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Best of Benjamin Spillman

Gaming Guru

Benjamin Spillman
 

Hold 'em tables adding a wrinkle

7 December 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Danny Goldstein dropped out of heavy metal music in 2001 when he realized he'd never make it big as a guitarist.

And in 2002 a drunken driver on the outskirts of Las Vegas wrecked his up-and-coming business delivering food and sundry items.

The accident exacerbated Goldstein's muscular dystrophy symptoms, leaving him unemployed and relying on a walker to get around.

A poker player might have called Goldstein's predicament a card dead hand.

But it turned out to be the beginning of a run of gambler's luck that has Goldstein and his wife, Alice, poised to hit a jackpot in the brutally competitive business of gaming.

Goldstein, 33, used his newfound free time to devise and protect a new take on the popular card game Texas hold 'em that will debut this month on the Strip.

"I'm nervous because I feel we're on the cusp of something life changing," said Goldstein, seated at the dealer's position behind a Texas hold 'em table customized with his Flop a Lock side bet.

From the seat of his motorized scooter, Goldstein described feeling a sense of personal power from overcoming handicap-related frustration and discrimination through a game he's loved since his teen years.

"I know it is something I can go do and make money at," he said. "It is up to me."

The Flop a Lock innovation is a side bet that allows hold 'em players to bet on the outcome of the first three community cards on the table, called the flop.

Danny and Alice Goldstein, along with Las Vegas accountant Mike Harman, recently struck a deal with Harrah's to install two tables at the Imperial Palace. Stations Casinos plans to put a Flop a Lock table at Red Rock Resort.

The trio's confidence that the game will take off is based in part on Danny Goldstein's love of gambling.

"Poker players are gamblers. They can't help themselves," he said. "This (is) gambling when they gamble."

Goldstein devised the idea last year during an off night at a casino poker table.

As the dealer handed Goldstein one useless card after another, he started watching other players, watching the flop and just thinking about poker in general.

"It was just grueling," he said, describing the hard-luck cards he kept drawing. "But that night, the flop was just doing all kinds of weird things."

The side bet pits bettors against the house as in blackjack but doesn't disrupt the strategy of the poker, in which players compete with each other.

"This changes the scope, or the face of poker," said Chris Block, corporate director of table games for Harrah's. "It is now a house-banked, or partially house-banked game."

Block, who sees as many as 50 pitches for new games in a week, came across Flop a Lock during a trip to the Sahara.

"I personally thought it was a cool game," said Block, who estimated he spent about five to 10 hours at the Sahara playing Flop a Lock. "The dealers seemed into it, the players seemed into it and I liked it."

The Sahara is where poker room manager Fred Masters allowed the Goldsteins to paste stickers on a conventional hold 'em table to see if gamblers would take to the game.

It was one of many casinos Alice Goldstein approached with the idea.

"I just walked in," she said, describing how she asked for the poker room manager and was directed to Masters' office.

And once the game was on the Sahara floor, she watched people play it. The atmosphere contrasted with the typically quiet, competitive vibe of a poker room.

"Everybody was friendly, laughing about the flop, high-fiving each other when it hit," she said.

If the game takes off, it will be a new adventure for both Goldsteins and Harman.

Danny Goldstein and Harman have been friends since childhood.

Goldstein sought out Harman for help finance and plan the development of Flop a Lock.

Harman said he liked the idea from the start and agreed to fund it.

"It was original," Harman said. "When I first saw it ... I could picture people hitting themselves on the head saying 'Why didn't I think of that?' That's when you know you have an original idea."