Live dealer product comes to New Jersey

DraftKings Launches Live Dealer Speed Roulette In NJ, Raises Responsible Gambling Concerns

DraftKings Casino launched a new live dealer product this week but faced criticism for the way it announced it.

The game in question is a faster-paced version of live dealer roulette simply titled Speed Roulette. Like the rest of DraftKings’ live dealer products, it’s streamed out of Evolution‘s studio at the Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City.

Using a customized wheel and specially trained dealers, Speed Roulette cuts the time between spins to just 25 seconds. That equates to almost 150 spins per hour, which Evolution says is about 50 more than a conventional table. Naturally, this also means a big increase in operator revenue if the player makes the same bets they would ordinarily.

DraftKings teased the new game in a tweet on Sept. 20, followed by a launch announcement on Tuesday, two days later. The latter tweet included a video ad for the game that drew criticism from responsible gaming advocates.

“It’s the game that keeps going,” stated the ad, “So you can keep playing.”

The tweet and ad were pulled later the same day, though the prior teaser tweet remains up. The game is still available for users of DraftKings’ New Jersey mobile app. The company hasn’t yet added it to the browser version of its casino. For the time being, no live dealer products are available in other states, though that will soon change, as Evolution expects to open studios for online casinos in Michigan and Pennsylvania in coming months.

Speeding up the live dealer experience

Though DraftKings holds the exclusive rights to offer Speed Roulette in New Jersey, Evolution didn’t develop the product on DraftKings’ behalf. It began offering Speed Roulette to its international partners in 2017.

“We worked really hard to create a game that feels relaxed while at the same time being blazing fast,” explained Evolution’s chief product officer, Todd Haushalter, at the time of the international release. “This is a tricky balance to achieve, and by giving the game its own dedicated studio with numerous immersive camera shots and letting players bet during the spin, we have created a game that will appeal to serious and novice players alike.”

The idea evidently had some legs. Later the same year, Evolution’s competitor NetEnt released a very similar product under the name Rocket Roulette. Evolution is now in the process of acquiring NetEnt, as it did another rival, Ezugi, in 2018.

This summer, Evolution announced another new live roulette product along similar lines. Instant Roulette is even faster than Speed Roulette and doesn’t involve a human dealer at all. Rather, it uses multiple automated wheels spinning in staggered fashion. Players can place their bets at any time, and those bets are then automatically assigned to whichever wheel is closest to completing its spin. This cuts the time to resolve each bet to just a few seconds and eliminates waiting for players who’ve missed the betting window.

Instant Roulette hasn’t made it to US shores yet. There’s a good chance it will in time, however, especially if Speed Roulette performs well for DraftKings.

Bad messaging for those with a gambling problem

Criticism of DraftKings’ marketing approach for Speed Roulette was swift. It hadn’t spread very far, however, before the company deleted it from Twitter. The video doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else.

It appears to be rethinking its marketing approach, but not the product itself, which is still available and has reportedly been well received by players.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, was among the first to slam DraftKings for the tweet and video. As well as expressing his own disappointment, he said he’d heard privately from other industry figures who were “aghast.”

“Just about every statement in the ad is contrary to good, responsible gambling advice,” Whyte told Online Poker Report. “Higher speeds of play are associated with increased gambling problems. People should gamble for recreation and entertainment, not because they need to. And they should never be told to play long and faster, particularly on a game like roulette with a house edge that leads to more losses, not more wins.”

DraftKings isn’t the only US gambling operator to spark such controversy. Barstool Sports faced a similar outcry last week for its Barstool Sports Advisors segments. Some of these featured oversized coffee mugs with problematic slogans such as “You can only lose if you quit.”

The newness of the market might be partially to blame for these issues. Regulators for legal online casino and sports betting states will need to act soon to let operators know where the boundaries lie. A hands-off approach could eventually lead to backlash against gambling advertisers such as has been seen in the UK, Australia and elsewhere.

Are fast-paced live dealer games inherently problematic?

It’s debatable whether the problem lies solely with the marketing. After all, one could argue that the product itself encourages problem gambling by design. Evolution’s own promotional materials stress that the product offers exactly the same experience as its other live roulette games, only faster.

Is the opportunity to gamble faster something that responsible users want in the first place? What would a responsible marketing campaign for Speed Roulette look like?

It’s a fuzzy issue, and one that depends heavily on the pace of the original game. Looking at examples from other verticals, multitable poker tournaments take many hours to play, so it makes sense to offer some with a faster structure for players short on time.

At the other extreme are the autoplay features attached to some slots. These shave even more time off an experience that lasts only seconds to begin with. Many regulators ban or restrict these because they add little value, yet can fuel problematic habits.

From a regulatory standpoint, at least, Speed Roulette and similar games are probably acceptable. After all, at 25 seconds per spin, it’s still less than half the speed of a typical digital roulette title. Instant Roulette pushes the envelope further, but still isn’t any worse on paper than a digital product.

However, Speed Roulette by its nature allows less time for dealer interaction, which is the main selling point of live dealer products. Instant Roulette has none at all.

It’s hard to say what the appeal of these products would be for a player not at risk for a gambling problem, or whether a preference for them is indicative of such risk. At minimum, operators offering such games should monitor players’ game choices, as transitioning to ever-faster titles could foreshadow bigger problems.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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