bet and a surrender option, dealt from an eight-deck shoe.
Begado Casino Live Dealers
Begado Casino offers live dealers for table games. Check their game offering to see which types of games are offered with real dealers.
Live Dealer Blackjack – Edge Analysis & Card Counting
Playing against a live dealer as opposed to a computer program affords a blackjack player many opportunities. Being human, dealers make mistakes that sharp players can always apply to their own benefit. Various forms of advantage play can be used, such as shuffle tracking and hole carding. And unless the dealer uses a continuous shuffle machine, participating in a live game makes it possible to count cards—the most powerful weapon in a blackjack player’s arsenal.
The Ever-Changing Edge
When blackjack is played online against a computer application, it is common for each new deal to start with a freshly shuffled deck or for multiple decks to be used in which discards are added in a never-ending shuffle. That means the House edge remains almost constant for every hand, based upon the specific combination of House rules that define the game. That’s typically on the order of 0.85%~1.15% with Las Vegas Rules in place and when Basic Strategy is consistently followed by the player.
When playing against a live dealer, on the other hand, the edge is always shifting. That’s because the composition of the remaining cards to be dealt is changing continually as cards are taken out of play. This creates situations when the deck is relatively rich in cards of advantage of the player, and times when it is depleted of them, which favors the House. A player who knows the difference between the two is in a position to wager more when the deck is favorable and less when it is not.
For example, it has been demonstrated by computer simulation that the removal of Aces from a single deck hurts the player by raising the House edge to as much as 2.59%. Similarly, a deck poor in nines and tens also decreases the player’s odds of winning. By contrast, the removal of low value cards, 2~8, swings the advantage toward the player. Specifically, a deck depleted of fives can give the player an edge of as much as 3.04%.
Count on It
A great number of systems have been developed to help players identify and take advantage of shifts in the edge. One of the easiest to learn and apply is the Revere Five Count system, whereby the player keeps track only of the number of fives that have been played and bets more when the deck is low in fives and less when they are relatively abundant. The system also has special playing strategies for hitting/standing, splitting pairs and doubling down that can raise the player’s edge to as high as 3.6%.
More complex and arguably “better” card counting systems are almost universally based upon tracking high cards as they are removed from the deck. They include the Plus-Minus, Hi/Lo, Ten Count and Point Count systems, to name a few. The best of these let a player know not only how much to wager at each stage of play but also how to play each hand based upon the composition of the deck. Modified strategy charts assist in learning the nuances of each card counting system.
Of critical importance in playing against a live dealer is to refrain from calling attention to one’s card counting activities. Most casinos train their dealers to be on the lookout for card counters and report any who come to their tables. Management is well aware of how powerful a tool card counting can be, and players who seem “too successful” may be barred from play. Although it may not be illegal to count cards, courts have frequently upheld the rights of private properties to exclude “undesirable” customers. Casinos obviously have a stake in keeping the House edge with the House.