Here’s to my hall of famer

Mar 12, 2007 3:48 AM

I love the look on people’s faces when I respond to the question of what I do for a living: "You’re a what?" and "huh?" have to be the top two answers.

After all, to the average person, what exactly is a casino gaming analyst? I try to explain in further detail what I do. People naturally ask how I got started in such a profession. I basically tell them that my father, Lenny Frome, pretty much invented the industry. He didn’t invent the casino or the casino game, but he pretty much revolutionized the way games are looked at.

Twenty years ago, when you walked into a casino, the choice of games was far less than it is today. For table games, you had mostly blackjack, cCraps and roulette. Once in a while, you’d have the Big Wheel as well, which seemed to resemble more of a carnival game than a casino game.

On the other side of the floor, you had the one-armed bandits — the slot machines.

Technically, there is math behind each of these games. For craps and roulette, the math was relatively simple. For blackjack, it was a bit more complex, but the math was done by someone, somewhere a long time ago. For slot machines, they could make up any math they wanted, so it really didn’t matter.

Then the casino world began to change. On the table game side, you had Let It Ride and Caribbean Stud Poker. On the slot side, you had the original versions of video poker. All of these games used a deck of cards and thus the basic rules of play were ruled by the randomness of a deck of cards.

Unlike a slot machine, nothing could be manipulated about how often the cards show up. Each of these games involved decisions that the Players had to make beyond the decision to make a wager or not. Making these decisions wisely would greatly affect the likelihood of winning or losing for the Player. The complexity of these decisions would dictate just how much money the casinos were likely to make.

Today, analyzing these games may seem rather simple. Any decent programmer or mathematician (or both) can probably put together the analysis required. For whatever reason, this was not the case 20 years ago.

Instead, a retired aerospace engineer, armed with no programming skills and an Atari 520ST found the game of video poker so intriguing that he taught himself how to program and began analyzing the strategy behind video poker. What he discovered changed the casino world forever.

It appeared that no one had actually done a detailed mathematical analysis of the game to determine the optimal way to play. He found two casinos claiming different paybacks for what appeared to be the same version of video poker. Given the requirement that the game be random, this seemed impossible. When he was done with his analysis, he found that he was right. There is only ONE way to play each hand of video poker that maximizes the overall payback of the game, and it did not appear that anyone had really analyzed the game in this manner.

Of course, this man was my father, Lenny Frome. After his analysis was complete, he took his work to the Gambler’s Book Store in Las Vegas and wound up writing a 4-page tipsheet, entitled 50+ Tips on Video Poker. He sold hundreds if not thousands of copies of this $3.95 tipsheet.

So, he expanded on his work and wrote a 50+ page booklet, explaining all about video poker, expected values and strategy tables. He went to the gaming magazines, which had not had a single article written about video poker and slowly became a regular columnist in many of them.

He was called "the godfather of video poker", although he preferred the term guru instead of godfather. If not for Lenny Frome, video poker may have died a quiet death more than 15 years ago, after a short and unsuccessful run.

But his impact didn’t stop there. On the table game side, Lenny did the mathematical analyses for both Let It Ride and Caribbean Stud Poker. He would later do analyses for Three Card Poker and Spanish 21. What would the casino floor look like today without video poker, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud Poker, Three Card Poker and Spanish 21?

Why do I bring all of this up? This week marks the 9th anniversary of his passing on March 15th, 1998. For a few years, I tried (unsuccessfully) to have my father inducted into the Casino Legends Hall of Fame at the Tropicana and/or the American Gaming Association’s Hall of Fame.

So, I guess I’m hoping that someone more influential than I will read this column and take up the cause. If not, then perhaps at least some of my readers will take a moment to reflect on how much Lenny Frome did for so many of us as playerspal. For me, I just miss my dad.