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Howard Stutz

In California, Gambling is All About the Cards

24 April 2006

SAN DIEGO, California -- California's Indian gaming regulations allowed tribal casinos to have live casino table games as long as the outcome is determined by cards.

While blackjack, baccarat, poker and poker's variations, such as Let It Ride and Three Card Poker, were offered from the outset, the casinos seemed empty without the traditional roulette and craps tables, an essential aspect of the Strip's gambling offerings.

Bingo, which had been legal on Indian lands since 1983, was still allowed.

"Our customers seemed to miss those particular games that we couldn't offer," said Lee Skelley, assistant general manger of casino operations for Barona Valley Ranch.

Individually, the casinos set out to get around the regulation, using cards as well as dice on craps tables and in conjunction with the spinning roulette wheel.

"We found a way to give players a variety of games," Skelley said. "The games are the same, the mathematics are the same, and the objects of the games are the same. But there is just a little variation."

At Barona, the craps tables have eliminated dice all together. Cards, aces through sixes, representing the six sides of a die, are placed in an automated card shuffler. The shooter -- the player who's turn it is to roll the dice -- tells the dealer how many cards to "burn" before turning over two cards, which determines the roll.

"It's still craps and we give the player some control by telling the dealer how many cards they want to burn," Skelley said.

Barona patented the game and has licensed it to other Indian casinos in California for a small fee.

Other San Diego casinos still allow players to roll dice, but it's in unison with cards determining the roll.

At Pala, a craps dealer places 36 cards in a shuffler -- representing the 36 possible combinations of two standard dice. Two cards are placed face down in red and blue boxes on the table and the shooter rolls red and blue dice. The die with the highest number determines which of the two cards the dealer will turn over as the play card.

Craps players at Harrah's Rincon use one red and one green die while six red and six green cards are placed face down on the table. The stick person calls out the roll and a dealer turns over the two cards that correspond to the roll.

"We'll explain the game to customers, and once they realize the odds and payouts are identical to the Las Vegas game, they seem to enjoy playing," said Joe Gonzales, table games manager at Harrah's Rincon.

Roulette, with odds and payouts similar to Las Vegas, is also determined by the cards.

At Pala, 38 cards representing the 38 roulette numbers (1-36, 0 and 00) are shuffled and four are dealt face down in four colored boxes on the table. The color of the wheel pocket in which the ball lands determines which card is turned over to reveal its number.

In Barona roulette, double zero is eliminated. A 37-card deck numbered 0-36 is shuffled. From the deck, three random cards are placed face down on the layout. One of these three cards will determine the winning number. The section on the wheel in which the ball drops (0-12, 13-24 or 25-36) dictates the particular card that will be revealed.

The Harrah's Rincon version of roulette -- Volcanic Roulette Bingo -- replaces the spinning wheel with 38 bingo balls tossed about in a bingo hopper. One ball is drawn to determine the game's outcome. The probabilities and odds are an exact mathematical duplication, as are the wagering choices, of the Las Vegas game.