Anyone who’s ever been in a casino will have been struck almost straight away by the sense of excitement that’s in the air. The flashing lights, the insistent sounds of the slots beckoning you to play and the over-arching atmosphere of glamour that makes it a quite unique experience.
Nowhere in the world encapsulates the thrill of the casino quite like Las Vegas and ever since the 1930s it has been a mecca for anyone wanting to try their luck. Many believe that the city’s true heyday was in the 1950s and 60s when it was the era of the Rat Pack and the world was really starting to experience the post-war boom.
But the last couple of decades have been a little more difficult for land-based casinos and today Las Vegas is seeing its gaming revenues on a steady decline.
For example, the figures released for December 2017 saw them fall 3.2% lower than for the corresponding month in 2016. Several reasons have been put forward for this decline and one of the key ones has been the meteoric rise of the online casinos which first started to appear on the scene in the late 1990s.
One only has to look to the UK to see just how great their success, along with other forms of online gambling, has been. Gambling Commission figures show that remote betting now accounts for 34% of the market share, the largest single sector.
The figures may tell their own story, but on their own they can’t explain exactly why this shift has been taking place. One has to compare the distinctive features of online casinos with those of traditional land-based ones to get a true insight.
Why choose online?
One obvious difference is that to play in an online casino all you need is an internet connection whether at home, on a break at work or anywhere with wi-fi. Plus all the best online casinos are fully optimised for mobile so you really can play anywhere – so there’s no need to get all dressed up and get yourself down to the casino.
Another great advantage is that the pace of play can be much quicker in an online casino, which is especially good news if you have a limited time slot to play in.
For example, in a real casino you might find that 50 hands of blackjack are played an hour but online this can be up to 200 an hour – ideal if you like the action to be faster paced. It has to be said that the social aspect of attending a brick and mortar casino is something that you will miss out on when playing online – although technology has already started to address this, as we’ll discover a little later on.
The design of land-based casinos
The layout of a casino is catered for different types of customers – usually high-rollers, casual gamers and hotel guests. However, it’s always evolving to encourage more gambling while making sure everyone is having fun.
Casinos are designed to make money, and flashing slot machines and a huge amount of games are things that make players excited and ready to get involved in the action, with their wallets open.
In fact, every last detail of the design is considered, casino designers ensure that customers are attracted towards the games as they enter the casino and once they start playing it is all about keeping them there and entertained.
The fact there are no windows means the players have no sense of the amount of time they’re spending inside – and plied with alcoholic beverages, it’s easy to stay there and play their favourite games all day.
Land-based casinos and technology
That’s not to say that technology doesn’t also have a big role to play when you visit a land-based casino, even though most of it remains invisible – particularly when it comes to security.
It begins the moment you enter the casino when a camera will capture an image of your face. It will compare your features to those of people in their database who are no longer welcome in the casino for whatever reason – whether it’s for their underhand practices or antisocial behaviour in the past.
When you pick up your first pile of chips at a casino, all of them will have a little piece of circuitry called a radio frequency identification device (RFID) embedded in them.
These are just like the chips that are injected into pets to make them easy to identify if they stray and when scanned will show that the chips are genuine and not counterfeits. There have been cases in which millions of dollars worth of chips have been stolen from casinos, but because they have had these chips inside them, the casino has been able to deactivate them and make them worthless.
The playing cards dealt in casinos also have a similar form of unique identification in the form of barcodes printed on them in invisible ink. These are scanned as the dealer collects them so anyone trying to introduce their own cards into the game will be quickly exposed.
While you’re in a casino you’re also under the watchful eye of many security cameras that run programs that can automatically spot suspicious behaviour or playing patterns and alert the casino managers whenever it is spotted.
Making the online experience truly random
On the other hand, a great deal of the technology used in the online casino is there to make play possible, and enjoyable, and at the heart of slots and many table games is a piece of software called the Random Number Generator.
Using a complex algorithm, this recreates as closely as possible the random events that happen for real in a land-based casino like a roulette ball landing on a specific number or the reels in a mechanical slot creating a winning sequence.
It’s fair to say that without the RNG, the online casino would never have got off the ground.
Online goes live
We’ve already mentioned that online casinos have been making moves to closely re-create the live casino experience and this has introduced a kind of play that doesn’t need an RNG at all. That’s because it uses real live dealers in an authentic casino setting who players can compete against in real time. Even better, they can also talk to them as they play. So whether playing blackjack, baccarat or roulette you are dealt real cards or an actual wheel is spun and a clever piece of technology called a Game Control Unit converts the live play into digital information to allow online gambling. The result is an exciting gaming experience whether with cards or playing live roulette with real dealers.
Now that these advances have been made we can expect to see online casinos trying to draw ahead of their land-based rivals in terms of player experience and enjoyment with the latter taking steps to keep up. For example, many are starting to look into whether they can encourage players to play online while actually in a bricks-and-mortar casino.
Making the virtual world real
On the part of online casinos, virtual reality is an area that all the major operators are currently looking to exploit. Now that this technology has truly arrived it surely won’t be long until an even more realistic casino experience will be within their reach letting them feel like they’re playing anywhere from Vegas to Macau – all from the comfort of their living room.
But while this will undoubtedly be possible soon, there will always be people who still want that authentic casino experience. So although online play is definitely in the ascendant it would be very premature to predict the demise of the land-based version just yet.