At one point in the relatively recent past, casino gamblers had a small selection of table game options to choose from. Blackjack and baccarat were the de facto card games, craps covered the domain of dice rolling, and roulette was the definitive wheel-spinning affair. This “Mount Rushmore” of casino table games loomed large over the industry for a long while, but all that began to change in 1985.
Puy Soy is a card game which sees players take 13 cards to a hand. From there, the objective of the game is to “set” these 13 cards into three separate poker hands (singles, pairs, straights, flushes, etc.). These three hands are then ranked against the dealer’s own three-hand alignment to determine a winner. At the time, Torosian believed the casual, kitchen table like gameplay of Puy Soy would be too slow for a casino table game – but the conversation planted a seed which would eventually blossom into Pai Gow Poker.
The exciting new card game – which attracted both Asian players and fans of poker – offered a seemingly perfect blend of pace and playability. Because of the two-hand format, many deals wound up resulting in a “push” or “chop,” with the player simply receiving their bet back. This dynamic made Pai Gow Poker especially inviting for recreational gamblers looking to get the most bang for their limited bankroll buck.
And with a healthy house edge of between 2 and 3 percent, casinos quickly found Pai Gow Poker to be a revenue producing goldmine. It didn’t take long for Pai Gow Poker to sweep through the gaming industry, spreading first to nearby card clubs across California, and eventually to every gaming floor in Las Vegas and beyond. You’ll learn more about Torosian’s journey later in the page, but sufficed to say, his invention changed the game for gamblers the world over.
After all, you can’t win 7x on your ante bet playing blackjack like you can with a straight flush in Three Card Poker. Between the advent of Pai Gow Poker and Three Card Poker, the gaming industry soon opened the floodgates to new inventions. Over time, hundreds of casino games were created, tested, and in most cases, relegated to the scrapheap of history. But for all the swings and misses, casino game inventors invariably produced their fair share of homeruns too.
Games like Caribbean Stud Poker, Six Card Poker, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em revolutionized the poker-based branch of the table game family tree. If blackjack is your game, offshoots like Blackjack Switch, No Bust Blackjack, and Burn 20 Blackjack offered a slew of interesting alternatives to choose from. Roulette players soon new variants such as Double Ball Roulette, Riverboat Roulette, and Alphabet Roulette spinning away in their favorite pits.
If you’re an avid gambler – or just a creative type interested in coming up with something new – taking a shot at game invention can be an exciting prospect. All it takes is a clever idea, a healthy dose of mathematical analysis, and a little luck to literally change the layout of the casino floor. And thanks to lucrative royalty agreements, the most successful game inventors can easily bring in six-figure returns on an annual basis, in perpetuity, for as long as the game is played.
But before you head out to grab a deck of cards and a calculator, be sure to study the seven steps to simple casino game design presented below. Relying on advice offered by true experts in the field, the following seven-step plan should give you a clearer path toward creating an original game concept and bringing it to market.
1 – Decide on a Base Game to Tinker With
First things first – building a new casino game from the ground up almost always begins by using an existing game as the foundation. Take the extremely popular blackjack offshoot known as Super Fun 21. In this game, the rules of standard blackjack are simply tinkered with to create an entirely new gameplay experience. Super Fun 21 players are permitted to use basically any move at their disposal in their effort to beat the dealer. Plays like doubling down after splitting, doubling down on any two cards, and late surrender combine to give players the sense that they’re “getting over” on the game.
That’s triple the rate found on regular blackjack games, but because all those liberal rules make each hand fun for players, they don’t notice the inflated odds against them. If you circle back to the list of new games mentioned in the introduction, you’ll notice that they all seem to include touchstones like blackjack and other classic casino offerings. And that’s not a coincidence by any means either.
With that said, try to remember the old maxim that says there’s nothing new under the sun. In other words, if a completely new and unheard of game can be created – it probably has been already. To that end, follow the sage advice provided by casino game inventor and analyst Michael Shackleford, who is better known as “The Wizard of Odds” among gambling circles.
According to his “10 Commandments for Game Inventors,” Shackleford advises aspiring creators to keep things simple by sticking to existing base games:
Now that you know which games to adapt, it’s time to tinker…
2 – Decide How Your New Game Works – For the Players and the House
This aspect of the invention cycle is exactly that – inventive. You can get those creative juices flowing and really dive into the nuts and bolts of game design. But while I can advise you on the macro elements involved in designing a new game, the intricacies are all up to you. Creation is an intensely personal pursuit, and I’d never presume to tell readers how they should approach coming up with rules, gameplay, and other essential aspects of their new game.
In short, you want a game that can be summed up quickly and easily. According to Shackleford – who consults for many of the gaming industry’s major players like SHFL Entertainment, Bally, and Scientific Games – new casino games should be kept as simple as possible:
The easiest way to make a game simpler is by relaxing the rules affecting player actions. Perhaps a hand of Three Card Poker may be improved by letting players discard and draw a single card. Or you might add a second ball to the roulette wheel, thereby doubling a player’s perceived chance of winning. In each case, the goal is readily apparent – providing players with an incentive to sit down.
On that note, a second word of advice when it comes to creating casino games is to remember who you’ll be “working for.” While making the game approachable to casual players should be a goal, the priority remains putting bets back in the casino’s coffers. The key here is achieving a perfect sense of balance between playability for customers and profit for the house.
Here’s how Shackleford describes that balancing act – one he personally dealt with while inventing a handful of blackjack and video poker variants:
3 – Test the Game to Work Out Any Kinks
Let’s say you’ve worked long and hard to come up with a new version of Ultimate Texas Hold’em. In your game – tentatively titled Ultimate Omaha – the two-card starting hand format used in Texas Hold’em is ditched for the four hole cards held in Pot Limit Omaha, an increasingly popular poker variant. Other than this deceptively simple tweak, the games remain largely the same – players get four cards, then decide to bet or fold after seeing a three-card “flop,” followed by a single card on the “turn” and “river.” Once this five-card community board has been revealed, players who have placed the requisite three bets then showdown their best five-card poker hand using exactly two of their four hole cards.
4 – Take a Class for Networking and Advanced Lessons
This step is entirely optional, but if you happen to find yourself in Las Vegas and don’t mind paying to attend college course, the UNLV has the perfect program for game inventors. Participants in the “Gaming Innovation Program” at UNLV learn from Mark Yoseloff, a Ph.Dwho previously served as chairman and chief executive officer of SHFL Entertainment. Yoseloff holds more than 100 gaming patents, so he certainly knows his stuff.
In 2014 profile published by ABC News, Yoseloff’s course was described as a competitive venue for aspiring game inventors to test their mettle:
Thus far, the program has spawned 12 certified casino games you may be familiar with – including 888 Baccarat, Color War, and Flip Card Blackjack. But even more important than the technical teachings provided by Yoseloff are the coveting industry connections the class provides.
Just ask Gail Hancock, a student who is hard at work developing skill-based slot machines that let players subtly influence the outcome:
5 – Protect Your New Game Concept by Applying for a Patent
If the previous step was optional, this one is essential. There’s no reason to invent a new casino game if you’re not prepared to protect it with a patent. Once the game’s inner workings leak out into the wider world, anybody with a deck of cards can produce a carbon copy of your very own creation. And without a patent in place, their idea just may become the next Pai Gow Poker.
That’s exactly what happened to Sam Torosian, the ostensible inventor of Pai Gow Poker who nonetheless failed to secure patent protection. Torosian listened to a lawyer who incorrectly advised him that card games were public domain.
Here’s how Peter Ruchman, a Las Vegas-based gaming analyst, described Torosian’s blunder in a 2002 profile of the famed casino innovator:
Torosian’s former casino manager, Moe Mostashari, was decidedly harsher in his assessment:
Even if you aren’t quite confident about your game’s chances, consult with a lawyer and learn the patent process ropes. Because if you don’t, that million-dollar idea might just fill somebody else’s pockets for the next 50 years.
6 – Present the Game to Manufacturers
This step is easier said than done. As Hancock and her fellow UNLV students are learning, lacking connections within the casino gaming industry can be crushing for aspiring inventors. I won’t pretend to be an expert on that front – I play the games for a living, I don’t come up with them – but fortunately, you do have a few experts to learn from.
I suggest reading this 2009 Las Vegas Sun profile on the inventors of Two Cards High to get an idea of the steps you’ll need to take. From there, check out “Contemporary Casino Table Game Design: A Practical Guide to Casino Table Game Design, Development and Selection for Casino Management and Game Developers” by Eliot Jacobson for an advanced lesson in how it’s done by the best in the business.
7 – Bring it to Market and Sweat the Reception
The last step in the invention process is taking your game to market, and if you’ve partnered with an effective manufacturer, this one will take care of itself. Your game will be solicited to casinos nationwide, with the goal being to secure a trial placement phase. The game will get a table or two, along with a set period of time used by the casino to see how it performs. As the inventor, all you can do now is sit back and hope to see your concept resonate with living, breathing casino gamblers. If they keep coming back for more, hopefully the casino does too.