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Best of John Grochowski
On The Side21 February 2001
Marketing a new table game is a tough go, with ever-shrinking space for tables as casino operators add more and more slot machines.
Still, encouraged by the breakthroughs in the last decade of the stud poker-based Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride and Three Card Poker, as well as the blackjack variation Spanish 21, game designers trot out new ideas each year at the World Gaming Congress and Expo in Las Vegas.
The expo is sponsored by Gem Communications, publishers of International Gaming and Wagering Business, Casino Executive and Slot Manager magazines, and it's where casino suppliers show off their latest and greatest wares to operators. The biggest, flashiest booths always belong to the slot machine manufacturers, but nestled among the 44 aisles worth of displays are developers trying to find a niche for their new table games.
There are two large groups of games: those trying to follow the path blazed by Caribbean Stud, giving the casino world more stud poker variations, and those based on blackjack, the most popular casino table game.
Operators face a dilemma every time they consider adding a new table game. There's only so much space, and slots fill more of that space all the time. So adding a new table game means taking an old one out. There are more blackjack tables than anything else, so usually trying a new game means removing a blackjack table. That's a problem, since blackjack is the game the majority of table players want to play.
Many game designers try to work with that by offering side bets at blackjack. With a side bet, the operator can keep the blackjack table, players can keep playing their game of choice, but the extra wrinkle on the game gives the operator a chance to squeeze a little extra profit off each table.
Side bets tend to have a short shelf life. When a side bet is introduced, there's usually a flurry of popularity as players try the new option. Eventually, they figure out that they're losing their money a little faster by making the side bet, and they start to ignore it. When few enough players make the bet, operators no longer make enough money to justify the licensing fee, and the side bet is dropped.
I've played at tables where half the others seated were betting Royal Match, for example, and returned a few months later to find no one making the wagers. That doesn't stop operators from trying again with another side bet.
Several blackjack side bets were on display at the expo. One that might have a chance at a longer shelf life than most is SureBet, from Prime Table Games and Derek Webb, the inventor of Three Card Poker. SureBet replaces insurance, and has a house edge of about 5 percent that is lower than the 7.7 percent on regular insurance.
Unlike most side bets, the player doesn't make the SureBet wager on every hand. Instead, if the player has an Ace or 10 up, the player may wager he has a blackjack, and if the dealer has an Ace or 10 up, he may wager the dealer has a blackjack. Starting with an Ace up, SureBet pays 2-1 -- the same as in regular insurance -- for an unsuited blackjack, but ups the payoff to 5-2 if the blackjack cards are in the same suit. With a 10 up, payoffs are 10-1 for an unsuited blackjack and 15-1 if suited.
The house gains because SureBet comes into play with either Aces or 10s face up, for either player or dealer, instead of just with an Ace up for the dealer as in regular insurance. Players find a game with a lower house edge than insurance and a potential 15-1 payoff.
Non-card counters should never take insurance, but those who insist on taking it might have more fun, and get a little better deal, with SureBet.
Mikohn, which last year introduced Monopoly Poker, joins the blackjack side bet brigade with Monopoly Blackjack. The player makes a $1 side bet. If he gets a blackjack, a vertical Monopoly board lights up, and the sound of a train starts chugging out of "Go," with properties on the board lighting up as it passes. A plastic top hat is passed to the player, who pushes down on it to stop the train. The property that is lit when it stops determines the bonus.
There is a slot-machinelike illusion of skill. I pushed the hat to stop as soon as the train started to chug out of "Go," but it nevertheless steamed all the way around to Boardwalk. Players who take their blackjack seriously are unlikely to go for that. But then, players who take their blackjack seriously are unlikely to be making side bets and pushing plastic hats to begin with.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
Best of John Grochowski