Last night, for the first time since Madonna lost her virginity, for the first time since the Beatles broke up, for the first time since Jesus defeated Muhammad in a game of rock-paper-scissors, for the first time since dinosaurs walked the earth, for the first time ever ... I gambled online.
That's right, I finally took the plunge.
Given the still somewhat uncertain legislative landscape of the endeavor, I'm not going to go into all of the who's, when's, what's, and how's at this point -- so let's just say that I hopped an airplane to Amsterdam last night, played for a couple of hours, then turned around and flew home to the land of the free.
Since I am still new to the whole thing, however, I didn't jump into any multi-player stuff such as online poker. Instead, I played some typical single-player games to familiarize myself with the process.
Over the course of maybe two hours, I availed myself of Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, and Video Poker.
It was strange playing all of these games in a non-casino environment, but still somewhat enlightening. When all was said and done, I came away with some definite first-impressions, and those impressions are as follows:
In the spirit of randomness, allow me to start off with the negatives.
First of all, the casino I chose last night has software which was designed predominantly for Windows. As a matter of fact, most online casinos are designed for Windows. What this means for us non-Windows users is that we have to play in a Flash-powered browser window. Honestly, I don't really mind the Flash client, but from what I understand, the native apps are better. Given the market share of Windows, I don't blame the casinos for concentrating on Redmond's finest OS, but it would be nice to see one of the casinos roll out a full-featured, cross-platform Java client at some point.
As time marches on in the tech world, operating systems are going to become less and less relevant to computing as a whole. Some notebooks are shipping from vendors with Linux, some are shipping with Windows, and Mac notebooks continue to gain market share with each passing year.
If you look at places like online brokerages, they have already made the "write once, run anywhere" leap, and their software will run on most anything, be it Mac, Unix, Linux, or Windows. If you are catering to a global audience, this is the way it should be.
While desktop software and vendor-specific applications (iMovie, etc) can legitimately remain native forever ... software from 100% online companies should serve at least 2-3 major computing platforms. Even online games such as World of Warcraft have a well-supported Mac client (though unfortunately not a Linux port). I think the option of a Flash client is a good start for the online casinos, but it would be nice to bring a full-screen desktop to those with other systems.
With regards to Internet gambling, not targeting Mac users seems a little short-sighted since there is really no such thing as a "budget Mac". The average Mac user, for better or worse, typically has more disposable income than most other computer user groups ... and I assume that this is an ideal demographic for online casinos.
Of course, the average Mac user is also a forward-hair-combing fruitcake with gonads the size of raisins and a Liberace-esque vocabulary ("I had the most amazing poker hand!"), but they are still good for a few more dollars than their more masculine Windows counterparts. Throw a little gay porn or some gibberish about recycling into the Mac client, and a loyal following is literally yours for the taking.
That's my first bone to pick.
The other negative I encountered about online gaming basically centered around two particular games.
I played both Roulette and Craps online, and while they were kind of fun, I couldn't get completely into them. There is something about these two games which demand that they be played in person. The ball bumping around the wheel, the people standing table-side screaming, the wreak of beer-breath ... these are things that are not well reproduced in a small browser window.
It also feels weird playing these games solo. In my opinion, these two games could be made way more fun online by making them multiplayer. Instead of rolling dice or placing red/black bets by yourself, have ten people play a single table simultaneously and enable voice chat. That way, you could hear everyone else, and you could even scream profanities at perfect strangers from around the world. In my opinion, this type of "live multi-player" table gaming would have a lot of promise.
Lastly, when it comes to the Roulette wheel, the animations need to last longer. Two seconds of spin is not gratifying. I'm sure there is an enterprising young programmer out there who can make a really cool, 3D, Avatar-esque roulette wheel. When that happens, I could probably get down with it.
With those above caveats being noted, I have to say that the majority of my online gaming was pretty fun.
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