Jason Zhang is what casino table games needs – a young, vibrant inventor to bring versatility and innovation to the pit floor.
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“After one or two hands, people quickly gain the concept of choosing between blackjack and texas hold’em poker in my game,” said Zhang, a 2009 graduate of UNLV who studied gaming management.
Zhang’s invention is 2WayWinner and it is currently featured only at the Flamingo, but plans are to market the product to casinos all over Las Vegas and perhaps beyond. The concept is simple as Jason described when playing poker one day in 2008.
“I remember seeing 7-4 and thinking how great a blackjack hand it would be,” Zhang said. “That’s when I thought of making a game where you could choose during the hand between either poker or blackjack depending on your initial hand and what the dealer was showing.”
I played a few hands and found the game appealing. It really is a great substitute for the “surrender” rule in blackjack when you’re sitting with 15 or 16 and the dealer is showing ace.
“I’m finding in watching people play my game that if a dealer’s card shows 4, 5 or 6, players are choosing blackjack,” he said. “If the dealer’s up card is an ace, about 80% of the time the player opts for poker.”
Once the customer makes the decision to play either the blackjack or texas hold’em version of the game, the same rules applies as it would for those games as if they were separate.
“It would be possible to have blackjack with three card poker or pai gow, but it diminishes the concept of what we are trying to do and that is making the game popular,” Zhang said. “The most popular game on the casino floor is blackjack and most people know texas hold’em in poker.”
The minimum bet for 2WayWinner is $5 with the max at $500. It goes without saying that the max limit would be extended if a player is high-profile. After all, the casino is not about to turn down big money and celebrity status.
Of course, inventing a game is the first step. Marketing is just as important and Zhang has done all he could to personally push 2WayWinner to casinos. Mark Kelly, vice president of table games for Harrah’s properties, was all-in on the idea.
“Jason’s original name for the game was Poker Jack,” said Kelly, a staunch supporter of Michigan State his alma mater. “We did the field trial at the Flamingo and found the game to be popular with a pretty easy learning curve that the dealers picked up quickly.”
From there it was a matter of the formalities – the biggest getting approval from Gaming Control. Once that hurdle was cleared, Poker Jack was ready for takeoff with one change.
“Someone already had the name rights to Poker Jack,” Kelly said. “We made refinements, called it 2WayWinner and look for its continued good performance on the casino floor.”
Why the Flamingo as first stop?
“It’s a great location on the Las Vegas Strip,” Kelly said. “A lot of foot traffic comes through here. We have 3,400 rooms and a hotel full of guests. If the popularity of the game grows, we may bring it to other properties.”
With the game’s invention, and landing a first casino interest comes the third part – branching out.
“I told Jason to try to get his idea out to other properties, whether it’s mine or others,” Kelly said. “Doing that gets more people aware of the game.”
That’s perfectly with Zhang, who not only plans to further market his first game but others in the works.
“To make the game exclusive to one casino doesn’ t make sense from a business perspective,” Zhang said. “We are very blessed to have it at the Flamingo. They gave us a chance.”