Poker craze fertile ground for new table games

Aug 26, 2008 7:02 PM

The Inside Straight by Joe Awada | Over the past several months, we’ve seen the popularity of poker peak and flatten out. Of course, the slumping economy has hurt all forms of gaming, but I think it’s safe to say that poker has begun to experience some erosion in its support among players.

Nonetheless, the poker craze was a shot in the arm for casino table games, especially the novelty ones and poker derivatives.

By poker derivative, I mean table games banked by the house, such as 3-Way Action Poker and Champion Poker.

These games are played against the dealer (not against fellow players) and feature attributes of poker.

For instance, 3-Way-Action Poker allows players to battle the dealer in three segments: War, in which it’s one player’s card versus the dealer’s single card; Blackjack, the standard game of 21; and Seven Card Stud poker.

The variety of this game is often intriguing for the player, but it’s simple enough to move quickly.

Champion Poker is solidly based on Texas Hold’em, which has been the driving force of live poker for the past four years.

The table game version is very similar to standard poker, in that the player receives two hole cards and must navigate through a flop, turn and the river cards.

The difference is the player only has to beat the dealer, and he has the option of playing for a bonus payout based on the strength of his best hand.

As the developer of these two games, as well as other popular table games such as Mini Pai Gow and Duki 4 Poker, I’ve had a chance to work with casino operators and players around the country.

I’ve found that many of the casinos outside of Nevada are often more receptive to new games. Many times I find the Las Vegas operators are content to wait and see how a game performs in other jurisdictions before taking the plunge locally.

You can’t really blame them. It takes a lot to launch a new game in a major casino. The floor has to be altered and dealers trained in how to manage the new game, and even then there’s no guarantee people will sit down and play it.

I’ve also found that many of the casinos outside the state have casino managers who oversee both slots and table games. Thus, with a kind-of slots mentality, they tend to be quicker in giving a new game a chance.

From a players’ perspective, a new game has to pique their interest. People tend to get bored rather quickly and will try something new, including a new game, if they believe they can win and it is simple to master.

Over the course of the poker boom, I’ve seen a lot of new players come and go. Those who migrate out of poker and into new games do so for several reasons: They may not like the aggressive nature of poker, the bluffing, the playing against eight other opponents.

It’s easier when you’re playing just against a dealer: you don’t have to bluff or outsmart or outthink him, and you don’t need to be an expert in reverse psychology.

Usually, the new table games have a relatively simple strategy that can be mastered from those strategy cards on the tabletop, or from the dealer himself.

You can also play by yourself, without the need for other players at the table.

Finally, a game has to have a decent "hit frequency," that is, there has to be a decent return to the player. No one wants to sit down and get beat up without the hint of a chance at winning.

Overall, a new table game has to have the right balance: the house has to be happy with the mathematics, that is with the hold percentage and rake, while the player has to enjoy his experience with a belief that he has a fighting chance to win.

If a game can meet those criteria, which isn’t such an easy task, it will be well on its way to finding a permanent spot on the casino floor.