(image source: Smart Live Casino)
I’ve been working in the live dealer industry for several years now, as both an affiliate and an operator. Because of this, I’ve visited several studios and have always shown an interest in how several pieces of technology work together in order to stream the finished product to a players computer screen. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are also interested in finding out how this works, but I’ve never been able to find even a moderately comprehensive guide online, something I hope this article provides.
Before delving deeper into the article we should clarify a few basics for those who have never heard of live dealer technology before this article.
What is a live dealer casino?
A live dealer casino, more commonly referred to as a ‘live casino’, provides online casino players with the opportunity to play casino games with real dealers streamed live to their computer screen. This means that the player will be able to interact with a real croupier through their computer and talk to the dealer as they spin the wheel and announce their numbers. It is commonly regarded as the closest anyone can get to a real casino environment whilst playing online.
How does it vary from a traditional online casino?
Traditional online casino games are flash based, meaning they always have computer generated graphics rather than live dealer games which are a real time video stream. These games are more frequently called virtual games, as there is no human element apart from the player. Virtual casino games also rely on random number generation in order to provide the player with an outcome, whereas live casinos provide results based on the weight of the spin or the shuffle of the deck, as a real casino would.
Why have they become so popular?
Live dealer casinos have become so popular for plenty of reasons; I’ve listed the most common below.
Players will always favour interacting with a real person through their computer screen than interacting with a computer generated character (or no one at all). It makes the whole process more immersive for the player and even allows them to build up a relationship as they would in a land based casino.
Players want to see the roulette wheel being spun or the cards being shuffled by real people in front of them live on a screen. It’s not enough for most people to hear the casino saying that they are fair and that everything is random, players want more of a guarantee than that.
Now let’s stop talking about what they are, and how they work! Below we’re going to go into 3 sections – the studio, the server/software room and the analyst’s room. Before doing this however I’m going to give you a brief overview of a studio layout with an image.
Please remember this is simply an example of the basic requirements for a live casino. Some operations have the studio and server room in totally separate locations, some outfits may have a single table in one room, others may have dozens of tables occupying a single room with everything in one giant floor space.
It is also worth noting this is the requirements behind the live aspect of a casino, meaning this won’t include the obvious other business areas they have, such as player support (I’d hope!) or marketing.
Now you can see the overview of everything and how it may look, I’ll break down each area further below.
The studio room is where everything is streamed directly live to the players screen. All of the below components make up the live dealer operation the players see on their screen.
It goes without saying that each live dealer studio will have real tables such as the ones you’ll find in land based casinos. Each studio will lay these out differently; some will have a room specifically for each game, for example Smart Live Casino have 1 live roulette table per room, whereas larger operations to the scale of William Hill Live Casino will include 100 mixed tables per studio.
Once again an obvious choice to include, however we couldn’t exactly leave dealers out of the annotation! You’ll find that nearly every live dealer casino (at least the respectable ones) will have trained croupiers and many will be experienced from jobs in previous casinos. These dealers get a fair salary, however will make most of their money from gratuity, as in a real casino, so that is why they’re always so grateful and friendly when a player tips a few pounds.
3. Camera 1
The 1st camera is what you’re looking through when the dealer is presenting the game to the player. This is primarily used for a general overview before the casino games starts, at which point it will revert to camera 2 – as you’ll see below this.
Dependent on the scale of the operation some live casinos will have 1 cameraman to manage several cameras, some will even automatically program the camera and not need a technician in the studio at all, rather someone on standby in the analysts room to step in if there are any faults.
4. Camera 2
The 2nd camera is there for 2 separate reasons. The first is simply to provide the player with a bird’s eye view of the actual table and allow them to see the results clearly. The second reason is so important to the actual game that it warrants its own little sub-paragraph below.
Optical Camera Recognition
Everyone has probably imagined the small person sitting in a booth, quickly entering in the numbers that come up on the live roulette wheel or live blackjack cards in order to compute these rapidly to the players screen. However, sadly, this isn’t how it really works. The reason this is always done so quickly is through optical character recognition software, more commonly known as OCR.
The 2nd camera will automatically transmit the image of the cards dealt or the roulette wheel spinning to a computer that is located in the server room that has special OCR software installed. The OCR software then breaks down the images and interprets the numbers shown on the wheels or cards in a matter of milliseconds. It will then transmit these to the operator’s software, which, once again in milliseconds, will compute the data directly to the players computer screen.
You can read further information regarding optical camera recognition on Wikipedia.
5. Dealer Screen
The dealer not only has to act as the croupier, they also need to speak to the players and keep them entertained. The dealer screen provides them with information in order to be able to do so, this includes:
New Players Joining
When a player joins the table their name will flash up on the screen so the dealer can welcome them to the game!
A lot of casinos, such as Castle Casino, will have the option for players to type messages directly to the dealer which they’ll answer by speaking to the camera – making the experience a lot more fun for the player!
There are no physical chips on the table, so this is how the dealer knows who has just hit a big win. They’ll often congratulate the winners, so they get the praise they deserve and the rest of the table get a confidence boost!
The pitboss will usually manage several tables at once, like at a real casino. His duties will also be the same, to step in if there are any disputes, to keep watch of the croupiers and ensure that everything is in order and fair.
The server/software room takes all of the information from the studio and brings it directly to the player’s screen in the format that they’re familiar with.
Naturally explaining how this works in detail would require a thousand page manual and expertise that I unfortunately don’t have, however I’ll break down each of the aspects roughly so you can understand the duties that each component holds.
Anyone who has been playing online casino games for a long time knows how important the software is, it controls the absolute basics of all the games; such as registering the chips placed, all the way to the more complicated aspects like the cashier centre and odds calculations.
Although the software completes thousands of duties for the overall casino workings, when talking purely in relation to live casino games the software has one main duty. This is providing the interactive user interface around the video stream the players sees, this will collect the bets that have been made and log them with the system.
Whilst the dealers and video stream are the main selling point when a player registers for a casino, if the software isn’t up to scratch then the player will quickly become frustrated and leave.
The server takes everything which has been processed into the software; the video feed, the game interface etc. and then projects it directly to the player at home. Any interactions made will then be relayed back to the server and fed back into the software to process.
This essentially acts as a link between the technology in the studios and the player, so if the server goes down then the casino is in big trouble.
Every website needs a server. Sites which aren’t too large like Live Roulette only require 1 small server for our needs, however monsters like Google are estimated to have around 3,000,000 – yes that is 3 million!
A sequential overview of the operation
Now you have an idea of the individual elements behind a live dealer casino, I’m going to piece them all sequentially to give you an overview of how all them come together and bring
the action to your living room.
- The dealer starts being filmed from camera 1.
- The software processes this and combines the stream with the interactive user interface.
- The server relays data the software has generated to the players computer screen.
Bets start being placed
- The dealer will read from the dealer screen and communicate with the players on the table.
- Throughout this period players will be placing bets, which are relayed through the server and processed by the software.
- The dealer spins the ball around the table and the view will switch to camera 2, providing the player with a bird’s eye view.
- The dealer will call “No more bets”, the software will recognise this and, using the server, close the options for the player to place bets on their screen.
- The ball stops and the optical camera recognition technology reads the winning number then relays this to the software.
- The software processes which players have won and which have lost within milliseconds, the server will then relay this directly to their screen.
End and start
- We then go back to stage number 1, the camera will switch back and the software will allow players to make fresh bets (or hold bets if they’ve selected this option).