Feeling out the Felt
by James J. Hodl
Feeling out the Felt
A cornucopia of new games and concepts have been developed in effort to become the next big thing among table players
Aficionados of hands-on table games rejoice. Despite electronic table games and poker currently snaring all the hype, you have not been forgotten. There are some interesting new table game concepts being pitched to casino properties nationwide.
Which will end up being played at a casino near you remains to be seen.
At the Global Gaming Expo in November, there were no shortage of persons and established gaming firms displaying newly-developed table games. These include many newcomers of game development who see their idea as the proverbial better mousetrap that will have casinos beating a path to their door. But the reality is that less than 1 percent of new table games introduced each year ever make it to hit status in casinos, said Roger Snow, senior vice president of products at Las Vegas-based table game and product manufacturer, Shuffle Master Inc.
Even so, developers keep trying to produce new games that meet both player and casino desires. The current crop is heavy with games aiming to be faster-paced—keeping players excited and interested while providing more betting options, which generate more wins, as well as more revenues for casinos.
“The proliferation of side bets and progressives are what attract players back to the table games section from the slots floor,” said Tom Gayton, president of Las Vegas-based G&P Gaming. Many developers reported “ramping up the math” to make games more volatile and enabling “big wins on dollar bets.” That games appeal to players who bet $25 to $100 on a hand also is important for casinos, Snow added.
Of the new table games introduced by Shuffle Master, the one getting the most attention (thanks to a glowing review on the Motley Fool investor Web site) is Five Card Omaha Poker, an against-the-house simplification of Omaha Hold’Em Poker. Players receive four cards from which they use two with three action cards to make their best five-card poker hand. The game also has a bonus bet that pays when a player’s cards includes two pair or better, and wins regardless of whether the player folds or loses to the dealer.
Three Card Draw Poker pits players in adrenalin-raising head-to-head competition with the dealer, said Shuffle Master’s Snow. After receiving three cards, players can discard one for a “draw” card to create a winning hand. Players also can place a bonus bet that pays if their final hand contains a flush or better.
Shuffle Master’s Caribbean Stud Bonus upgrades the popular specialty game with an optional bonus bet that pays off when the player’s hand contains a pair of 10s or better. The game also has a progressive jackpot that can pay big when the player’s final hand is a royal flush.
Lobo, a new game introduced by Las Vegas-based Gaming Entertainment Inc. (GEI), literally turns blackjack on its head. The concept is a reverse blackjack game where the strategy is to have the lowest value hand, with two aces (value: 2) being a sure winner. The game requires a special deck that eliminates all the 10 value cards (10, jack queen and king). And the rules permit the player, after being dealt two cards, to discard one and be dealt a replacement, noted Randy Zinkil, GEI’s vice president of sales and marketing. For instance, if a player is holding a 2 and a 9, he can discard the 9 and hope to get a card that undervalues his hand against the dealer’s.
Las Vegas-based Galaxy Gaming is betting big on Three Card Split, which Galaxy executive Bob Pietrosanto described as “a mutation of Three Card Poker and Pai Gow Poker.” Played with a standard 52-card deck, players and the dealer are each dealt three cards, from which they play three different hands each with its own bet. The three cards are split into one- and two-card hands, which are compared to the dealer’s hand similar to the standard method in Pai Gow Poker to determine winners. And then the full three-card hands are compared for a third winner. A fourth side bet rewards from a pay table players with pairs, flushes, straights, straight flushes and three of a kind in their hand. The top payout is 200-1 for having four aces (three in your hand and the fourth in another player’s hand).
Adaptations of Pai Gow that alter play or miniaturize the game while increasing betting options are currently popular.
GEI offers two such games. Mini Pai Gow reduces the seven-card game to a six-cards where players bet on having the best five-card and one-card hands, which Zinkil said leads to more decisions per hour. Pai Gow Plus is the regular seven-card game with only five positions per table, but with a bonus betting option on how the entire hand compares with other players and, after all player cards are revealed, an option to bet one’s hand against the still hidden Dragon Hand that the dealer created as the original hand was dealt.
Pai Gow Express from Goodyear, Ariz.-based New Horizon Gaming combines the best features of Three Card Poker and Fortune Pai Gow. Players are dealt only five cards, from which they bet on having the best two-card and three-card hands. Optional side bets have players wagering on having (with the same cards) the best three-card and five-card poker hands.
“This game, which was recently licensed for play in Nevada, creates more action and excitement for players by reducing pushes while offering more chances to win with the same hand,” explained New Horizon president Roy Ritner.
Progressive jackpots figure prominently in two new card games from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Reel Games.
Caribbean Texas Hold’em combines Caribbean Stud with Texas Hold’em poker in an against-the-house table game with community cards like the poker game which players can use to create winning hands. The game permits multiple bets on each hand, which gives multiple chances to win and win big.
Jackpot Blackjack Progressive plays like traditional blackjack, but adds optional side bets for getting on the first two cards a blackjack, suited blackjack, pair of aces or jacks, or a pair of aces or jacks of spades. Pay table odds range from 3-1 to 1,000-1, thus enabling a player to win big on a $1 side bet.
Reel Games offers with both games the G3 Electronic Side Bet feature that links all tables playing the same game on premises to build progressive jackpots bigger and faster, provide multiple jackpots, and even declare random bonus prizes for players.
Reel Games is working with G&P Gaming on an Americanized version of Ro Sham Bo, which plays like the playground game of Rock/Paper/Scissors. According to G&P’s Gayton, the game requires a specialty deck, with players dealt three cards that they turn over to win against the dealer. Winnings are set by a pay table.
A game that morphs from blackjack into poker is being offered by A&L Table Dreams Inc. As described by A&L president and game creator Anthony Ramirez, 21 to the River starts off as blackjack, complete with the normal strategies of hitting, standing, doubling and splitting. Normally, when a player gets more than 21 in his blackjack hand, he busts. But in 21 to the River that’s when the poker hand begins. The bust card becomes the player’s first card in a poker game, and he is dealt four more cards, and can win if his five-card hand beats others in the same situation at the table, Ramirez explained. Bets are placed on both blackjack and poker game at the beginning of the hand, but if the player doesn’t bust out on blackjack, his poker bet is a push.
Ramirez is working on other games for introduction later in 2008 that combine traditional card games with sports like basketball.
Another game concept is already going down the sports road. Grand Slam Poker from Las Vegas-based MVP Gaming Inc. combine baseball and poker into a card game played on a special felt (with a baseball diamond pattern at each playing position) with six decks of regular cards dealt from a shoe. Cards are valued as one, two, three or four base hits, with the 10 through ace equaling an out. Players bet on how many bases they will advance on each card dealt, with wagers moving with each card dealt and paying off when they reach home plate. The game also has two side bets. The bonus bet payoff, depending on the three-card poker hand the player has when cards are dealt to each base and are paid on a pay table that ranges from 2-1 for a suited pair to 1,000-1 for three nine of diamonds.
“This fast-moving game proved very popular with women during testing because of its total absence of intimidation as part of game play. There are no decisions to make, no dealers’ hands to contend with. Simply place your bets, let the dealer issue the cards, and cheer each other on,” said Mike Pernatozzi, MVP Gaming’s president.
Side bets also are being created to spice up the game of craps.
The Fire Bet side wager from Las Vegas-based HopBet Inc. gives players and additional way to earn a payout.
“When someone else controls the dice, most players are rooting for passes,” said Perry Stasi, HopBet president. “What the Fire Bet does is give these players a way to capitalize on the number of points the shooter is making. Each time a shooter makes a point (rolling a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10) the side wagering player gets closer to winning the Fire Bet. Rolling the same point doesn’t count. But for a $1 side bet, a player can earn a 25-1 payout if the shooter makes four points, 250-1 for five points, and 1,000-1 for making all six points.”
Hi-Lo Dice from Olympia Dice adds a craps side bet on whether the roll will be over or under 7, said Clay Cacas, president of the Terrell, Texas-based company. If a player bets Under 7, and the next roll by the person controlling the dice comes up 6 or lower, the bettor is paid even money for a roll of 3 to 6, and paid 5-1 if the roll is a 2. Likewise, if a player bets Over 7, the payout is even if the roll is 8 to 11, and at 5 to 1 if the roll is a 12 (boxcars). Table covers—adding areas where chips wagered on these side bets can be placed—are also provided.
Tracking made simple
MAO Gaming, other companies offering affordable side-bet tracking alternatives
Who needs costly electronic systems to keep track of multiple side bets with table games? Not when you can have a good manual system that allows dealers to pinpoint when and for how much each bet is made.
“It’s always been a problem for casino personnel to keep track of multiple bets so that the proper payout is made when a player opts out at some point of play,” said Stacey Perry, president of MAO Gaming in Biloxi, Miss.
Perry originally developed (and patented) the Lammer Tracking System (LTS) to help dealers track persons betting under Mao’s Streak side bet system, where wagers are made on winning streaks. The system consists of a tabletop grid on which betting regions are marked. When a player participating in a Streak bet has a winning hand, the dealer moves a lammer, first to the lowest numbered bet region, then with each player win, to a higher number until the player completes the streak and wins the bet—or if he doesn’t, removes the lammer from the grid.
MAO recently introduced an upgrade of LTS—the GFT (Global Functioning Tracking) System, which has a single lammer/single tracking region for use on games like craps and roulette. With universal Arabica markings, the system helps dealers settle disputes while enhancing game play and bet integrity, Perry said. These markings are designed to prevent bet tampering, as they are sized to be readable even by the oldest surveillance systems, she added.
MAO also offers the GFT LTS in Asian markings. A Louisiana casino had the grid made up in the Vietnamese language for use with some of its local customers, Perry said.
Other firms have followed MAO’s lead in introducing tracking grids for their craps side bet games.
Olympia Dice markets the Hop Bets Tracking Grid, which president Clay Cacas described as “a simple and accurate tracking system that not only speeds up play but also allows security a very detailed image of what is being wagered.” The grid enables craps table managers to quickly find the customers’ bet any way it is called out. All betting combinations are arranged in logical order that is helpful to players, Cacas added.
HopBet Inc. also offers a tracking grid full of graphics to keep everyone up on what has been wagered. Graphics include pictures of dice in all the possible combinations, a globe for a World (or Whirl) bet, and an area for a Horn bet.