Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of inventors and seen a lot of games. Most of the games never made it into a casino at all.
While casinos are more receptive to new games today than they were years ago, the odds of getting your game into a casino are pretty long. The odds of the game being successful are even longer.
If you look at the games that are in the casino, most of them are poker-based and nearly all the rest are blackjack variants. Once in a while I’ll get an inventor who will try and convince me how desperately the casino needs a game based on neither of those – whether it be dominoes, backgammon, three dice or a 14-sided die.
The problem is they don’t need to convince me. They need to convince first a casino manager and then the playing public. Once in a while they’ve managed to convince the former, but to date, no one has managed to convince the latter.
Poker games don’t succeed by accident. They succeed because the player likes to play poker and because he understands the terminology. It is one thing to learn the dealing process and the betting structure, but if the player has to learn the basic concept of how to win, it may be more than he is willing to deal with.
While the past decade has seen the hold’em craze, if we look at the full breadth of the poker games in the casino, we see the player has embraced every imaginable poker combination. We have Three-Card Poker where player and dealer each get three cards. We have Four-Card Poker where the player gets five cards and the dealer gets six. We have Six-Card Poker where the player gets sixcards to make a five-card hand. We have a variety of games with five cards (Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud Poker).
Someone has tried a variation of a two-card poker game, but it didn’t quite make it. And, perhaps the strangest of all, we have One-Card Poker, otherwise known as Casino War.
I doubt any game in the casino is mocked the way Casino War is. We chuckle about people wagering money on a game we play with our kids. But, Casino War is actually one of the top 20 games in terms of revenue. I believe there are roughly 100 tables in the world.
I don’t know what the monthly lease is on them, but if it were a mere $500 this means it generates $50,000 per month in revenue. There isn’t a game inventor in the world who would chuckle at that.
Ironically, from a player perspective, it isn’t a bad game mathematically either. There is essentially no strategy. The only decision a player really makes is whether to go to war if the initial player and dealer cards tie. Mathematically, the answer is always, yes, so that doesn’t leave much else to do. Then again, this is as much strategy as Baccarat offers its players and not nearly as many people seem to laugh at James Bond’s favorite game!
For those of you not familiar with the way it is played in the casino, allow me to give you a quick refresher. To begin play, the player makes a wager. The player and the dealer are each dealt one card from either a six-deck or eight-deck shoe. If the player’s card is higher in rank than the dealer’s card, he wins even money on his wager.
If the dealer’s card is higher in rank than the player’s card, the player loses his wager. If the two cards are of equal rank, a “war” takes place. The player can either forfeit half of his original wager or he can make a second wager equal to his first. The player and the dealer are dealt an additional card. If the dealer’s card outranks the player’s card, the player loses both of his wagers.
If the player’s card outranks the dealer’s card, he wins even money on one of his wagers, while the other pushes. If the two cards tie, then the player will win even money on both of his wagers (some casinos pay a bonus if this occurs).
Calculating the payback is relatively easy for Casino War. All of the house advantage comes from the ties where the player goes on to win the “war.” He is essentially paid one after wagering two units. The probability of a tie is about 7.4 percent or 1 in 13.
The probability of a double tie is just over 0.54 percent. When all the numbers are crunched we find the payback is 97.8 percent. A 2.2 percent house advantage is about as good as it is going to get for a game with no strategy. The casino does make up for some of this with game speed. You will get far more games of Casino War in per hour vs. any other game in the casino.
The critical issue for any game is the fun factor. Is it a game that is fun to play? I can’t answer this question for you. Personally, I like to play games with more strategy and a little more excitement. But, as the saying goes, different strokes for different folks. Casino War has managed to capture a significant piece of the action.
Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].