HONG KONG - She has an hourglass figure, an unflappable manner and a friendly face. Meet Min, the robot whose creators say could revolutionize card-dealing in the world’s casinos.
The svelte brunette is a prototype of a human-like electronic croupier, which Paradise Entertainment Ltd., a Hong Kong-based gaming machine manufacturer and supplier, says could cut labor costs and open up new markets for casino operators.
While her function is currently limited to dealing cards, planned enhancements could have her recognizing customers’ faces and speaking to them in multiple languages, Chairman Jay Chun said.
After making her debut at a gaming show in Macau last month, Min and her clones will initially be introduced in the U.S., where labor costs in casinos are proportionally higher than in Asia and where humans, but not machines, are prohibited in some states from working as croupiers.
Paradise is talking to potential overseas buyers, Chun said, declining to say how much the robots will cost.
“We are the first gambling equipment manufacturer in the world that produces the human-like robotic dealer,” he said.
Automated table games are a growing segment of the North American gaming industry, according to Christopher Jones, an analyst with Union Gaming Group LLC in New York. Installing electronic table games can help casino operators reduce their labor exposure on low-denomination games and during slow periods. Also novice customers may seek out robotic tables to avoid embarrassment if they make a mistake, he said.
While relatively novel in the U.S., robots will be viewed similarly to virtual dealers by regulators, Jones said.
Robots can be a good solution in gambling jurisdictions where real dealers are banned, said Carlos Siu, an associate professor at the gaming teaching and research center of the Macao Polytechnic Institute.
Genting Malaysia Bhd.’s Resorts World Casino in New York state uses electronic table games to get around state gambling laws that bar human dealers, Jones said.
In Macau, the world’s largest gambling hub, machines are less likely to appeal. Asian customers are more inclined to gamble in a noisy and crowded environment, preferring to banter with dealers and fellow gamblers than sit in front of a machine that provides little or no engagement, Siu said.
“Gamblers often slam the table and shout loudly to pump up the mood,” he said. “I’m not sure if robotic dealers can tap into the gamblers’ psychology correctly and give an appropriate response.”
On top of that, a slowdown in Macau’s gaming industry may result in an oversupply of croupiers in the territory, Siu said. Paradise wouldn’t comment on whether it plans to sell robot dealers to the city’s operators.
Any rollout in the Chinese territory could spark opposition from a labor union that has urged the Macanese government to keep barring foreign workers from dealer jobs. Under Macau law, only local residents can be hired for such positions.
Even still, Hanson Robotics has sold a rival product — which is interactive and able to make facial expressions — to a Macau casino operator, said Jeanne Lim, the Hong Kong-based company’s chief marketing officer. She declined to say which company bought it.
Paradise Entertainment is working on making their robots more lifelike, Chun said.
Scanners located in card shoes enable the machines to recognize the cards that have been dealt. More advanced models will incorporate face-recognition capabilities so customers, especially important high rollers, get more personalized service, such as being greeted by their name.
Kam Pek Paradise, an SJM Holdings Ltd.-owned casino in Macau that’s managed by Paradise Entertainment, began a couple of months ago requesting VIP customers provide personal details and a portrait photograph so that surveillance cameras will recognize them and alert floor managers of their arrival via an automatic text message, Chun said. Likewise, the technology can be used to scout for known troublemakers.
Besides potential advantages in security and hospitality, robots are more efficient at dealing cards, typically distributing 30 percent more than a human in any given period, he said.