You know that scene in Ocean's Thirteen where Willy Bank (Al Pacino) offers to take a casino dominoes game called 'Nuff Said with a presumed 14% house edge and put it on center showcase at the grand opening of his new casino in exchange for exclusivity?
That would never happen in real life -- or at least not with the way table games are being made.
Every year at the Global Gaming Expo, or G2E for short, in Las Vegas, table game creators from all corners of the earth -- or mostly just Shuffle Master
Not even the slot manufacturers are that presumptuous.
If you've missed G2E in any of the last five years, I'll spare you the trouble: If you've played three-card poker, you've basically played Shuffle Master's entire lineup of proprietary table games. Sure, you might get dealt four cards instead of three, or you might get to draw two cards instead of one or three cards instead of two. But for the most part, every new game Shuffle Master brings out is simply a repackaged version of a previous one, and with a house advantage in the neighborhood of about 2%.
This year, for example, Shuffle Master brought San Lo Poker, which is simply Pai Gow Poker where the player gets dealt six cards instead of seven, and sets three hands instead of two. Unfortunately, this is not the type of game that is going to inspire gamblers to flock to it. The reality is that people aren't going to play this game and go home and tell all their friends about it. Nor are they going to sit down with their friends and spend much time talking San Lo Poker "strategy" -- that is, unless their friends are dumb enough to play the game too.
The fact is, unless the game is beatable, the only actual strategy is not to play. And unless the game is beatable, we are never going to see another table game take on the popularity of blackjack.
Slots: the entertainment machines
While table games makers have not brought much to the table in terms of game design, slot machines have advanced light years as entertainment machines with a gambling component, rather than as pure gambling vehicles. Not only do slot machines continue to get better looking with bigger sounds, more lines per game, and more games per screen, but the slot manufacturers have also gotten more creative in terms of gameplay.
Indeed, the line between video games and slot machines continues to blur.
And along with their usual assortment of next-generation games and new blockbuster themes, one of International Game Technology's
Incidentally, last month, IGT announced a 30-day exclusive first-to-market agreement with MGM Resorts International
No blockbuster table games
There is a huge hole in game creation on the table games front. While slot machines have come a long way technologically speaking, the slot manufacturers as a group have also been very creative in enhancing actual gameplay, and have been able to create blockbuster titles like IGT's Wheel of Fortune games and WMS' Monopoly.
The same can't be said for table games makers.
Sure, companies like Shuffle Master in particular have been very successful -- technologically speaking -- in bringing electronic table games to the market. But in terms of actual game creation, the fact is that there hasn't been a blockbuster table game since blackjack. There wasn't one at G2E this year, and there probably won't be one until somebody brings something to the table that is theoretically beatable.
Fool contributor Jeff Hwang is a gaming industry consultant with HVS. He is an expert blackjack player, and the bestselling author of four books on pot-limit Omaha poker. Jeff owns shares of International Game Technology and WMS Industries.
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