It’s holiday season for those of us in the casino and gaming industry. The annual Global Gaming Expo (G2E) just took place in Las Vegas and we were able to preview some of the new games that will be coming to casinos in the near future.
Most of these new games aren’t available just yet and will slowly begin rolling out to casinos in the near future. You’ll see some previews of the new games in Gaming Today.
The best news is there seems to be a concerted effort by the game creators to cater to smart players looking to play games with a minimal house advantage.
Slot machine manufacturers, like WMS Gaming, have carved out a segment of their new games to include multi-denominational games for casinos. As we all know the higher the denomination of a slot machine the lower the house advantage. It’s nice to see new slot machine games focusing on this segment of casino customers.
Many table games and side bets that have come out recently seem to be more focused on giving the casino a larger house advantage than giving the player a good time. When a house advantage is larger your buy-in will tend to be lost faster. Straight Edge Poker was introduced by SHFL (formerly Shufflemaster) and has a great payback rate of 98.44%.
Many games on display at G2E only have a long shot of making it to the casino, but because Straight Edge Poker is a SHFL creation it has a good chance to make it. SHFL has a great track record with casinos and is best known as the company that created 3 Card Poker. 3 Card Poker is one of the most popular games to hit casinos in the past five years or so.
According to Wizard of Odds the house edge for 3 Card Poker is anywhere from over 3% to over 7%. The large house advantage makes 3 Card Poker a very profitable game for the casino but it’s also one of the most popular games for players. There are now almost as many 3 Card Poker tables on the casino floor as craps and roulette tables.
Straight Edge Poker plays similarly to 3 Card Poker so it could very well catch on and likely replace one of the other poker variants in the casino with a higher house advantage offered by SHFL.
You’ll certainly find me playing Straight Edge Poker and some of the newer mid-higher denomination slot machines when they are available.

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I spent two days last week walking the halls of the Sands Expo at the Global Gaming Expo. If I had to pick one word to describe the event, it would definitely be “SLOTS.”
Like last year, I think they dominated the show. For those who have been reading me for years, you know my thoughts on slots from a player’s perspective. But, I do give the slot manufacturers a lot of credit for creativity. This year, they kept it up, not only in the games being developed, but in terms of the marketing.
There were zombies everywhere. I’m not sure if there was only one manufacturer who had a zombie-themed game or if there was more than one. But there were a lot of zombies in some really good make-up all over the halls.
As much as I write about video poker in my column, my real love is table games and that’s what I’m at the show to really see. This year brought a particular trend to its apex (or perhaps more appropriate, its nadir).
Besides the three big table game companies (SHFL, Galaxy and DEQ), there were virtually no new table games. I did see a couple of other new games, but they were almost afterthoughts from gaming companies involved in other aspects.
I saw exactly ZERO small independent game inventors showing any new games. I recognize the cost of a booth at the G2E is not cheap and could easily wipe out the budget of a small inventor, but I always found it fun to talk to someone new about their game. I didn’t get a chance this year.
I did get introduced to a few inventors who did not have booths at the game who wanted to talk to me about their ideas. I find most ideas seem to fall into two categories. The first is the rather “far-fetched” category. These are ideas that aren’t necessarily bad, but I have to wonder about their odds of commercial success.
One inventor remarked to me about how all the casino games are poker-based. He found this to be problematic. I find this to be indicative of what is likely to be successful commercially.
It is NOT that games that are not poker-based haven’t been invented and tried, it is that none have ever had staying power in the casino. Some might be fun and social for a few hours, but they don’t seem to have the ability to create repeat customers the way poker-based games do.
The second common category of games is the copycats. People look at a game like Three Card Poker, which is undeniably the most successful proprietary table game (both financially and in terms of number of tables) and try to emulate it in some way.
Now, many table games have some form of patent protection on them (many do not!). But I am not talking about copying to the point of patent violation. I’m simply saying people look at Three Card Poker as some magic formula and try to replicate it. You know this is happening when they begin describing their game with “It is just like Three Card Poker but…”
For the past several years, the casinos have been going through a Texas Hold’em craze. While I think it has peaked overall, it has still left a lasting impression. Games that might have been developed as 7-card Stud games are being developed with 5 community cards in Texas Hold’em style.
After the dust settled, there are currently two very successful Texas Hold’em table games. The first is Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker – developed by Mikohn/PGIC and purchased by SHFL Entertainment a few years ago, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em – developed directly by SHFL.
I did the original math on UTH for SHFL. It was by far the most challenging game I had ever worked on to that point and perhaps since.
It was also one of the most rewarding because of the success it has become. It is generally acknowledged as the second most successful game of all-time with several hundred tables in the market place and is the only game on the horizon that has any chance to knock Three Card Poker out of the No. 1 spot.
Like Three Card Poker, one of the surest signs of the success of UTH is how many times I have heard the phrase in the past few years from an inventor, “It is just like Ultimate, but…”
There is an old saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I guess if everyone is trying to create a game just like UTH, then UTH must be a pretty darn good game.
Is it possible to improve upon Three Card Poker or UTH? I suppose it is possible. But, 15-20 years after the invention of Three Card Poker, it is not a minor improvement to Three Card Poker that might take it out of the top spot. It is a game that, while still poker-based, introduces many new concepts. It is a game that has more uniqueness to it than similarity to Three Card Poker.
I think if someone wants to knock UTH out of the No. 2 spot, it won’t happen because someone tweaks UTH. It will happen because someone comes up with a new and better idea.
To all the inventors out there, don’t think of new ways to flatter the existing games by imitating them. Come up with new games with new ideas if you want to make your mark.

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The Irish get St. Patrick’s Day. Now it’s German Oktoberfest time!
There’s a variety of events and good German food and beer to celebrate this month at casinos throughout the valley!
Boyd Gaming: Every Wednesday in October for the regular Wednesday dinner buffet price (with your B Connected card) guests can enjoy special German dishes, including bratwurst, knockwurst, sauerkraut, jager snitzel, and beef roladen at The Orleans, Gold Coast, Sam’s Town and Suncoast buffets. Guests over 21 years of age can also get a complimentary German beer.
Golden Nugget: The downtown resort will host an Oktoberfest Pool Party on Saturday, Oct. 19, at The Tank from 1-7 p.m. Admission is free. There will be over 150 different international and American craft beers for sale plus live music, brats, pretzels and more great food.
Silverton: The Seasons Buffet will feature an Oktoberfest menu every Friday from 4-10 p.m. for $19.95 with a Rewards Club Card ($21.95 without). Guests will enjoy German classics at this Oktoberfest feast, including favorites like spätzle, sauerbraten, sauerkraut and apples, and grilled beer sausage. Juniper maple smoked salmon or salt crusted prime rib will be at the carving station. Also available are assorted German pastries, cookies and pie.
Silver Sevens: Oktoberfest Thursdays will be from 4-9 p.m. throughout the month. For $10.99 with A-Play Club Card, the special buffet includes bratwurst with sauerkraut, smoked brisket, apple strudel, and much more. A free Beck’s Beer is included in the price.
LVH: Oktoberfest specials are available in select restaurants and at any casino bar. Slots and table games will allow players to earn drawing tickets for a chance to win free beer. Receive one drawing ticket with a Warsteiner Beer, Bavarian entrée purchase or one drawing ticket after earning $5 in comps from tracked slot or table play. You have a chance to win free beer for a year, free beer for a half year or free beer for a month. The drawing will be held on Oct. 31 at 9:45 p.m. at the player’s club. Winner does not have to be present to win.
Additionally, half-priced authentic German Warsteiner beer will be available at Fortuna and any casino bar. Authentic Bavarian specials will be served with free Warsteiner beer, available inside Paradise Café and at the Superbook Deli.
Fremont Street: The Experience will once again transform itself for the Fifth Annual Oktober FrightFest, combining Oktoberfest and Halloween for the ultimate street party, taking place now through Oct. 31. The festivities include free performances from the popular stage production show “Frank & The Steins,” Viva Vision light and sound shows themed to “Time Warp” and “Monster Mash,” and the Fourth Annual Fall Beer Festival at Golden Nugget.
“Frank & The Steins” will perform on the First Street Stage nightly at 8:10, 9:10 and 10:10 p.m. (dark on Oct. 10, 17 and 24).
Until next week…enjoy Oktoberfesting!

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It was just over 10 years ago that I started writing for GamingToday. I have to be honest, that really blows me away.
That means I’ve written roughly 500 columns when I take into account off weeks and the fact that for the first six or nine months, my column was bi-weekly.
I remember when I wrote my first few columns I would wax poetic about how my father (Lenny Frome) had written nearly 1,000 columns for a variety of different publications. I remember when I hit column number 100 and remarked how far behind I was.
Now, my total count is probably about 600-700 columns and I can almost see myself someday surpassing my dad’s total. That said, I definitely don’t plan on taking steroids or PEDs to get me there.
Part of what is so amazing about having written 500-plus articles is I have somehow managed to come up with that many things to write about. I’m not really sure there are 500 unique subjects.
I have to remember that if I borrow a subject from 2005 there is a strong likelihood if someone reads it today, they didn’t read that article from eight years ago. So, in that spirit, I’m going to start back at the beginning today and discuss some basics about video poker.
Video poker is truly a unique game in the casino. Far too often it is lumped together with slots, but there is little in common except for the technology. I don’t think of a video blackjack machine as a slot machine and the same is true for video poker.
As the world starts turning more to online gambling, the separation will no longer be about the technology. Instead, it should be about the essence of the game.
Video poker is a game that is based more on skill than almost any other game in the casino. This doesn’t mean luck doesn’t play a part, especially in the short run. But, if I were to challenge a random player to a slot competition, there would be no way to gain an advantage.
If I were to challenge a random player to a video poker competition, I’d like to believe I would have a distinct advantage. The longer the competition runs, the more strategy and skill will rule the day and the less luck will impact the results.
How is video poker a game of skill? Because the player must make a decision that will clearly impact his results. This decision is frequently NOT of the “no-brainer” variety.
Technically, in the game of Casino War, the player must make a decision whether or not to go to War when the player and dealer tie. But, the proper decision is the same all the time – to go to War. So, while technically, there is “strategy,” I doubt very many people get this one wrong.
In Three Card Poker, there is one strategy decision – to Play or Fold. The decision is also relatively simple. If the player has Q-6-4 or better, he should play. As simple as this sounds, many players don’t follow this rule (and I don’t mean they go with Q-6 or Q or better), and as a result they give up a larger portion of their bankroll to the casino than they need to.
Video poker strategy is far more complex than this. First of all, the decision is not one of Fold or Play, but rather which cards to Discard. There are 32 ways a player can make each of these decisions, ranging from keeping them all to discarding them all.
Granted, many of these possibilities will fall into the brainless category. If you are dealt Three of a Kind and two off-suit kickers, which cards to discard is pretty obvious. If you are dealt a Straight, then you don’t have to discard at all. Oh wait, what if it is also a 4-card Straight Flush or a 4-card Royal? What is the proper play?
If you are dealt the following: 4-diamonds, 4-spades, 5-spades, 6-spades, 7-clubs, the decisions get a bit more complex. You might keep the Pair of 4’s, or the 4-card Straight or maybe the 3-card Straight Flush.
These are 3 of the 32 ways the hand can be played. The other 29 are quickly discarded, so there isn’t a need to go through 32 possible decisions for each hand. Obviously, in this case, you’re not going to keep the off-suit 4-7.
Unlike table poker, which involves even a higher level of skill, the strategy in video poker is based strictly on math. You don’t play hunches and you’re not trying to beat another player. You don’t have to worry that you might pull your Straight and he might come up with a Flush.
All that matters is the likelihood (aka probability) of each final hand and how much that hand pays. But, I’ll leave that for next week. For now, I’ll be happy if I’ve convinced you just a little bit that video poker is not slots.

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It’s no secret that when I go to the casino I like to have a good time. Those good times often take place at a casino bar where there is always video poker available.
While being near comped drinks is nice, the returns on bar top video poker are often the worst in the casino. For example, a casino may have a 9/6 Jacks or Better game on the floor (returns over 99%) but the bar may only have a 7/5 Jacks or Better game (returns just over 96%).
These shorter returns at the bar are noticeable. It may only be $3 for every $100 played but it decreases the amount of time the money lasts in the machine. This also increases the price per drink.
It’s important to remember, when budgeting for your night at the casino bar, even though the drinks are complimentary they aren’t free to the casino. The house advantage the casino has in the games covers the cost of your drinks.
Not every casino bar has lower pay tables but the majority do. Casinos that are geared toward tourists are notorious for having poor returns on their bar top video poker. This is the price of convenience.
Every video poker game, from Bonus Poker to Deuces Wild, has shorter pay tables. There are even a few bars that will include random games not found anywhere else in the casino, like Shockwave poker, in their bar top games. On average the video poker games have returns somewhere around 96%. These are still better returns than video slots or keno options at the bar, but it’s not optimal.
So what should we do when playing video poker at the bar? There are two choices – play smart(ish) or play for fun.
When playing video poker at a casino bar there really isn’t a smart way to play. When I want to play on the smart side I’ll stick with Jacks or Better or Bonus Poker because those are the games where I can play with almost perfect strategy.
I figure playing games where I know the right moves means I should be able to extend my dollar longer. In that time, maybe I’ll hit a hot streak and walk away with a few bucks.
When I’m not paying too close attention to the games, I’ll look to the most outlandish video poker I can find just to have a little fun. Shockwave comes to mind as a game where I’m just looking for fun. I’m just playing to get 4 of a kind to produce a Shockwave where the screen changes colors. Maybe I should learn the strategy but I’d rather focus on games I play more often.
Casino bars usually offer bad video poker returns but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. Choose games where you have the highest understanding of strategy or just play a game because it’s fun. Either way, you’re hanging out at a casino bar and that’s fun.

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This morning, I had a discussion with a friend of mine about a game he is developing.
I explained that playing “perfect” strategy would be nearly impossible due to some subtle complexities of the way the game is played. As a result of this, the game would not likely play anywhere near its “theoretical” payback.
Many games have this problem. Blackjack pays 99.5%, but very few players play anywhere near this. Ultimate Texas Hold’em has a payback well into the 99% range, too, but stats from the casinos make it clear very few players, if any, can manage this high of a payback.
My friend stated he thought he would be able to play the game close to the theoretical because he is an accomplished poker player. I asked him if he was an accomplished video poker player and he said he wasn’t.
I told him any table game against a dealer was really nothing more than playing video poker and had no resemblance to poker. You see, poker is about reading players, understanding their betting patterns and their tells.
Video poker is about one thing – math. There is no one to bluff. All that matters is what is the probability of all final hands given what I choose to discard. Let’s take a look at a simple example: 5-spades, 5-diamonds, 6-club, 7 hearts, 8 diamonds.
In theory, there are 32 ways to play this hand, but I think we can quickly rule out 29. I don’t think anyone is seriously going to consider holding only the off-suit 6-8 or holding all 5 cards (which would result in an immediate loss).
There are really only three possibilities, two of which are identical. The player can either hold the pair of 5’s or the 4-card Straight (hence, the two identical possibilities as it doesn’t matter which 5 the player keeps.)
If the player keeps the 4-card Straight eight cards will result in a straight and the rest in a loss. So, if we add up the total payout, we’d have 8 straights at 4 units each for a total of 32 units. There are 47 possible draws. We divide the 32 by 47 to get 0.68. This is called the Expected Value (or EV) of this hand using this possible discard strategy.
Calculating the Expected Value of holding the pair is a bit more complex, but easy enough to calculate using a computer. There are 16,215 possible draws if the player holds two cards. We look at these possible draws and at the final hands.
The player can wind up with a Four of a Kind, Full House, Three of a Kind or Two Pair. We add up the total payout of all of these winning hands and divide by 16,215. The result is an EV of 0.82.
This Expected Value is greater than that of the 4-card Straight, so the proper play is to hold the Low Pair. When playing video poker (and virtually every other casino game), the proper play is to follow the one with the highest EV.
You don’t go with a “hunch” that a 5 is coming up or you just feel a 4 or a 9 is going to fill out that Straight. There is a distinct probability of each of these events occurring and we use those probabilities to our advantage. This is what allows a player to achieve the theoretical playback of a game.
It is an advantage because most players don’t play this way. Because of this, the casinos can off the games with a relatively high payback, knowing they can rely on human error to pad their profits. For the players who play according to the math, they have the advantage of being able to play to the theoretical payback over the long run.
Mastering video poker takes some significant effort. The strategy is complex and learning whether to hold the Low Pair or the 4-card Straight is merely one example of a strategy where if you play by what you think is right that may in fact be quite wrong.
The good news is thanks to guys like me, the toughest part of learning the strategy (creating it) has already be done for you. The next step is learning that strategy and putting it to practical use.
We’ll save more of that for next week.

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