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G2E: Shuffle Master's Five Card Omaha Poker

By Jeff Hwang - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 5:05PM

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Shuffle Master's Omaha table game puts the company well ahead of poker's next big trend.

I'm still here at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas, and I just came across Shuffle Master's (NASDAQ:SHFL) Five Card Omaha Poker.

The product may very well be the stepping stone to the table game to end all carnival table games ... yet it will probably end up being the most overlooked product of the entire show.

Now, as I'm sure you are aware, poker-based table games -- particularly those based on Texas Hold 'Em -- have done exceptionally well in recent years on the strength of the poker boom.

Of course, you can only have so many hold 'em games, and Shuffle Master has two successful ones: Ultimate Texas Hold'em and Texas Hold'em Bonus. The latter was recently acquired from Progressive Gaming (NASDAQ:PGIC). However, Shuffle Master has even unveiled more poker table games, including Three Card Draw Poker, Four Card Draw Poker, and Five Card Omaha Poker.

Shuffle Master's appeal
One of the things that all three games have going for them is that they're easy to learn, as the three games are essentially variations of existing games. The draw games are identical to the highly successful Three Card Poker and Four Card Poker games, except that you drop a card and receive a new one in its place. Five Card Omaha is a variation of the Ultimate Texas Hold'em game with an identical betting structure.

But the real key to these games is that they appeal to the casual nickel-and-dime gambler for the same reason that people use wild cards in their home poker games: People like big hands and multiway prospects for bigger hands. Moreover, the anticipation is a big part of the appeal of gambling.

For example, in Four Card Draw Poker, where the object is to make the best four-card hand out of five cards, instead of just getting dealt five cards (as in Four Card Poker) and that's it, you get dealt five cards and get to drop one and receive another one in its place. This adds multiple drawing possibilities. In contrast, in standard Four Card Poker, you might just have a bare pair or whatever you got dealt the first time.

Clearly, Four Card Draw Poker is a bit more exciting, which brings us to Omaha.

Omaha
In real-life poker, Omaha is not actually a new game -- it's been around for maybe a few decades. But basically, Omaha is identical to hold 'em except that every player gets dealt four cards and must play two cards from his or her hand and three cards from the board. What happens is that we end up with some interesting new possibilities that cannot physically occur in hold'em, such as the ability to flop a straight with a flush and full house draws. With these possibilities, you can get an idea of what the attraction to Omaha is.

Stepping stone
Now, the reason I said that Five Card Omaha may be a "stepping stone" rather than the actual end game is that in Shuffle Master's version, you only get three total board cards -- a two-card flop and one more "river" card -- rather than the normal three-card flop, turn, and river. The difference is that with the extra two cards, the hands run much bigger.

The truth is that hold 'em appeals to tourists because it's easy to learn and it makes for good TV. It's not really a coincidence that the regular Omaha Hi/Lo games on the Strip -- Wynn Resorts' (NASDAQ:WYNN) Wynn Las Vegas, MGM Mirage's (NYSE:MGM) Bellagio, and The Mirage -- consist almost entirely of locals: People who play a lot of poker more naturally find their way to Omaha games. But as the new generation of poker players continues to mature and more and more players start to look beyond hold 'em, I believe that Omaha will play out as poker's next big trend.

At this point, Shuffle Master's Five Card Omaha puts the company well ahead of that trend. And when the company (or somebody else) gets around to mimicking the full Omaha game with five board cards rather than three, we might just have the game to end all carnival games.

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