How ‘bout the new games?

May 7, 2002 2:35 AM

Every so often, a new table game appears at your friendly neighborhood casino. Assuming your favorite den of iniquity still spreads more than token games to bettors who prefer table to slot action, that is. And "new," as in "different," not "additional."

Fresh table games are not meant to move existing players "up" or to divert newcomers from slot machines per se. This wouldn’t make sense because slots are more lucrative to casinos than tables. They do, however, help satisfy wants and needs of solid citizens who get bored with the machines or seek what they consider more sophisticated gambling, yet are averse for some reason to the likes of blackjack, craps, baccarat, or roulette. The new games are accordingly designed to overcome perceived limitations of the traditional forms, such as difficulty of learning to play competently, fear of ridicule by tablemates, slow decision rate, or predominance of even-money and other low payoff ratios. These factors drive much of what’s found in the new offerings. To meet players’ criteria, they’re usually straightforward so neophytes can get the hang of them with little or no coaching. If craps didn’t already exist, for instance, it’s doubtful whether anything this complex would be introduced today. Most new games let participants act independently of each other at the table so nobody can be accused of "ruining it" for everyone else. Many have graduated return schedules or incorporate auxiliary or "side" bets with high-multiple or jackpot-size payoffs.

House advantage, of course, is a critical factor to the casinos. The edge has to be high enough for the bosses to realize satisfactory earnings. But not so excessive that players bust out rapidly and neither enjoy their casino experience now nor want to come back later. Somewhere in the 2 or 3 percent range is about right. This is low compared with slot machines, where 6 or 7 percent is typical. But it’s greater than then the 0.5 percent exacted from good blackjack or craps players.

Likewise, from the casino viewpoint, games should move along rapidly. More coups per unit time sweep more money to the bottom line. If bettors make decisions during a round, a desirable feature because the involvement keeps things interesting, the choices shouldn’t be so puzzling that they slow people down.

New table games are more apt to originate in the heads of individuals than in the computer-filled research laboratories of giant corporations or ivory tower universities. A casino employee gets a brainstorm after watching what patrons seem to love and hate about games already being offered. Or a player thinks of a twist he or she is sure everybody else will agree is the greatest innovation since coupons for the all-you-can-eat buffet. The incentive isn’t simply to serve mankind. Casinos pay to license proprietary games they adopt, and the fees can run into the hundreds of dollars per table per month.

But it isn’t simply a matter of conjuring up an idea and devising a set of rules. Game developers must do extensive patent searches to be sure they’re not infringing on something that’s already been registered, and have to perform or pay for detailed statistical analyses to ascertain the precise house advantage.

Even when these tasks are completed, there’s the hurdle of getting an audience with casino management or established game distributors, then "selling" the concept. It’s expensive to roll out a game. So the folks footing the bill have to understand who’ll play it and why. Further, they must have a notion of whether the potential patrons will be new or simply weaned from established games and, if so, is the shift liable to be more profitable for the casino either immediately or in the long run.

One other thing. Some players eagerly await new games, thinking they might have some loophole nobody’s noticed. It’s happened in the past. It can happen again. But don’t plan on it. Because, as the wishful wordster, Sumner A. Ingmark, wisely wrote:

Opportunists self

Wait for flaws that
aren’t repeated.