Live Dealer games are an exciting online casino innovation that mix the best elements of betting live at your favorite brick-and-mortar casino with online gambling. So far, only BetRivers, DraftKings and Hollywood Online Casinos have launched Live Dealer games, but that may just be what the PA market needs to get the ball rolling. Keep reading to find out exactly what Live Dealer games are, along with when and where you can play them.
What are Live Dealer games
First of all, let’s explain what we mean by Live Dealer games: Live Dealer tables are manned by real-life casino employees and are broadcast from a dedicated studio in real-time via a live stream.
After grabbing a (virtual) seat at a Live Dealer table, players place their bets through a computer interface, just as they would with any other traditional online casino game. However, instead of a software script playing out the rest of the game automatically, the action and mechanics are handled by a live studio dealer.
Live Dealer tables made their debut in the U.S. market in New Jersey in 2016 at Golden Nugget, and have since been launched at more than a dozen casinos in that market. The games have proven so popular that operators have expanded their hours of operation while adding even more tables to accommodate the influx of patrons.
Live Dealer games went live in October 2020 via BetRivers, DraftKings and Hollywood Casinos. We expect more online casinos to join in on the fun in the near future.
Differences between Live Dealer and traditional games
Here are a few of the differences you’ll find between traditional and Live Dealer games:
- Real casino environment: Live Dealer moves away from computerized graphics, and simulates a brick-and-mortar casino environment, with real dealers, physical cards and playing devices. The only exception is that betting and payouts are handled electronically.
- Chat functionality: While playing virtual casino games online has its advantages, the experience can be a lonely one. Normally, online casino games are played one-on-one versus automated dealers, which, unsurprisingly aren’t good conversationalists. Part of the fun of Live Dealer is being able to chat and interact with dealers and other players at the table, who can respond in real time, adding a fun social aspect to the session.
- Play from anywhere: Live Dealer gives you the experience of betting inside a physical casino without having to leave the comfort of your own home. What’s more, the format will be available on mobile devices as well, giving you the freedom to play and interact with real people from anywhere inside the state.
Which PA online casinos offer Live Dealer?
BetRivers Online Casino
BetRivers is the one of the few online casinos in Pennsylvania to launch live dealer, and began offering the exciting format in October 2020. BetRivers live dealer is run by Evolution Studios, the same company that runs the majority of Live Dealer games in neighboring New Jersey. BetRivers launched with two roulette variations and one blackjack offering. We look forward to seeing when and if they expand their Live Dealer library, but being the first to go live is always an advantage.
DraftKings Online Casino
Similar to BetRivers, DraftKings launched Live Dealer games in October 2020, streaming live from Evolutions Studios. DraftKings is offering two roulette variations and two BlackJack options complete with sidebets. As Live Dealer continues to grow in Pennsylvania, we fully expect DraftKings online casino to add more games including Baccarat, Let It Ride and more.
Hollywood Online Casino
Hollywood Online Casino shares a license with DraftKings and is streaming from the same studio. Hollywood also launched with just a few games including Roulette Live, Blackjack Live, Infinite Blackjack, First Person Blackjack, and Lightning Roulette. Hollywood will be looking to add more games as time goes on, but this is a great start to what will be a game-changer in Pennsylvania.
It’s highly likely that several other PA online casino licensees will integrate Live Dealer into their platforms. Any brands that partner with those operators to open their own branded casinos could do the same. Being that several PA licensees already offer the format via their parent company or partner in New Jersey, we think that, at the least, the following casinos and brands will get on board:
- Mount Airy/PokerStars: In PA, Mount Airy is partnered with PokerStars, now owned by the parent company of Betfair Casino NJ. Betfair spreads around a dozen Live Dealer tables in the Garden State, all powered by the Ezugi platform.
- BetMGM Casino PA: MGM also works with Ezugi in New Jersey, offering a number of Live Dealer tables through its online casino brand BetMGM, which falls under the Borgata license.
- Golden Nugget: GN was the pioneer of Live Dealer in New Jersey, launching the format in 2016, well before its competitors. Look for it to continue its dominance in PA.
- Mohegan Sun/Unibet: Partnered with Resorts in NJ, Mohegan Sun spreads Live Dealer tables through the Evolution platform.
- Wind Creek: Wind Creek considers table games its bread-and-butter, and is also very likely to get into Live Dealer.
Both Wind Creek and Parx offer a very similar format at their brick-and-mortar locations, which is referred to as Stadium Gaming. Inside the casinos, players can sit down at one of many video gaming terminals surrounding a central pit, where games are dealt by real dealers. These are essentially Live Dealer games, but only available inside a land-based property.
Apart from the above casinos, it’s also a possibility that PA sportsbooks may integrate Live Dealer games into their platforms. DraftKings was the first sports betting site to offer Live Dealer through the casino side of its operation in NJ.
Live Dealer game options
Most online casinos will launch with blackjack and roulette, but it will be interesting to see who adds additional games to the library and when. Here are the most likely games that you will be able to play.
Just like at a traditional brick-and-mortar casino, blackjack is the most popular game in Live Dealer form. Normally, Live Dealer casinos open up several blackjack tables with incremental minimums, typically ranging from as low as $5 up to $20.
Some Live Dealer blackjack games feature an innovation called Bet Behind, which solves the problem of limited table space. Inside a land-based casino, only a handful of players may sit at a blackjack table – the same goes for Live Dealer games. The Bet Behind feature, however, allows viewers not at the table to place a bet on a hand via any of the players who were lucky enough to grab a seat.
Gamblers place a bet “behind” any of the patrons at the table, but have no say in how the principle player chooses to play out the hand. That said, make sure your chosen player is making good basic strategy decisions before pulling the trigger.
Roulette is another staple of the brick-and-mortar casino, but is not normally as popular in virtual form. Live Dealer Roulette is different, though, in that it adds a social aspect absent from online variations.
Live Dealer platform providers have even come up with a few innovations in roulette which are featured at a number of NJ online casinos. Those include:
- Slingshot Roulette: This variation is not technically a Live Dealer game in the purest sense, as it does not feature a real dealer. Instead, it relies on a real, physical wheel, automated to spin 60 to 80 games per hour.
- Lightning Auto Roulette: Lightning auto roulette might remind you more of a game show rather than a simple roulette game. This visually stunning variation features a host, a screen with electrifying, high-quality graphics and the chance to hit lucky numbers to win payout multipliers.
Texas Hold’em-based games
Ultimate Texas Hold’em and Live Casino Hold‘em are based on the ever-popular poker games of the same name. In the Live Dealer variations, however, players face off against a dealer rather than other opponents at the table.
While the games bear a resemblance to Texas Hold‘em, the Live Dealer versions require much less strategy and stressful decision making than a real-life poker game.
Three Card Poker
Three Card Poker is offered in New Jersey at casinos running the Evolution platform. The game is rather simple, pitting the gambler against the dealer, with players making an initial ante before looking at their cards and determining whether to continue or fold.
If the player believes the hand could beat the dealer’s, they place an additional wager. The dealer’s cards are then turned over and the winner is determined.
This game typically features an exciting bonus wager where players are paid in accordance with the strength of their starting three cards. For instance, a pair may pay 1:1 odds, with a flush paying 3:1, and a straight flush 40:1.
Baccarat is a game extremely popular with Asian gamblers and high rollers. The object of the game is to predict whether the Player or the Banker and will end up with the hand value closest to 9.
Live Dealer baccarat in New Jersey comes in two flavors: Traditional baccarat and No-Commission Baccarat. In the latter variation, no commission is taken on winning Banker bets.
Since baccarat is a game of pure chance, and requires no player decisions after the hand gets going, patrons can sit back, relax and watch the dealer do the work.
While the games mentioned above have shown to be the most popular in NJ, they certainly aren’t the only variations offered by Live Dealer platform providers.
In fact, PA gamblers may see far more Live Dealer options due to the fact that table games are taxed at a modest 16%, while slots – traditionally the most popular option on iGaming sites – are taxed at a massive 54%. We expect operators to try and funnel players to table games whenever they can to reap the highest profit margins possible.
Who will provide the platforms for Live Dealer games in PA?
While there are nearly two dozen companies offering some form of Live Dealer platform, only two – Evolution Gaming and Ezugi – have made a play for the U.S. market. In 2019, Evolution acquired Ezugi, giving Evolution a huge leg up on any competitors willing to challenge it in the U.S.
The pair are also the only sites to have successfully navigated the stringent New Jersey regulatory licensing process, which would weed out Live Dealer competitors like Bodog and Visionary iGaming, both of which provide services for unregulated offshore casinos.
Having passed muster in NJ, both Evolution and Ezugi should be able to quickly obtain licenses to operate in PA, potentially getting a head start over any competitors.
Ezugi was the first Live Dealer platform to be deployed legally in the U.S., first going live with Golden Nugget Casino in August 2016. It was later integrated into Betfair Casino, a Golden Nugget partner.
The games were an instant hit, with the two casinos lengthening the hours of operation and adding more tables to accommodate all of the additional action.
Ezugi currently powers Live Dealer games for a handful of NJ online casinos via its studio located inside Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget.
Aside from New Jersey, Ezugi operates nine studios and offers up a selection of 20 total games to its 100 casino partners around the globe.
Evolution ended Ezugi’s Live Dealer monopoly in the Garden State, setting up a custom studio inside Hard Rock Atlantic City in 2018. Not only did Hard Rock adopt Live Dealer games, but several other casino sites jumped on the bandwagon, leasing out studio space from the music-themed property.
Several NJ iGaming sites now use the Evolution platform, which offers a greater variety of games in the state than its competitor.
Evolution specializes in not only Live Dealer games, but also in building studio environments which include bespoke uniforms, cards and gaming hardware that can be branded to fit any online casino.
Outside of NJ, the company boasts major studio hubs in Latvia and Malta, supplying Live Dealer games to gamblers on desktops, tablets, smartphones, and even TVs.
Wire Act complications
In January 2019, the Department of Justice made a rather strange decision when it reversed an opinion that previously stated that the Wire Act – a law originally meant to shut down interstate mob activities – only applied to sports betting.
The new opinion stated that the law should apply to all forms of gambling that cross state lines, including PA online lottery and online gambling.
The reversal could have an effect on the rollout of Live Dealer games in PA, since state iGaming licensees will seemingly no longer be able to broadcast games from studios already built and operational in New Jersey.
To avoid running afoul of the law, providers like Ezugi and Evolution are forced to build brand-new studios inside Pennsylvania casinos, to ensure that no gambling data is transmitted interstate.
This means that Golden Nugget, which purchased a license to open its own virtual casino in PA, will not be able to use its studio across the border, and may be forced to lease space from a competitor casino.