While scanning the news, I somewhat arbitrarily came upon a press release from Galaxy Gaming. It stated that Bill O’Hara, its chief operating officer, passed away last Wednesday.
I had never met Mr. O’Hara, but it still hit me more than I would normally react to someone I never met having passed away. O’Hara was also one of the first executives at Shuffle Master (now SHFL Entertainment). He had worked many times with my father, both on games SHFL had developed and games my father was pitching to SHFL.
One story sticks in my head the most. The irony is I’m not 100% sure O’Hara was one of the two SHFL executives who came to my parent’s home, although I do believe it was John Breeding, the founder of SHFL and Bill who came that night.
The way the story goes is SHFL’s first shuffler was selling well, but many blackjack games used more than one deck of cards and that was the shuffler’s limit. The only other game that used a single deck was Caribbean Stud. Mr. Breeding, the inventor of that first single-deck shuffler, was going to work on a multi-deck shuffler when someone suggested he invent a single-deck game instead. So, he did.
Hundreds of inventors since have tried to invent games with little success. Somehow, Mr. Breeding hit a home run in his first at-bat. He invented the game Let It Ride. SHFL was just about to launch the game.
My father had started to establish himself as a top-notch math guy in the industry. Most of his work, to this point, had been limited to video poker. There really weren’t any table games to analyze yet. I don’t know who SHFL hired to analyze Let It Ride, but they decided to have my father take a peek at the game before it went live.
They sat at my parent’s dining room table and played for about 30 minutes. I don’t remember if the issue was that the House was winning too much or the Player, but after these 30 minutes, my father knew something was wrong.
The two executives huddled and then asked if my father could perform a full analysis on the game. He agreed. It turns out my father was right. The original analysis had some sort of error in it. He helped SHFL tweak the paytables to reflect the proper math and Let It Ride was launched. The rest, as they say, is history.
This event took place around 20 years ago and three of the four people who were there that night (my mother being the fourth) are gone. Obviously, my father may have embellished the story a bit, though I’m inclined to believe most of it (but I might be biased!).
What might have happened to SHFL if that game had flopped? Would they have stayed in business by selling single-deck shufflers for Caribbean Stud and single-deck blackjack? Would casinos have become even more suspect of other new games? Is it possible today’s casinos would consist of only craps, roulette and blackjack on the table game side of things if Let It Ride didn’t go on to become a success? No one know for sure.
From where I stand, that night was a fateful night for the entire industry. Let It Ride went on to become a huge success. SHFL went on to sell many shufflers – and eventually invent a multi-deck shuffler. It has become the largest player in the table game arena, a market that might not even exist if Let It Ride had died an ugly death.
My father went on to become well known for his table game analyses, not just video poker. His credits include Let It Ride, Three Card Poker, Spanish 21 and Caribbean Stud Poker.
Some people may just figure it is no big deal to run the numbers on these games. But, my father was not just a math guy – he was a consultant. He would offer his best advice on how to improve games and make them work, both mathematically and psychologically.
I’d like to think I’ve offered inventors the same. I have Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money, Imperial Pai Gow and Boston 7 on my resume. I’m not sure I’d even be in this profession if that fateful meeting didn’t happen at my parent’s house that night.
I don’t know for sure if Mr. O’Hara was there that night, but in my mind he was. His decision, along with Mr. Breeding’s, to have my father analyze Let It Ride has had a profound impact on my life. Rest in Peace, Mr. O’Hara.
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].