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Gaming Guru

 

Are you an Inventor?

12 February 2004

Just look around in casinos everywhere and one can see how few types of table games have ever managed to survive. Meanwhile, the figures show that table revenue, vis-a-vis slot games, has been declining steadily over the past 15 years. This has generated a renewed interest in developing new table games, with many new ideas coming forth.

Unfortunately, only a few get into official review by the gaming board and of these, only a small number make it to a field test, falling by the wayside due to discovery of design flaws. Of those that are approved for field test, the screening process by the casinos and the public, under close scrutiny of field agents, takes its toll again. This report is intended to guide inventors early in their design cycle, with the hope that awareness of the types of games which are likely to succeed, will serve to create better products, with a higher chance of succeeding.

Essential Qualities for a New Casino Table Game

To gain acceptance by the authorities, casino management, and the public, a new table game should have certain key qualities, while avoiding certain drawbacks.

Simplicity
Simplicity is a strong virtue. A complicated game has 3 strikes against it:

  • It may take a long time to get past the Gaming Board if the rules are hard to comprehend or if the math is beyond what a simple simulation can unravel. If the rules are ambiguous or can create problems with the public, the field trial may be unsuccessful because of complaints.

  • The game will be difficult to conduct flawlessly by the Dealers, many of whom are novices. If casino surveillance finds that it is unable to monitor and understand, it will be rejected by casino management, which is virtually paranoid about cheating by players and their own personnel.

  • The player will be intimidated by having to learn a a complex strategy in order to attain something close to the intrinsic payback. Avoid constructing a game in a way that one player's action causes another to lose or even perceive that it did. It is a distinct plus if novices can learn quickly simply by watching others play.

The recent growth of gaming has created a player market of immense proportions, but of a character unlike that ever seen. The vast majority of casino-goers are casual players who have never been exposed to casino play, or if they have, they have never played at a table before. If they stop to observe table play and find it attractively packaged, they may watch it to see if they understand the game. If they do and they see the players enjoying themselves, they will buy in.

Eye Appeal
The toughest part of succeeding with a new game is getting the first person(s) to participate in a game they have never played or even seen before. This is almost impossible if the game is unattractive. The game layout should be carefully conceived to include a logo, and should be an artistic (not gaudy), colorful attention getter. Display material such as rule cards and electric signs are helpful in attracting players. In today's world a large Progressive Jackpot sign will bring players to the table and buying in, even before they know what game is being offered.

Games which include special equipment, especially if this equipment has a function in the game and is colorful, can cause potential players to be curious enough to stop at an empty table or to join others at the table "just to see what is going on". Tourists want to experience new games which they talk about back home.

NOTE: If the equipment is the determinant of the winner, the equipment itself must be delivered to the Gaming Board and is subject to evaluation as a "device" or "associated equipment". Getting approval can be costly and time-consuming, so it is better to show the game in a less sophisticated mode, with conversion to a device approach after the game is proven successful.

Mechanics of Play
Casinos are limited with respect to the space they can allot to a game and the environment in which the game can be played. Players must have room to do whatever is required of them and there must be space on the table for every step of play which they and the Dealer must perform. Design the game for a standard size table, preferably a "21" table and verify that everything fits. A game which cannot accommodate at least 6 players will be seriously disadvantaged. People come in all sizes, so be sure that a smaller person can reach whatever has to be handled and always keep security (the eye) in mind.

Interesting Propositions
No game can attract or hold players if the betting propositions are dull. Nobody at a casino table wants to bet on the outcome of the flip of a two-headed or even a multi-headed coin. Card games are a proven winner, especially if the outcome is a poker hand of some kind. Counting and number values can also work. Progressive Jackpots should be predicated on some event that players perceive as possible. Multiple betting options are desirable, if kept simple and varied as to odds. For example a mixture of 1-1, 3-1, 8-1, 15-1, 30-1, 100-1 and 1000-1 or any sub-set comprised of several of these would work.

Element of Surprise
Players enjoy games which include a few twists and turns as they proceed. In addition to big awards for favorable results in rare instances, awards for extremely poor results (consolation awards), can help to sustain interest since they tend to keep the player in a potential win position until the last step.

Player Involvement
The game should give players something to do as part of the game, other than just betting and collecting. If the game is a "no-brainer" then the player should be able to do any, or better, all of these:

  • squeeze and arrange his cards
  • select some key parameter of the game
  • follow how the other players are making out
  • talk to the other players

If the game requires player concentration and strategy, then the game should not have distractions to the players. If played in rotation, the strategy should not be such that the last players are caused to wait too long. How long is too long? 60 seconds is borderline.

Dealer Involvement
A game which the Dealer can enjoy tends to create a feeling of comradeship at the table. If the Dealer is not an adversary, the Dealer can entertain the players while they play. In turn, the Dealer will enjoy playing and players will stay longer.

House Advantage
Long term success of a new table game is what everyone wants. To keep players coming back, to make them want to tell others about the new game, to make them happy--the game should give them entertainment value. Most players will say they don't mind losing but they do not come back to a game at which they always lose quickly. To allow some winners and acceptable length of play, a game should give the house somewhere between 1% and 5%. The lower figure would apply to fast-moving games while the upper would be acceptable in the slower, more complex types of games. Games which offer players multiple betting propositions can take the higher percentage on the long-shot bets, while allowing the conservative players to play at the low PC on the low-odds bets.

Hit Frequency
Games which do not allow a player to win a certain percentage of the games played will inhibit drawing onlookers into the game. A reasonable rate is 35% and this may include "pushes" even as high as 40% of the time. Multiple hits are very desirable, but very few games can be structured to include multiple hits.

Ownership
Nobody can profit from a game they don't have some proprietary rights in. Patents are costly, so they should be sought only after there is a basis for believing that casino people will like the game. A copyright is not strong protection but it will discourage plagiarism. Although the gaming authorities do not determine rights in a game, being there before them first will serve to ward off theft of the inventor's rights. Remember that a game that is "in the public domain" can't belong to you unless you do something unique and useful in converting it to a casino game.

Summary
When a game is submitted for consideration, it undergoes an evaluation for these qualities. It is far from an exact science and there is no way the process can be rigorously defined. Unlike an Olympic skating contest, there are no pre-set rules which can apply to the myriad of games people invent.

Some of these essential qualities can be evaluated by the inventor just by objectively looking at the game from the viewpoint of what the player or casino manager would see. Others can be rated by simply playing the game repeatedly with several participants.

A ballpark estimate of a game's mathematical and statistical qualities can be derived from casual play in which the results are recorded.

Exact analysis of the house PC can usually be derived only from computer play by simulation of many hands, usually in the millions. This can cost several thousands of dollars, depending on the type of game.

It will be necessary before the game can be submitted for official field testing, but the wrinkles in the rules should be discovered and fixed before going into costly analysis.

Finally, remember that reviewers are on your side always, hoping that the product will be capable of succeeding. Don't fall so much in love with "YOUR BABY" that you can't take constructive criticism. It is a rare game that is perfect right from its inception. What plays well for toothpicks in your home town, may be a great game, but it might need lots of polishing to make it casino-quality. We hope we have helped you--Good Luck!

Lenny Frome
Lenny Frome spent 40 years in the aerospace engineering business before moving to Las Vegas. During the ensuing 10 years, he became one of the most prolific gaming authors, having written 8 books, countless tip sheets and nearly 1000 articles for a variety of gaming magazines.

Lenny's ground breaking work in the area of Video Poker earned him the title of the 'King of Video Poker'. He also wrote on a variety of other gaming topics including Spanish 21, Let It Ride, Keno and others.

Besides being an author and columnist, Lenny was the premier Gaming Consultant at the time of his passing in 1998. He helped develop paytables for Let It Ride and Three Card Poker, and consulted on literally hundreds of other gaming projects.

His son, Elliot, now follows in his footsteps, as a gaming author, analyst and consultant. Their website, and a complete catalog of all their products can be found at www.vpheaven.com. Feel free to drop Elliot an e-mail at compuflyers@prodigy.net.

Lenny Frome Websites:

www.vpheaven.com
Lenny Frome
Lenny Frome spent 40 years in the aerospace engineering business before moving to Las Vegas. During the ensuing 10 years, he became one of the most prolific gaming authors, having written 8 books, countless tip sheets and nearly 1000 articles for a variety of gaming magazines.

Lenny's ground breaking work in the area of Video Poker earned him the title of the 'King of Video Poker'. He also wrote on a variety of other gaming topics including Spanish 21, Let It Ride, Keno and others.

Besides being an author and columnist, Lenny was the premier Gaming Consultant at the time of his passing in 1998. He helped develop paytables for Let It Ride and Three Card Poker, and consulted on literally hundreds of other gaming projects.

His son, Elliot, now follows in his footsteps, as a gaming author, analyst and consultant. Their website, and a complete catalog of all their products can be found at www.vpheaven.com. Feel free to drop Elliot an e-mail at compuflyers@prodigy.net.

Lenny Frome Websites:

www.vpheaven.com