Technology is constantly changing our lives. Just about every aspect of existence is infused with technology, and casinos are no different. First they made the leap from gear-driven metal slots to computerized video slots. Next came online casinos, which recreate the excitement of a casino wherever you are.
Enter: Virtual reality. Originally just a toy for techies playing with immersive gaming, VR is now entering the casino world. But how will a device that looks like a high tech scuba mask impact casinos? Will it become a disruptive technology which forever relegates gaudy casinos to the dustbins of history? Or will VR be just another tool in the great casino arsenal?
What is VR?
Virtual reality is a tech-feast for the senses. The VR headset generates 3D images to create mini worlds which respond to your movements and motion. Turn your head: the view shifts accordingly. Look up: there’s a plane! Look down: don’t step in the dog poo! With gloves and body sensors, you can even interact with virtual objects in the VR world.
VR was invented in the 80s, but it was a clunky, claustrophobic experience fraught with error. Jumpy frame rates combined with pixelated images caused nausea and headaches in users. Combine that with a huge price tag, and VR was quickly forgotten for another couple of decades.
But technology made another leap, from microchips to mega-bandwidth. Now the smallest devices can stream huge amounts of data per microsecond to create an amazing experience. They have even designed special gloves to simulate touch.
What’s next? Smell-o-vision?
Live dealers have been around for years and can be found on most online casinos these days. Usually there’s a webcam trained on a scantily-dressed dealer of the female persuasion. You place your bets and pick your cards just as you would at a brick-and-mortar casino.
However, viewing a live dealer on a laptop screen or a smartphone feels more like face timing than the real thing. With a VR casino, the entire experience is wrapped up in a 3D world that responds to your every movement, making it that much more real than just a live dealer.
But can online casinos combine the live dealer experience with a VR environment? Not currently, but it’s getting closer every day. Probably the main barrier to VR casino domination is the expensive headset. Most people aren’t willing to shell out a few thousand bucks for a fancy VR headset, but they certainly will do so for a smartphone. 20 million VR headsets were sold in 2018, compared to 1.5 billion smartphones.
People would still rather gamble online via laptops at home or on their smartphones anywhere they go. Stumbling around town with a VR headset on your head is rather unwieldy, and definitely not practical.
Will VR Make Land-Based Casinos Obsolete?
The short answer to the question is no. Gambling Meccas like Las Vegas are more than just a long Strip full of mega-resorts and casinos. Sin City offers an experience. And there’s just no substitute for the sensory overload the average brick-and-mortar casino offers. Lavish decor, flashing lights, dazzling sounds, amazing food, comps and benefits, and the buzz of ‘being there.’ No amount of hardware and software can compare.
We’ve seen how technology can be a disruptive influence on our society; sometimes in both positive and negative ways. When a robot replaces a human worker, the machine is only doing the human a favor if the job is unsafe. Better to let a machine do the hazardous jobs. Otherwise, technology is just adding to unemployment.
But in the case of VR, the technology can be used to compliment the existing casino experience. A land-based casino can offer the same dazzling sensory overload in addition to an online casino website with live dealers. And a casino isn’t in a hurry to replace its own customers, but if a casino were to offer VR headsets cheaply as part of a membership, people just might bite. Especially when people are stuck at home during a pandemic.
Casinos would do well to embrace VR as a positive technology. By linking their exclusive casino experience to millions of VR headsets around the world, they can add to the younger audience members. After all, casino owners have been wondering why Millennials aren’t that into casinos for years.
Types of Casinos Compared
VR probably won’t spell the end of the land-based casino; people go to Vegas for more than just gambling. Sin City packs in so many types of experiences that there is literally something for everyone. But there are clear pros and cons to all 3 types of casinos: land-based, online casinos, and VR casinos.
Land-based casinos offer exclusive live shows and entertainment that you won’t find anywhere. For anyone who has seen their favorite band perform live, the digital equivalent is no comparison. As casino owners ramp up their offerings to attract newer and younger visitors, the artist residency program has exploded. Rather than grinding out nationwide tours for a full year, the biggest acts can do a 6-month residency on the Strip and pull in the same number of fans without leaving Las Vegas.
Not to mention the food. Celebrity chefs run Michelin-starred boutique restaurants all throughout Vegas, promising a party for the taste buds. And there’s no getting around the whole resort vibe. When you stay in Vegas, you are living in the heart of the action.
Online casinos offer a type of unrivaled convenience that the brick-and-mortar casino can’t match. Open up your favorite online casino app on your smartphone and gamble from anywhere. No resort fees, no driving, and no parking. If you get hungry, you can always tap the Uber Eats icon.
You may not get all the complimentary cocktails you can drink, but that’s probably a good thing. All those free drinks at the land-based casino are designed to loosen up your inhibitions – and your wallet. And the best part about online casinos: they offer a crazy variety of generous bonuses to get you to try out their casino – and VIP bonuses to reward loyal players who keep coming back.
VR casinos aren’t widely available yet, but they offer the closest digital equivalent to the casino experience you can have without booking a flight and a hotel. When VR finally gets to the quality level that mimics ultra-high definition images, it will be a happy medium between the land-based and online casino experience.
Before VR casinos can really take off, the quality of the headsets must go up and the prices must come down. As mentioned before, nobody wants to spend the price of a flat screen TV for a bulky plastic VR thing sitting on their head.
The Future of Casinos
Land-based casinos are already starting to offer their own online casino websites. They realize that not everybody is willing or able to make it to their casinos to place bets. They also offer sportsbooks where they are legal. If they want to corner the casino market, they should also embrace emerging technologies like virtual reality.
We’ve already seen what happened to the land-based casino industry during the coronavirus lockdown. Many casinos shut down, many were sold, and all of them suffered huge financial losses.
Online casinos did extremely well over the last few months, because playing casino games online is the ultimate type of social distancing. If we learned anything from this crisis, it’s this: people like to gamble, and if their favorite casinos are closed, they’ll turn to online casinos.