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Special to The Times

The week of July 6 wasn’t one of Simon Child’s best. The professional card player was eliminated from the World Series of Poker without winning a dime. On top of that, he couldn’t catch the eye of the attractive women across the lounge, not even with the help of new technology.

Simon has a girlfriend at home in the British Isles, but he couldn’t resist flirting at the i-Bar in the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino. In Simon’s defense, it’s hard to resist what Bill Gates calls the future of computing: Microsoft Surface’s interactive touch screens.

The i-Bar is the only entertainment venue in the world offering these special touch screens, which are built into the tables, that allow guests to see live images of people at other tables and “chat” with them, all without having to make eye contact.

Welcome to the future.

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“It’s kind of the next generation of Internet dating,” said Michael Weaver, vice president of marketing for Harrah’s, of which Rio is a part. “Rather than seeing someone’s profile, you can see what they really look like. But you don’t have to be so close that you need to really communicate with them.”

There is communication, of sorts, through the use of so-called magnets carrying messages such as, “Apart from being sexy, what do you do for a living?” Guests can also create their own messages using a variety of single-word magnets. The words have been carefully chosen to keep the messages clean.

As the magnet messages are dragged onto the screen, they become visible to the people with whom you’re flirting -- that is, if they accept your invitation. “We tried, but the people didn’t accept our message,” Child, the poker player, said.

Sarah Jones, a tourist from London, found some comfort in the new method. “You’re able to communicate with people in this bar that perhaps you’d ordinarily be too shy to go up and meet face to face,” she said. “Rather than go ask them if they want a drink, they can dis you on text if they want to, without having that embarrassment factor.”

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The cocktail waitresses are trained to help those who need assistance with the various applications. That’s right -- Microsoft Surface offers much more than just the latest dating device.

Guests can search YouTube for their favorite videos, play a variety of games and use the “Virtual Vegas” tool to find what’s happening at the other Harrah’s properties around town. Surface can even provide driving directions.

And “Mixologist” is a handy tool for drinkers wanting more than just a Bud. You want Effen Black Cherry vodka in that martini? No problem. Just touch that icon. If you want to get really creative, you can come up with your own drink, right down to the garnishes.

“Exploring -- learning the technology -- is part of the fun,” said Chris Chang, Harrah’s vice president of innovation, as he taught me how to flirt using what most certainly qualified as an innovation.

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“Table 1, there are some people over there. Table 2, there’s a crowd of people coming in,” Chang observed as we looked at live images from the five other tables equipped with Surface. It was time to make a move.

“You click on the IM button,” he explained. “It makes a notification asking, ‘Hey, do you want to flirt with us?’ ”

Moments later, we had our answer.

“They said, ‘Yes.’ So we can send them messages, and they can send us messages.” Chang dragged onto the screen an IM that read, “You’re HOT. Do you have any sunscreen?”

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“The audience is very much a younger demographic,” he said. “ ‘Flirt’ is very popular. People are chatting from table to table.”

The computers cost $10,000 each. As with other new technologies, the price is likely to drop as the tabletop computers -- keyboard and mouse-pad-free -- become more popular.

“I think this is the next generation of computers,” said Dennis Wixon, a research guru for Microsoft. “This kind of interaction will change the way people work with computers in the next generation.

“Will you see this in your home at some date in the future? I have no doubt.”

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For those unwilling to wait, there’s the i-Bar. Weaver of Harrah’s marketing noted that, before long, Surface computers would probably pop up at other Harrah’s properties, including Caesars Palace and Paris.

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travel@latimes.com


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