One of the most famous songs in rock history begins “It was twenty years ago today.” Those are the lyrics to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This week, those lyrics have a totally different meaning for me.
Thursday (March 15) will mark the day my father, Lenny Frome, passed away twenty years ago. Some days are burned into your brain forever. For me, this is definitely one of them. When my mom passed away six years ago, we knew it was coming. When my dad passed away, it came as the biggest (and most horrific) surprise of my life.
I was out shopping for swing sets with my 6-year-old son when my beeper went off. I looked at the number and it didn’t register with me whose number it was at first. I thought it was someone I worked with who lived in a certain part of New Jersey (based on the area code). I was right about that part of New Jersey, but the number belonged to my brother.
When I got home, I called him back and he told me Dad had a heart attack. I asked him how he was doing and his response was “he isn’t.” With those words, my world changed forever.
My father was an electrical engineer in the aerospace industry long before he became the “godfather of video poker.” He worked on guidance systems for the unmanned missions to space. He worked on the guidance systems of the B-1 Bomber.
During the Reagan years, he would go to California often on business trips as that was where many of the defense contractors were. On one trip, they finished up early on a Saturday and grabbed a quick flight to Las Vegas. Dad called my mom and told her if she liked Atlantic City (which she did) just wait until she saw Las Vegas.
From that point forward, Mom went with Dad on his business trips to California and they would make a stopover in Las Vegas before coming home. A few years later they would tell me they were retiring to Las Vegas that coming summer. After a year or so of retirement, Dad got bored and started to teach at UNLV as an adjunct math teacher. But, his second career as a gaming analyst and author began shortly thereafter when he saw two apparently identical video poker machines boast two different paybacks.
This prompted him to begin coding his first video poker program. Despite his training as an engineer, he had no clue how to program computers at that point. But, he managed to get it done. It was crude and probably had minor mistakes, but the first video poker strategy was born. With it, the first true payback for video poker was accurately determined. He would find out the most common version of video poker boasted a 99.5% payback. Video poker was clearly not just another form of slots.
The rest is, as they say, history. My father would go on to write several books and booklets, help to invent some of the biggest early names in table games and author several hundred columns for GamingToday. But, more important than this to the gaming industry, he truly transformed the landscape of the casino through the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s.
He is generally regarded as the reason why video poker became as popular as it did by making the strategy for it so widely available. He met the original founders of Shuffle Master who wanted to show him their new game, Let It Ride. He sensed something was wrong about the math of the game. They hired him to review it and he was right.
He helped Derek Webb refine the math for Three Card Poker, the most successful table game of all time.
Imagine the modern casino without video poker, without Spanish 21, without Caribbean Stud Poker, without Three Card Poker and without Let It Ride. Had that later game failed, perhaps the automatic/electronic shuffler never thrives in the casino and Shuffle Master never makes it to the 21st century, where it would come up with Four Card Poker, Crazy 4 Poker, Mississippi Stud Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em!
For years, I’ve tried to get my father into the American Gaming Association’s Gambling Hall of Fame with little progress. While I will keep trying each year, I have little hope they will ever recognize the full value Lenny Frome brought to the industry. Perhaps too many years have gone by and they’ve already taken for granted all that he did.
I do believe the players remember him more than the industry executives do. I know this from the many emails I get from my readers that mention how they remember my father’s columns or that they have his books to this day.
I suppose the last of Dad’s accomplishments in the industry was, in fact, me. His work in this area intrigued me to the point that in 2003 I decided to follow in his footsteps. It blows me away that I’ve now been writing for GamingToday nearly 15 years. I don’t know the exact number of articles I’ve written, but given I’ve written weekly for most of that time and only occasionally missed a week due to illness or vacation, I’d have to say I’m approaching about 700 columns, which is roughly how many my father wrote as well.
While I can’t say I’ve been as groundbreaking as he was – after all, he was first! But I do believe I’ve left my mark on the industry as well. My name is on the math to many of the top games that exist as well – including the aforementioned Mississippi Stud Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold ’em. I’ve worked on dozens of games that have made it to the casino – some with little success, some with some success and some massive hits.
But, more importantly, I hope I have truly followed in my father’s footsteps in the type of person he was. I try to treat everyone with respect and integrity. This is a far greater legacy than any math analysis.