Impish robots make losing money much faster

Eight-place electronic roulette table from a company catalog.

Can’t wait to lose money? If so, there is a robot waiting at many of the city’s casinos that will do the job. At the speed of light.

There is no rule that a robot has to look like Robin Williams or like the transparent friend that helped out Will Smith in a 2004 movie. The robots here look exactly like roulette tables. They have been making inroads at Costa Rican casinos because there is no need for a human operator: i.e. no salary, no Caja payments, no vacation, no coffee breaks. But they also seem to have a mind of their own.

The devices are evidence that casinos are seeking more and more electronic play, including in some places, slot machines with key cards, like in some Las Vegas installations.

The electronic casino table here just keeps running. And that is part of the attraction. On a standard roulette table players place chips on a numbered felt cloth. After the ball lands on a winning number, the human attendant has to pick up the losing chips and pay off the winners, if any.

Some roulette players like to place towering stacks of chips on their favorite numbers. Attendants need time to sort out all the differently colored chips, and the little white ball does not move.

Casino Colonial, the first downtown to install such automatic devices, now has three. Casino Del Rey recently put one in place. At both locations, they are popular. As soon as the little ball picks a winning number, the machine automatically and electronically pays off the winners and takes the wagers of the losers. This is all in a matter of a few seconds and clearly displayed on the touch screens in front of each player.

The action takes place in a covered wheel in the center of the table, so there is no possibility of influencing the travels of the tiny white ball.

A typical electronic chip is 100 colons, or about 20 U.S. cents. Unlike the traditional roulette table, there is no minimum bet. But the automatic tables can be customized to value each chip at 5,000 colons or more. That’s $10, and there does not seem to be a limit on the size of the bet. Those who seek to bet just one 100-colon chip can milk a 10,000-colon note for 100 chances.

That is great news for those who think they can win by doubling up their bet when they loose. The electronic touch screen gives each player full control over the bets. And the action can be 10 times as fast as at the traditional tables. That means the players can bet individual numbers, series of numbers, columns, certain segments of the numbers, corners and also the colors red and black just like on the physical table.

That also means players can lose money 10 times as fast. The Internet is full of authors selling books purporting to provide a winning system. There just simply is not one. The ball’s target at each spin is totally random.

Roulette tables here use the U.S. system with 38 numbers. In addition to numbers 1 to 36, the U.S. table adds a green zero and a double zero. So by betting on an individual number, a player has a one in 38 chance of winning. That’s about 2.6 percent. Those traditional tables that use a revolving basket, called a canasta in Spanish, also have 38 possible outcomes. The house has a better than 5 percent edge.

The upside and downside of the automatic tables are that play is generally anonymous. At a traditional table, a player’s bet is open to the world to see. That’s great when the player wins big and the attendant pushes a towering stack of chips across the table to the winner. On the automatic table a winner just sees an increment on the electronic counter that keeps track of the bets. And when leaving even a big winner just gets a small piece of paper to take to a cashier’s window.

Someone once added up all the numbers from 1 to 36, and they got a total of 666. Everyone knows what that means, and many players truly believe that the robot roulette table is not so much of a mere machine but a devilish imp that is secretly laughing at them as they feed colon banknotes into the appropriate slot and try to challenge the mathematical odds.

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