While the gaming industry is dominated by a handful of corporate giants, there is still room for entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams with a Nevada-inspired pioneering spirit.
One of the "new kids on the block" is Ya Awada, whose Gaming Entertainment Inc. designs and produces new table games as well as slot machines.
Though his company is new, Awada is no newcomer. He has more than 20 years of experience in the Nevada gaming industry, including 15 years with the Circus Circus group, and five years with various game manufacturers.
So far, Awada has created several games that have found their way to the casino floors. Among his table games are 3 Way Action, 3-5-7 Poker, Pai Gow Plus, and High Tie.
He’s also finding success with a new video poker game called 3-Way Action, that is currently operating in 15 casinos, including the Gold Coast where it has quickly caught on with players.
Although it appears the company is off to a flying start, Awada said getting a new game on the floor is an imposing easy task.
"The regulatory process is a tedious one," Awada said. ”˜Then you have to convince the casinos to use your game. That’s where you find most of the resistance."
As a small company, Awada can’t offer a casino 50 games from which to choose. So, he tries to craft his products and structure his deals that are win-win for everyone.
"The casino operator has to know what he’s facing down the line, whether it’s leasing or licensing fees or customer support," Awada said. "As a small company, we feel we can offer plenty of hands-on service."
While the business issues are important, designing the right game is crucial.
"We’re always developing new games," he said. "Just like slot machines, people like variety."
Awada said the idea that tables games are dead is not true. "Variety is in the pit," he said, "where at least 25% of the games are non-traditional, or what I call novelty games."
A good example of the latter are Awada’s 3-Way Action and 3-5-7 Poker.
True to its name, 3-Way-Action gives players three games in one: War, Blackjack and Poker. The game is dealt from a 52-card deck, and players can bet any amount on each betting position.
The first of three bets is played when the player and dealer each receive one card face up ”” high card wins the War!
The player receives a second card and plays the two-card hand as regular blackjack.
Finally, players receive their remaining cards face down for a 5-card poker hand, which is paid off according to the pay table, similar to the ones on a video poker machine (up to 500-1 for a royal flush and 40-1 for four-of-a-kind).
The game of 3-5-7 Poker is an innovative extension of the hot 3-Card Poker game that is sweeping through casinos across the nation. The game is dealt from a 52-card deck, and features three poker games in one.
After placing bets for at least two of the games, players receive three cards for their 3-card poker hand. At the same time, the dealer receives four cards face down.
After reviewing their hands, players are paid off according to a pay table on the layout. They may also at this time surrender one-half of their last (7-card) bet.
If the player continues, the dealer exposes two cards to form the player’s five-card poker hand. Once again, the player is paid according to a pay table.
Finally, the dealer exposes the last two cards to create the player’s 7-card poker hand, and he is paid off.
The key to these — and most — games is their simplicity, Awada said.
"The goal is to tempt the customer into sitting down and making a bet," he said. "Of course, the math has to be right, for both the player and the house, but you have to think long term: Will the players keep coming back to the game?"
Unlike games such as blackjack and baccarat, Awada’s games offer keno-like payoffs for certain hands.
"You have to play to the lumberyard mentality, that is, provide something from which they can win a lumberyard by betting a toothpick," he said.
But, Awada added, you can’t pander to the casino’s desire for a high-hold game.
"The smart casino manager knows it’s the drop, not the hold, that’s most important," he said. "And if the game is too one-sided, players won’t play and there won’t be any drop. And that’s a loser for everyone."
(Next week, we examine the genius of designing high-tech computer games.)