Michigan casino pits players against virtual dealers 5-18-07

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (AP) - A Michigan casino is betting that gamblers facing off against virtual dealers will pay off.

The Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort recently debuted a virtual casino, complete with wide-screen, high-definition video monitors - and electronic images of dealers that change every 15 minutes.

“It's kind of like a future world,” Bill Masterson, marketing director for Soaring Eagle, told the Morning Sun for a Friday story. “We're hoping to bridge the gap between an Xbox and a slot machine.”

The virtual casino opened in what had been unused space. Players face off against virtual dealers, while playing roulette or at least two different kinds of poker.

Soaring Eagle slot director Chris Bailey said virtual gaming will make gambling more user-friendly, especially for younger and novice players who don't fully understand game rules. Virtual casino games provide rules and allow players to sit down, slide cash or a credit slip into the machine and begin play.

“A lot of people are intimidated by a live dealer,” Bailey said. “You don't have that fear of stepping on some of the other guests.”

It is the first full-scale installation of the virtual table games in Michigan, said Mike Hegyi, service supervisor for game manufacturer ShuffleMaster of Las Vegas. He said the equipment was introduced about two years ago.

Joe Sowmick, a spokesman for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation, which owns Soaring Eagle, said the virtual casino is being tested for possible use at its planned Saganing casino. That casino, scheduled to open by the end of the year, will be located about 30 miles north of Bay City in Arenac County. It will offer about 700 slot machines and 40 electronic table games.