Are no dealer live poker tables the thing of the future? Will the live poker scene significantly change with the advent of new technologies, which create opportunities that we wouldn’t even dream about ten years ago?
To get answers to these and many other connected questions, we went straight to the source and asked none other than Jake Kalpakian, the CEO of Jackpot Digital, the company leading the way in the development of the next generation of electronic poker tables.
Mr. Kalpakian, let me start by thanking you for taking time to talk to BTF and answer some of our questions. I’m convinced many of our readers are quite eager to know more about your Jackpot Blitz tables and how they can help popularize and revive poker, especially in the US, where things have been somewhat shaky ever since Black Friday.
When online poker was introduced, everyone thought that’s going to be a death of regular live poker games at casinos, and the actual opposite took place. Because of online poker, more and more people actually frequented casinos. Poker became a much more popular game.
We expect the same thing to happen here. Many venues and establishments across North America aren’t able to offer poker. They can now offer it with this product, and so people will have more access to be able to play. They can now play where they couldn’t before, whether it is Montana, or small casinos in Wisconsin, or spread throughout.
The other thing is, racetracks and other specialized venues will be able to offer these games, because a lot of law across North America and elsewhere don’t allow live dealers at certain establishment like race tracks. This product allows people to play live poker where they couldn’t before.
We’re being able to offer the game to many more players. We expect people to really enjoy the social atmosphere, and there are many other things that we’re building in the game that we’ll be releasing in the next month or two that are really, really fundamental for the enjoyment for poker players that you don’t necessarily get with other table games or even at live poker tables.
For instance, there are going to be certain side bets that we’ll be doing and other features that you aren’t necessarily able to have in regular poker establishments. So, there’s a lot more detailed… Enjoyment, let’s call it, coming to you.
Although you’re still in quite an early stage, have some casinos already shown interest for Jackpot Blitz tables? Do you feel smaller gaming operators are generally open to the idea of adding poker tables?
It’s a product that makes sense for them. It’s a flexible product. For instance, if there’s no poker action going for a specific period of time, they can convert the table to blackjack, roulette, or baccarat. So, they can continue to generate revenue from the table, so it’s always yielding some revenue to them as opposed to a regular poker table that might just sit empty.
The other thing is, the economics of the table just make enormous sense when you don’t have the dealer. Labor costs are a large majority of costs in operating a poker room. You don’t have that – you eliminate that, which makes it much more palatable for the operator.
Furthermore, the minimum wage is going up in many US states and we’re finding more and more cardrooms saying, when the minimum wage goes to $15+, we just won’t be economically viable anymore. So, with this, their business remains intact.
What you’re saying makes perfect sense for the casinos, of course. But, do you feel, if this product became really popular, and you had hundreds of smaller casinos coming to you, asking for Jackpot Blitz tables, there’d be a certain backlash from the general population, saying – this novelty is killing jobs?
First of all, I think it’ll continue to keep jobs in smaller to medium-sized operations. It will add jobs at racetracks and specialized venues. You’ll still need maybe one or more two people to help monitor and operate the cardroom in general, so it will create a handful of jobs.
Will it kill the dealer completely? Absolutely not. First of all, the dealer occupation, it’s not a full-time job in a sense that it’s not a career job. It’s usually a transient job while they’re going to school or waiting to get another job. So, it’s not something that will kill a career, so to speak.
Electronic tables will increase the poker room traffic, creating need for more dealers in the process.
Second of all, we could actually increase poker’s appeal. With these tables, you can run more tournaments. Tournaments are a great fertile ground to get more cash games, after the tournament ends or if you’d been knocked out. So, it will add more traffic to the poker room, and by doing so it will create need for more dealers, because you always need dealers for a certain segment of the population.
Are specific individual locations going to lose jobs? For sure. But, the overall net benefit to the industry, I think, is going to be much bigger. Like I said, with the tournaments, there’s one cardroom that’s looking at licensing quite a substantial amount of tables so that they can do tournaments on a daily basis and increase the tournament size and capacity, and that should bolster their regular cash game business. Their plans are to run more tournaments on Jackpot Blitz tables and then actually increase their cash business – they think it’s a great catalyst for their cash business and their dealers.
The net effect should be about the same, but it will be good for poker.
How about general gameplay; some of it has been revealed in the press release, but how close to real live experience are these Jackpot Blitz tables? Can you walk us through the features a little bit?
Well, you’re going to see that people are able bend the cards, cup the cards as if they were holding them in their hands, the use of the chips, the sounds of it, the feeling of putting the chips in the pot, the splashing of the chips. All that will feel very much like a live table game.
There are many other features that, for competitive reasons, I won’t get into at this moment, but we are adding as many features as possible so that we can make the simulation feel just like any other live poker table.
We feel that already the initial feedback from players and operators has been so positive, and it will only grow when we put out couple of more variations of this next version of our software. People already feel very, very comfortable. This is just like the real thing, the only thing missing is the dealer.
Up to now, the market has only seen the old Poker Pro tables and other similar-style tables. Those tables, you don’t feel like you are at a poker table. Although you’re playing with other people, the game plays very differently, like you are clicking buttons. In this case, everything is sensitive to the touch screen, with your hands and gestures similar to the ones you make at a regular poker table.
What we try to do is make it as life-like as possible and seeing is believing. If you play on the table… As I’ve said, the initial feedback has been very positive. We wanted to change the whole experience and I think we’ve done a terrific job with it.
One thing that might be interesting to the readers – is there a timer for each player to act, similar to online poker, or are players given all the time they want? With no dealer at the table to keep an eye on the things, someone could abuse the situation and seriously slow down the game just because they feel like it?
Yes, and it’s completely adjustable by the operator. You can set it as a shot-clock, so to speak, where you make a decision. You can do 20, 30, 40 seconds, whatever people feel comfortable with. There might be some tables where people want faster action, where they don’t take forever to make a decisions, and you can make that a 20 second table.
Everything is adjustable by the operator and you can have whatever time is required by the players to feel comfortable to play with.
Rake is obviously an important part of the game. Do Jackpot Blitz tables have certain predetermined parameters or can you actually program everything to fit your needs, including the rake?
It’s fully adjustable. Because of the fact you get to deal more hands per hour, you can actually lower the rake from regular casino rates. Because you get more hands in, the rake is less per hand, which is beneficial to the player.
With more hands per hour, casinos can actually decrease rake levels.
The other interesting aspect, which is not something people immediately grasp, but professional and heavy-duty poker players like, is that you don’t have to tip the dealer. That makes a big difference over the long run, so that’s another positive the players will enjoy.
What kind of a Random Number Generator (or similar technology) do these table use to produce hole and community cards? How can players be sure the games aren’t ‘rigged’ in some way to give better hands to certain players or create cooler-type situations that produce big pots?
We’ve been developing software for the last 15+ years, and we’ve developed a considerable amount of poker software. The Random Number Generator we use is proprietary, but it still has to go pass the screening and testing in every regulatory jurisdiction that we put the tables in.
It’s very stringent regulations when you’re putting these tables in a licensed jurisdiction, exactly the same standards and thresholds as for regular slot machines. It goes through thorough testing to make sure that out of every so many hands, so many full houses, so many straights, so many flushes, everything is dealt with the same mathematical probability as you’d have with a regular deck of cards.
So, we feel that’s not an issue at all, and I think players have adopted that, especially with millennials and the embracement of the internet. People feel very comfortable that there is a strong emphasis to make sure that the RNG is what is supposed to be.
You can’t operate without it. You have to have that, otherwise the games just won’t pass the regulatory standards and they won’t be placed.
What kind of costs are there connected to having one of these tables? Would it be possible for someone to come to you and say, hey, I’d like to have one of Jackpot Blitz tables for my home game?
Interestingly enough, we have an enormous amount of interest from private individuals for home games. We are looking at the ability to maybe license some of the tables for home games, but many regulatory requirements don’t allow this. Different jurisdictions prefer to pass these table along only to licensed venues, simply because people start abusing the system and operating raked games from their basements.
However, it is possible, we’re looking at it. Our model is basically a licensing fee to regulated casinos and establishments, poker rooms, etc.
OK, so there is hope, that’s good enough for now. In the end, is there anything else you feel would be important to share with the readers?
The biggest thing is – electronic poker tables have not been popular up to now because people aren’t feeling like they are playing poker. There’s just been a disconnect between live poker and electronic poker tables.
These new tables completely eliminate that. They close the gap between those experiences. What we wanted to do is make that experience as close as possible and it’s not by a click of a button on a computer. What we wanted was your hand gestures controlling your game play and how you handle chips, etc.
It’s a unique experience that we haven’t seen in the market place up to now. It’s easy for casino operators to see benefits of this. They’re always going to want this product because it makes economic and operational sense to them. What we concentrate on is winning hearts and minds of poker players.
That’s why what we’re looking at doing is continually adding features that simulate a real, live poker table. I think we’re getting there and we’ll continue to always evolve this product. I think it has a great shot to become the gold standard in the industry, very much the way slot machines were in the 70s and 80s, for this product to become much more intriguing, not only for the poker player, but also for a casual player because they can not only play poker, but they can also play many table games while at a poker table.