Electronic poker tables have been making the news in recent times through patent litigation and the impact on dealer employment, but bartenders may need to keep an eye on the latest development from Microsoft, too – the iBar!
 
Working with Las Vegas gambling giant Harrah's Entertainment Inc. this week, Microsoft introduced a high-tech Bodog Casinointeractive bar table that lets patrons order drinks, watch YouTube videos, play touch-screen games and even flirt with each other.
 
The tables offer Harrah's a new way to track its customers' habits and behaviours, adding to its sophisticated consumer rewards program that tracks users' gambling habits.
 
"Of all the goodies up our sleeves lately, this is one of the most dramatic," Tim Stanley, chief information officer of Harrah's, told Associated Press. "The range of opportunities is almost limitless."
 
The six rectangular tables with built-in 30-inch (76-centimeter) flat screens using Microsoft Surface technology were installed in a lounge at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, with custom applications built for Harrah's. A spokeswoman for Microsoft said the units sold for a base price of $10 000.
 
A program called Mixologists lets patrons play bartender by creating and ordering concoctions of whatever cocktails and mixers they click on. The system is able to remember users' drink orders and, one day, may be able to offer customers the same drink at other Harrah's locations, such as when they play a slot machine.
 
Another program lets users watch YouTube videos, either by searching or choosing from a list of popular videos. Harrah's officials said they reached a licensing deal with YouTube this week.
 
The table also includes a program called Flirt, which lets customers sitting at any such table in the lounge see and chat with each other, take and e-mail pictures and even trade cell phone numbers.
 
Other programs let users play video games or get information about restaurants, shows, nightclubs and other Harrah's attractions.
 
Pete Thompson, Microsoft's general manager of surface computing, said the table's computer was designed so businesses can customise it to meet their needs. "This is very open. There's no scripting," Thompson said. "People feel a sense of freedom."
 
Thompson explained that the computer uses a camera behind the screen to detect hand movements, which become visible to the camera like silhouettes once users press their fingers on the table. That lets the table display high resolution images but still function as a table, he said. Unlike a typical computer monitor, you can still set drinks on it.
 
Surface was first put into use in April by AT&T Inc. at its wireless stores. The 22 tables at a handful of stores are programmed to recognize eight wireless phones — but not Microsoft's competitor Apple Inc.'s iPhone — and give information about features.
 
Thompson said tables for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. and T-Mobile USA are in development. He said he expected other companies to begin using the tables by next year.