Table games spice up casino action

Jan 21, 2003 1:03 AM

By GT Staff

The top echelon of table games doesn’t change. Year after year around Las Vegas, blackjack generates the most action, followed ”” in order ”” by baccarat, craps and roulette. This pattern is as fixed as pro wrestling and etched in stone like Mount Rushmore.

But lately, there has been some erosion in popularity, brought on by some compelling new games, and a change in how big casinos payoff wins (mostly at the Strip resorts, which have cut blackjack payoffs from 3-2 to 6-5).

The mercurial nature of gamblers dictates which games trend up, which remain flat, and which slide off the map into oblivion. Don’t think it could happen to your favorite? Then stop by the casino graveyard sometime and say hi to Sic Bo, Red Dog and Super Pan 9. All were in vogue for a while, but now they’re deader than disco.

A recent rising star of table games is mini-baccarat. A virtual non-factor 15 years ago, its popularity erupted in the late 1980s and was still expanding last year when it won $96 million.

Mini-baccarat is currently the fifth-biggest table game in both drop and win. If it maintains momentum, it could break up the Big Four by outdropping roulette.

Pai Gow Poker has also enjoyed a prolonged growth trend. It joins mini-bacc and blackjack as the only games to increase drop and win each of the past five years. Pai Gow came close, but it hiccuped last year, the only time during the past six years it trended down. Regardless, this complex game of Chinese dominos remains one of the success stories of the ’90s.

While Pai Gow is almost exclusively a game for the big resorts, mini-baccarat and Pai Gow Poker have also penetrated into downtown Las Vegas.

Other hot games downtown are Caribbean Stud and Let it Ride. These variations of stud poker were the most successful new games of the 1990s and the trend hascontinued. Both gained prominence downtown before posting impressive numbers along the Strip.

Let it Ride is on a similar run. When the Nevada Gaming Control Board began tracking the game’s downtown results, it dropped $32 million and won $7.6 million. The next year, it dropped $42 million and won $10 million. The popularity of both games ”” at least among casino managers ”” is due partly to their high hold percentages. In Clark County, the average table game hold (win divided by drop) is about 15%.

Caribbean Stud and Let it Ride typically hold in the low to mid 20s.

But a game can’t survive on hold percentage alone ”” don’t




forget, Red Dog was holding 30% up until it vanished a few years back.

All games must offer something to entice action. These do. Caribbean Stud has its trademark progressive jackpot and Let it Ride also has a bonus system. Each gives the player a chance to win a truckload of cash for a $1 bet.

One thing is certain: The table games market will continue to offer players more options. Blackjack may rule the pits, but the years when it accounted for 50%, 45% or even 40% of the overall drop are gone for good. Many Las Vegas visitors are gambling for the first time and haven’t established an allegiance to a particular game. So today more than ever, opportunities exist for newcomers ”” Casino War or Spanish 21? ”” to carve out a following. The odds for success are long but the payoffs can be huge.