Remember when it was slightly bizarre to order a hamburger from your car while talking into a giant clown head?
Fifteen years or so ago, we had to adjust to getting cash from machines instead of a bank teller. But now most people know no other way. In some restaurants these days, you can order your drinks, meals and the check from a computer tablet right on your table, without ever bothering the waitress. You can buy groceries, stamps, Christmas presents and even cars online without ever speaking to a single human being. It's part of our world today, and no one bats an eye.
So what are we to make of the blurred distinction between hands of blackjack dealt by a human dealer and those dealt by the computerized image of a dealer on a TV screen? And how does the expansion of video table games into non-casino facilities jibe with constitutional restrictions on the expansion of gambling in the state?
In April, as part of the state budget, lawmakers allowed racinos like Saratoga Gaming & Raceway to add electronic blackjack, three-card poker and other "games of skill" to their limited repertoire of electronic slot machines (VLTs). The rationalization was that VLT revenue had flattened out or declined, and that the existing facilities needed a financial boost from expanded gaming opportunities to compete with the three full-blown casinos that soon would be opening statewide.
The courts had previously determined that video blackjack was more like a slot machine than a human dealer. And therefore, the legislation didn't have to go before voters statewide like the decision to allow the institution of casino gambling did. The state now makes a distinction. But is it a legitimate one?
As long as they get to play their games, will gamblers really clamor for the experience of saying, "Hit me," to a live person as opposed to tapping a button to get another card? Some people might. But those same people 10 years ago might have sworn they'd never rent a movie from a vending machine.
If there's a substantial difference between electronic and human-run table games, then why doesn't the new law allow the same electronic table games in three central New York racinos that compete directly with Seneca Indian casinos? The Indians — and the anti-competition agreements that help sustain their operations — clearly make no distinction between the human and electronic games of skill.
So let's stop playing this shell game of semantics and call this what it is — a deliberate ploy to subvert the constitutional voter approval process and move into a full-blown expansion of casino gambling statewide.
Who do they think they're talking to, a bunch of clowns?