Sunday, August 5, 2007

Trip Report: Four Winds Casino

I'm back home in Indiana to visit the parents for the weekend, and got a chance to check out a brand new (just opened three days ago) casino, The Four Winds. This place is huge, has about a billion and a half slot machines, a huge table gaming area, and more importantly, POKER!

Long post follows, click here to read it!


jsola said...

First of all, the casino is definitely taking poker seriously. The poker area is branded the "World Poker Tour Poker Room," with WPT logos plastered all over the walls and pictures of poker celebrities such as Daniel Negreanu and Antonio Esfandiari (lol) covering the room.

They have 19 poker tables, and not just any poker tables either. They're one of the first casinos to be outfitted entirely with PokerPro electronic poker tables. I've been itching to try these things out since I first heard about them. For those of you not in the know, these are 100% computerized poker tables. Every seat at the table has a built-in touch-screen monitor that shows your stack size, hole cards, bet amounts, etc. A huge-ass plasma TV is built into the middle of the table, and this shows the community cards, pot size, and show-down cards. No dealer. No chips. No actual cards.

After registering with the front desk and getting a Four Winds club card, they had me go to the cage to put money on the card. Your club card works like a debit card, keeping track of your wins and losses. You sit down at a table, swipe your card, tell it how much you want to play with, and you're off. I can see this being very convenient for regulars. You could have your whole bankroll in their system and not have to worry about carrying huge rolls of cash to and from the casino. I'm concerned that the whole process is way too intimidating for a first time player, especially those who aren't as tech-savvy as myself. No one's going to wander in from the blackjack tables and throw down money on a lark; If you're playing poker here, you wanted to be playing poker.

I sat down at a $1/$2 No Limit 10 handed table. After getting a brief crash course from what I'm dubbing a Floor-Overlord (more on them later), I was in the game with my $200 max buy-in. The game structures and spread of games were really quite good. They had $1-2 NL, $2-5 NL, PL Omaha and Omaha 8-or-better. They're capable of running 7 card stud but were not when I was there. Rake was very reasonable, at $3 max per hand. Plus, there's no dealer to tip, so I always felt like I was staying well ahead of the rake.

At first, the interface of the machines confused the hell out of me. It was hard to find information such as pot size and bet size. I eventually figured out where the pot size label was, but bet sizes were shown and faded away quickly, forcing you to count chip icons instead. They used the standard chip colors so this wasn't a big issue, but I see no reason why they can't just put a number up there to make it easier.

Your personal screen shows everyone's stack amounts, who the action is on, and what cards you have. Your cards, face down by default, are revealed when you cup your hands over the touch screen, much like you would if you were playing with real cards. This, coupled with privacy filters on the screen, made it impossible to see someone else's holdings.

I was pleased to find my $1/$2 NL table chock full of fish. It was a bizarre combination of online fish and offline fish playing together at the same table. We had the minbet/minraisers. There were quite a few limp-call-anys. A smattering of old-guy-who-only-plays-the-nuts.
Over-aggressive LAGtards with handles like "U R NUTTED" (they let you pick your user name). Once I got used to the interface, it felt a lot like online poker with offline tells. I think playing poker on a screen disconnects you from the game, and you forget that there are other people staring at you while you make a play. People would hesitate, and nervously click the $5 bet button. They'd get wide-eyed and insta-shove with good hands. For someone with a lot of online poker experience and a bit of live poker experience, though, I felt right at home.

I almost hate to say it, but once I got over the initial hurdles of the system I found myself having a good time playing at the new tables. Hands came quickly as there was no counting of chips, shuffling of decks, or splitting of pots. The experienced players I talked to were conflicted on whether they liked it or not. It certainly doesn't feel like live poker, but the action's the same. I'd imagine it's going to take a few weeks for people to really make up their minds on this one, but there's a real chance that these tables could take off.

Fortunately for the dealers, change won't come quickly. It truly requires a completely different poker room philosophy and setup. As I said before, there were no dealers, but they still needed a large staff of people to run the system. Attendants at the front desk had to set me up with a card. The cage was still there and had the same job they had before, only with no chips. And as I mentioned before, they had Floor-Overlords; Omniscient game-masters with tablet PCs, monitoring tables, acting as part-floor, part-tech-support. They needed only 4 or 5 for the 19 tables, but are they really saving money on dealers? These people require a lot more specialized knowledge, so between training and what is likely a higher pay scale, they're not saving much. Plus, the whole system requires so much tech and infrastructure that hardware failure can cut into their profits real quick.

I've got some pictures of the setup on my cell phone, I'll post them when I get back!

Ryan said...

Interesting, I've been wanting to hear about a direct experience with those tables. Thanks for the report, and I'll look forward to your additional thoughts...

Sushi Cowboy said...

If you are going to implement those beasts then I think this is definitely the way to do it. Throw them into a brand new casino and don't ever give people the choice. I heard that they were installed in a place (in Detroit?) and players were waiting in line to play at a live table while seats at the video game table went empty.

The diminished rake/tipping is an upside but I still don't see myself drawn to want to try them. I don't like technology after all.

Was there any conversation or table talk during play? Were people saying "Ennn Aitj" "Veee Ennn Aitj" or "Gee Gee"?

Marshall said...

That is weird, it seems like a pretty big gamble to use ONLY those tables for the whole casino. What if the public hates them?

I am surprised somehow that they are even ok. I have seen them on tv, and while I do like the idea of seeing more hands per hour in a live environment, I pretty much hate everything else about it.

I view online poker and real life poker very very differently, and I would feel weird trying to mix the two together.

Were there a lot of people complaining about bad beats like they do about online?

Ryan said...

"Were there a lot of people complaining about bad beats like they do about online?"

You *know* there will be people complaining that the "shuffler is rigged" or whatever. It is 100% inevitable that any traditional game of chance that becomes computerized will produce cries of "bad randomization algorithm" from a segment of the players.

Marshall said...

Ya I figured that would be the case. I hear people even ask if the deck has been shuffled properly, after playing for hours, and they ask that because the flop comes A K Q or something. Silly.

Marshall said...

Oh and online poker is rigged.

jsola said...

The first table I was at was pretty quiet, although every so often someone would say something about the tables and how bizarre they were. People were still interested in big hands, and people would still give a big "WOOO!!" when they won a showdown.

The last few tables I was at were as lively as any live poker table I've been at, so it didn't entirely kill the poker atmosphere. Once people got used to it they seemed to fall into a rhythm and didn't seem to pay much attention to the medium anymore.

I only heard one guy complain about the tables being rigged. He gave the standard online explanation that they rig the cards to make hands more exciting and generate more action. He got a nod of agreement from one of the other players but I think most people realized it was on the level.

One thing that really stuck out to me was the demographic; it was easily 95% young guys. I really don't think they're going to get the oldschool poker crowd to play on these things.

Marshall said...

What about middle aged people like our parents age? 50-65, that range.

Since a lot of them are pretty retarded when it comes to anything computers, would they have a hard time using these? More importantly, would they just reject them and play something/somewhere else instead of learning to use them?

That seems to be a HUGE chunk of the current poker boomers. Sure, there are a lot of of "video game generation" players, but the guys with the money are all older.