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Best of Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
 

Survivor star debuts table game in Vegas

1 March 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Rich Lemon, casino manager of table games at the Golden Nugget, has witnessed dozens of potential gambling concepts fall by the wayside.

So when a developer walked into a meeting at the downtown hotel-casino last September "looking like Grizzly Adams wearing a tie-dye T-shirt," Lemon was naturally skeptical.

The game creator, Rupert Boneham, is one of the best-known contestants to ever participate on the CBS reality television series "Survivor." Fans know him by his first name, his unkempt hair, his wild beard, his tie-dyed clothes and his oversized personality.

Lemon's hesitancy quickly faded.

"Everybody was really excited about the meeting, but I had no idea who Rupert was," Lemon said. "The concept seemed interesting, so we decided to give it try."

Rupert's Island Draw began its field trial Thursday at the Golden Nugget. The game is sort of a reverse version of 21, or a simplified concept of lowball poker.

"There really isn't another game like it on the casino floor," Lemon said. "It's totally different."

The object of Rupert's Island Draw is to get a lower hand than the dealer. The game uses only the aces though sixes out of 16 decks of cards shuffled together in a shoe. There are also side wagers that pay various bonuses for suited hands, straights and three or four of a kind. The single table will have minimum wagers of $5 or $10 with a maximum bet of $300.

The game was approved for a 45-day-to-180-day field trial last month by Nevada gaming regulators. If it's successful, Boneham hopes to bring Rupert's Island Draw to other Las Vegas casinos.

"I'm already talking to some of the big places," Boneham said.

Lemon said there has been more excitement and attention surrounding the game from customers than any other game the Golden Nugget has tested.

The interest is attributable to Boneham.

He was on hand to give the table-game kickoff some star power, signing autographs and posing for photos with "Survivor" fans. His trademark tie-dye T-shirt was replaced by a tuxedo enhanced with a custom-made tie-dye vest.

"This is my game and I thought why not take this to the biggest place there is, Las Vegas," Boneham said. "I took it to the Nevada Gaming Control Board and showed them how it was played."

Boneham has been a contestant on "Survivor" three times and spent more than 100 days on deserted islands, surviving the elements and other competitors.

He never won the $1 million first prize, although his popularity with fans of the show earned him a $1 million reward through a public vote following the "Survivor: All Stars" season in 2004.

Now, Boneham hopes the popularity will lead fans of the television series to try their luck in Rupert's Island Draw.

The game will also benefit Boneham's Rupert's Kids charity. Boneham plans to donate a portion of his proceeds from leasing the game to casinos toward his Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization that works toward helping and teaching troubled youth in a community.

If the game is successful, Boneham plans to set up a satellite office for Rupert's Kids in Las Vegas.

"This is a great opportunity and it's something that has been my passion," said Boneham, who first began working in the mental health field in 1991. "I'm taking 20 percent of what I make right off the top and put it toward the city we're in."

Rupert's Kids helps young adults who are too old for the social service system. The charity teaches job skills and trades.

"We save 12 kids each year," Boneham said. "I'd like to save more."

As for "Survivor," Boneham said he would take his Rupert persona back to the island every season if the producers allowed him.

"There is no other game that tests your mind, your body and your soul," he said. "It tests you to the core."