MIT Technology Review

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Horse Racing Gets Futuristic

With giant multi-touch gaming tables at a Hong Kong racecourse.

Think of it as “Luck” meets “Minority Report.”

This week, a stodgy old sport gets a shiny new look, with the introduction of new multi-touch gaming tables at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, a Chinese horseracing mecca. Apparently feeling that their sport needed a high-tech makeover, the Jockey Club teamed up with the digital company Possible Worldwide to develop enormous interactive gaming tables that deliver the races squarely into the iPad age. (Full disclosure, which I disclose more for its randomness than its relevance: Eight years ago, the Jockey Club financed my brief stint at a Hong Kong charity called Adventure-Ship. The Jockey Club is Hong Kong’s largest taxpayer and charitable contributor, which it can afford to be, since it is positively swimming in money.)

Horseracing almost feels like a throwback; it evokes images of old men angrily stubbing out cigars. But the new gaming tables--incorporating RFID, secure e-commerce and banking, multi-touch, digital video, and web technologies--are anything but a throwback. Up to eight gamers can play at a time. The tables debuted at the sleek and stylish “Adrenaline Bar” at Happy Valley, Hong Kong’s most famous racecourse. Take a look-see:

Of course, any reboot of an old game wouldn’t be complete without incorporation of the s-word: social. The new tables make it easy to share with friends just what you’re betting on (set aside for the moment whether or not that’s a great idea). Possible Worldwide frames it as a way to make friends as well: “The interactive and social elements are key to the experience,” said Eric Mauriello of Possible Worldwide, “and we think the shared environment aspect of the [table] really highlights how multi-touch technologies can be used to connect people in a group setting – especially when they may not know one another.” No longer does James Bond need to go through the cumbersome process of cold approaching an attractive young woman across the table; the table will now make the introduction for him.

The Jockey Club and Possible Worldwide worked closely on the project, “at each stage of the development process,” according to a release. If it turns out to be a success, the gaming tables may serve as a model for how traditional organizations and modern technological ones can pool their respective areas of expertise in developing products of the future.

The new gaming tables are part of a larger quest by Possible Worldwide and other companies to make giant “Minority Report”-style touchscreen interfaces a reality. Last Christmas, the company used a giant interactive screen as a means of controlling a musical Christmas tree.