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Oct 21, 2003 3:51 AM

Shuffle Master is betting four cards can beat — or at least tie — three cards. The company that markets Three Card Poker, which has become the fastest-growing table game in the country, is now banking its future on a couple of four-card poker games.

In recent months, the Las Vegas-based company has gained significant placements of Four Card Poker and Crazy 4 Poker. Between the two, there are 55 tables in the market, and the install trend is accelerating.

"We’re very happy with the results””not just with the number of games going in, but the drop and win numbers once they get on the floor," says Roger Snow, who designs table games for Shuffle Master. "In many casinos, they’re out-earning Three Card Poker, which is the gold-standard for carnie games."

Gold standard indeed! Three Card Poker, with 1,000 placements, is the most popular specialty table game in North America.

On the Las Vegas Strip, the average Three Card table earns $2,800 per day, much more than games like blackjack or Caribbean Stud. Shuffle Master also owns Let it Ride Bonus and the baccarat side bet, Dragon Bonus.

Moreover, Three Card Poker had the largest increase in win amount for the past 12 months, according to statistics provided by Nevada’s Gaming Control Board. Amount won for the 12 months ended Aug. 31 was $110 million, about 88 percent more than during the previous 12-month period.

Snow said he’s hopeful the new games can at least match Three Card’s popularity.

In Four Card and Crazy 4, players get five cards to make four-card poker hands. Four-card straights are straights, four-card flushes are flushes and four-card straight flushes are straight flushes.

"The main problem with five-card stud is you get a lot of junk," Snow says. "You get a straight every 250 hands, a flush every 500 hands. It’s hard to get something good."

In these four-card games, premium hands are plentiful: Straights are 10 times easier to hit than in standard poker, flushes are 20 times easier and straight flushes are 60 times easier.

Snow says this bounty of straights and flushes is not the main reason Crazy 4 and Four Card are becoming popular. Tripling down is.

"These are the only two games in the market that let players triple down against the dealer," Snow says. "If you ante $25, you can fire away and bet $75 behind it after seeing your hand. Trust me, this gets your adrenaline pumping, and that’s what gambling is all about."

The Mirage earlier this month became the first Nevada casino to install Crazy 4 Poker after the game received regulatory approval. So far, so good, Snow says.

"I’m not privy to the financials, but my spies tell me it’s getting great action," he says. "And it’s not just a bunch of nickel players. They’ve got guys betting greens and blacks."

The Rio, which conducted the Nevada field trail, also offers Crazy 4 Poker. The Aladdin will install the game later this month, and Snow expects at least three more casinos to join the fold in November.

"We’re not force-feeding a ton of games into Nevada," Snow says. "I’ll take slow and steady growth."

Four Card Poker is not yet approved in Nevada. The Sahara will conduct the regulatory field trial, which Snow says should begin this winter. Around the same time, Borgata will begin the New Jersey trial.

Of the 35 Four Card Pokers in the market, 20 are in Washington. The others are scattered throughout Mississippi, Iowa and California, including three tables at Thunder Valley, the Station Casinos property outside Sacramento.