What Are Auto Shoes?
Auto shoes, for those who aren’t aware, are electronic devices used on many Blackjack tables today.
Their job is to shuffle automatically and “deal” the cards.
Traditionally, casinos use manual shoes, requiring dealers to perform a shuffle manually or use an Auto Shuffler Machine to randomise the cards for the next shoe.
A manual shuffle is a time-consuming process that causes downtime on the table while it’s being performed. It impacts revenue and, as the casino claims, carries a high potential for human error and cheating.
The need for increased efficiency and fairness has become more essential to cost-aware casinos, so auto shoes entered the scene.
These electronic devices provide a randomised shuffle, removing the chance of a dealer making a mistake and making it virtually impossible for players to count cards.
While auto shoes may have been introduced from a place of good intent, they’ve been controversial since they first appeared, with players and dealers often complaining when they’re used.
How Do They Work?
The complexity of auto shoes varies depending on where they’re used.
For example, land-based casinos tend to be more basic. They only need to shuffle the cards and deal.
However, online live dealer games need these machines to work with the card-chip technology so that when cards are dealt, the software can detect the card and show it on the player’s screen correctly.
Essentially, an auto-shoe randomises the sequence of the cards. After a card is dealt, the auto shoe’s internal system automatically shifts the next card forward, ready for the dealer to slide across the table to the receiving player.
Machines used at live dealer casinos usually have recognition software to identify individual cards. I’ve also seen this in land-based casinos, a feature designed to deter potential cheating – card switching being one example.
I see why, on paper, auto shoes sound positive, but in practice, it’s a lot more complex, and I’ll show you the pros and cons of the machines.
Why Are They Used?
Auto-shoes were designed to make it harder for casino dealers and employees to cheat and to increase the number of hands per hour, a key metric in the profitability of the table.
Shuffling more than a few decks by hand takes a lot of time. Six or eight-deck games can take more than five minutes. An auto shuffling machine removes this time frame, allowing the casino to play far more hands per hour.
Pros Of Using Auto Shoes For Casinos
Below, I’ll review some of the most significant benefits Auto Shoes provides casinos.
More Games Equals More Profit
The most significant benefit of land-based casinos using auto-shoe machines is the speed at which the game can be played.
In traditional Blackjack, the dealer has to stop the game to shuffle the deck once they reach the cut card.
While many players like this “hands-on” approach, as they can physically cut the deck themselves, there’s no denying it slows down the game.
Auto shoes only stop once the cut card appears out of the machine. The dealer will manually shuffle the eight decks or, now more commonly, take a second full set of cards from a separate shuffling machine.
Auto shoes also make it faster for the dealer to deal cards to the players. Combining these factors allows the casino to deal more hands per hour, increasing hourly profit in the long run.
Consistent performance is another benefit of auto shoe machines for casinos.
No matter how skilled, human dealers will always make mistakes, regardless of how much experience they have or how competent they are.
Several factors can impact a dealer, including fatigue, other distractions in the casino, and disruptive players, all of which can cause a dealer to make mistakes.
When a casino uses an automatic shoe machine, they can expect the same level of performance, hand after hand. These machines aren’t affected by the factors that affect human dealers, offering a consistent, error-free dealing process.
This is one of the most significant benefits for players, too. I wouldn’t say dealers make mistakes a lot, but it happens, and it can be annoying when they do, especially if the casino has a policy of burning dropped cards.
Auto-shoes remove this issue, making it far less likely for players to get the short end of the stick when a dealer makes a mistake.
Lowers the Risk of Disputes
The last thing a casino wants is players making a big scene on the casino floor, accusing the dealer of making a mistake (and causing them to lose their hand), or arguing with the pit boss after a card the dealer dropped is burned – maybe leading to the player winning their hand.
Similarly, game developers don’t want video clips taken out of context when a mistake is made in online live Blackjack, as they could go viral and give them a bad name.
As we saw earlier, auto shoes reduce the chance of the dealer making a mistake and prevent them from being accused of cheating while shuffling.
This gives the casino a layer of impartiality that is difficult to dispute. It’s often viewed as a win-win situation for both casinos and players, although scepticism of the machine’s fairness is a whole topic I’ll cover later.
Cons Of Using Auto Shoes For Casinos
As with any technology, auto shoes are not without their drawbacks. Casinos face certain disadvantages when they use auto shoes, and the following sections explore some of these downsides.
Initial Setup Costs
One of the most prominent disadvantages of auto shoes for casinos is the high costs involved with purchasing and installing the machines in the first place.
These devices, with their intricate mechanical components, aren’t cheap. They can cost thousands of pounds per machine, including installing and integrating these devices within the existing gaming setup.
Most land-based casinos have multiple Blackjack tables, meaning the cumulative cost of equipping each table with an auto shoe can be substantial.
While the increased efficiency and potential profit could offset these initial expenses over time, the upfront investment can be high, especially for smaller operations.
This is why you’ll often see Blackjack tables without auto shoes in a casino, even when many of their tables do have them.
However, it’s not the same in live online casino game studios unless it’s a one-deck Blackjack table.
When a casino installs an auto shoe on a Blackjack table, that game relies on that shoe. If and when something goes wrong, it can interrupt the game.
For example, the machines operate on a constant, consistent power source. This reliance on electricity introduces a potential point of failure, and while rare, power cuts aren’t unheard of.
By far, however, the biggest risk is mechanical malfunctions. While it’s relatively common for a card to get jammed (this can be resolved instantly), internal parts can break, requiring the machine to be repaired.
When this happens, the casino has to resort back to manual dealing, and with up to eight decks in play, this can be pretty annoying for players, as it can take a while when the cards need shuffling.
Some casinos have spare machines they can quickly integrate, but it’s another sign of dependency – one that’s important for them to consider.
Another disadvantage of auto shoes, from a casino’s perspective, is staff have to undergo additional training.
Dealers, who were once required to shuffle and deal cards by hand, now have the complexities of using the machine. In the long run, it should make their job easier; they must learn how to use the auto shoe and troubleshoot fundamental problems.
This training represents an additional cost in terms of time and money. What’s more, if updates or changes are made to the machine, new training may again be required – a recurring expense for casinos.
I should also point out that this problem is now offset a lot of the time as croupiers are taught in dealer school how to use these machines, negating the need for casinos to train themselves. This isn’t the case everywhere, but it’s a lot more common than it used to be.
Pros Of Using Auto Shoes For Players
I’ve spent time talking about the pros and cons of casinos using auto shoes. Now I want to focus on how they impact players.
While it’s true there are advantages of auto shoes, for players, I find the vast majority prefer to see the dealer shuffling and dealing the cards from a manual shoe.
This way, there’s no ambiguity; you can see what’s happening, and it feels like a more authentic version of the game.
Still, there are some positives for players, and I’ll run you through some of the main advantages below.
Fast Game Play
Faster gameplay benefits the casinos by allowing more hands to be played per hour, equating to more profit per hour for the casinos. However, for some players, this is also an advantage.
Some players want to be able to place their bets and get on with the game. They don’t want to wait around for a manual shuffle and would prefer the speed and simplicity of an automated system.
They may want the ability to win more money, which can be done by playing more hands – and winning. However, there’s a natural flipside of this: it can also equate to losing more money – and this is where, again, you can see how they’re beneficial to casinos.
When an auto shoe is used, the gameplay tends to be faster and smoother. As I mentioned earlier, the dealer’s risk of making a mistake is much lower, leading to decreased disruptions to the game.
This is often seen as an advantage for many players, especially those who want to keep their heads down, play their hands, and not interact with anyone.
Another element is that the game’s rhythm becomes more predictable when an auto-shoe is used.
Plays can focus solely on their strategies and decisions rather than getting distracted. This is a minor advantage and not something most players would notice, but this may resonate with more experienced players.
This specific point applies to some players, so I also list it as a downside later.
For some, using auto shoes can increase transparency and reassure players that the distribution of cards is entirely random and free of human bias.
There’s less room for suspicion of unfair dealing or the dealer “rigging” the cards to make the player lose.
If players trust the machine is fair and random, they’ll likely feel the game is more transparent and honest with the machine in use.
However, others would argue that not being able to see the cards makes the game less transparent, so it’s a double-edged sword, in my opinion.
Cons Of Using Auto Shoes For Players
While auto shoes offer some advantages to players, I’ve found that most dislike them.
In this section, I cover some main arguments against their use from a player’s perspective.
Lack of Trust
Trust in the fairness and integrity of casino games is vital for all players, and this is one of the major concerns associated with auto shoes, particularly at online live dealer casinos.
Despite the advanced technology and supposed randomness of the dealing process, many players are highly sceptical of these machines. There’s a fear that casinos and game developers can manipulate the order of the cards in the casino’s favour.
After all, it’s easier to believe the game is random and truly fair when a human dealer shuffles the cards before you and then places them directly into a physical shoe.
Of course, provided you’re playing at a reputable casino, any auto shoes in use will have been certified. But this still does little to comfort many players.
I understand, too, the increased levels of suspicion when auto shoes are used for live online Blackjack.
You can’t even see the machine in person here, as you can when you play in a land-based casino. Of course, I don’t believe any reputable live software provider would rig their games like this, but I can empathise with players who worry about it.
Removes the Novelty of the Game
Another significant downside of auto shoes from a player’s perspective is the perceived loss of the game’s novelty and the even more defined lack of human touch.
Until recently, Blackjack was a game where you could see everything played out with your own eyes, you got to cut the cards, and there wasn’t a mechanical device in sight.
Introducing auto shoes into the mix can disrupt the game’s traditional atmosphere, which many players don’t like, especially at a physical land-based casino.
The sight of a dealer expertly shuffling and dealing the cards, the sound of the cards being flipped, and the anticipation building with each hand dealt – in my experience, these are all critical parts of the game that many players love, and auto shoes can, for some, completely ruin the feel of the game.
I know some players refuse to sit down or join a Blackjack game where an auto shoe or shuffling machine is in use, as they prefer the human touch rather than a silent, impersonal machine.
While more efficient, the mechanised process of auto shoes lacks the human element, so we’re seeing some casinos running special tables that advertise themselves as not using them.
This appeals to players (particularly older generation players) who don’t care for technology at the table.
Another potential downside of using auto shoes in Blackjack revolves around the possible disruptions and delays they can cause players.
While the machines are designed to be as effective as possible, like all technology, failure occurs. When it does, the speed of fixing or replacing the machine can be lengthy, often requiring the table to close while it’s repaired.
Components within the auto shoe may jam or wear out, and while the former is usually resolved pretty quickly, it can disrupt the game flow and annoy players.
Technical glitches and software bugs are also concerns when playing live online casinos. For example, there have already been cases in the past when players saw incorrect card values displayed on their screen, with the physical cards showing a different “count.”
While rare, this is a problem, as all live online Blackjack uses built-in table sensors to determine which cards have been dealt from the shoe. If anything goes wrong with this sensor, or the chips in the cards, the disruption – and subsequent investigation – can be hugely annoying for the player.
Is An Auto Shoe the Same as a Continuous Shuffling Machine?
Significant differences exist between an auto shoe and a continuous shuffling machine.
A continuous shuffling machine operates on a completely different principle and is rarely used online.
With a continuous shuffling machine, the dealer returns the used cards directly to the machine after each hand is played. They are then shuffled inside, meaning the beginning of every hand starts with eight new, complete decks of cards, randomly shuffled.
As a result, there’s no end to the shoe. The continuous nature of this renders card counting impossible as the deck composition is constantly changing, and the discard pile never remains for longer than one hand.
Auto shoes, conversely, have the cards inserted by the dealer; they have already been shuffled manually or using an automatic shuffling machine usually built into the table.
Why Live Dealer Casinos Are Moving Away From Auto Shoes
We’re starting to see a shift away from auto shoes in live dealer Blackjack. I think this is positive for most players, and unless a continuous shuffling machine is used, the benefits of increasing the game’s speed aren’t worth it.
Players are always going to be suspicious when they’re gambling online, and hiding the cards in an automated machine doesn’t do anything to help the casino’s cause.
With a manual shoe, players can see the cards being drawn physically, eliminating – or at least significantly reduce – the risk of players believing the games are being rigged.