Casino players had a handful of table games to choose from in relatively recent history. Blackjack and baccarat are de facto card games, craps cover the realm of dice, and roulette is the decisive event that makes the wheel spin. This “Mount Rushmore” of casino table games has long reigned supreme, but that started to change in 1985.
That year, Sam Torosian, the owner of a small casino in California called the Bell Card Club, decided to make a big bet himself. With his venue and many local poker clubs like this struggling to build a regular player base, Torosian decided that new blood was needed. He’s a successful entrepreneur but not a creative one, so Torosian drew inspiration from one possible source: players at his casino. Torosian’s lightning moment came one night after a Filipino explained the rules of the Chinese game Puy Soy.
Puy Soy is a card game where players hold 13 cards. The game’s goal is to “bet” those 13 cards into three separate playing cards (single, pair, straight, flush, etc.). These three hands are then compared to the dealer’s three-hand arrangement to determine the winner. At the time, Torosian thought Puy Soy’s casual, kitchen table games were too slow for casino table games – but that conversation planted the seed of Pai Gow poker that would eventually blossom.
Torosian has improved Puy Soy’s rules to create an optimized gaming experience. In Pai Gow Poker, players start with seven cards, but the goal remains the same – place your cards in 5- and 2-card hands and compare them to the dealer’s hand. Within weeks of adding Pai Gow Poker to his Solitaire Club offering, Torosian took a real hit.
An exciting new card game – appealing to Asian players and poker fans alike – with a seemingly perfect blend of pace and playability. Due to the two-hand format, many deals end with a “push” or “cut”, and players simply get their stakes back. This dynamic makes Pai Gow Poker particularly attractive to casual players looking to make the most of their limited cash.
With a house edge between 2% and 3%, casinos soon discovered that Pai Gow poker was a lucrative gold mine. Soon after, Pai Gow Poker took over the gaming industry, spreading first to card clubs near California and eventually to every arcade machine in Las Vegas and beyond. You’ll learn more about Torosian’s journey later on this page, but suffice it to say that his invention changed the game for players worldwide.
About ten years later, Derek Webb invented three-card poker, creating an action-packed table game in which players try to beat the dealer by drawing three cards at random. Webber cleverly includes an escalating paytable – with even more odds than money for increasingly difficult cards – giving players an irresistible “jackpot” element to chase.
After all, you can’t win 7x your stake like you can with a straight flush in three-card poker. Between the advent of Pai Gow poker and three-card poker, the gambling industry quickly opened the floodgates for new inventions. Over time, hundreds of casino games have been developed, tested, and, in most cases, relegated to the junkyard of history. But for all the wiggles and misses, the casino game inventors also always create their fair share of home runs.
Games like Caribbean Stud Poker, Six Card Poker, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em have revolutionized the poker-based branch of the table game family tree. If blackjack is your game, departments such as Blackjack Switch, No Bust Blackjack, and Burn 20 Blackjack offer many exciting options. Roulette players will soon be able to play new variations on their favorite wheels, such as Two Ball Roulette, Riverboat Roulette, and Alphabet Roulette.
Baccarat fans can play 7 Up Baccarat and 2 to 1 Baccarat, while craps fans can try creations like Poker Dice and Dazzling Dice. Even retro card games like war, which we’ve all played on rainy days, have been repackaged and launched in casinos. The invention of casino games is big business these days, with innovators like Webb starting companies from scratch. In Webb’s case, three-card poker became the centerpiece of his main table game, which he later sold to Galaxy Gaming for a handsome profit.
If you’re an avid gamer—or just a creative type interested in inventing new things—the opportunity to create games can be an exciting prospect. It takes a clever idea, the right amount of math, and a little luck to change the casino’s layout. The most successful game inventors can easily earn six-figure annual returns just by playing, thanks to lucrative licensing deals.
But before you head out to grab a deck of cards and a calculator, read the seven steps to the simple casino game design presented below. Based on real experts’ advice, the following seven-step plan should give you a more straightforward path to developing an original game that can be a part of a catalog of online slots games.
Decide on a base game to make
First things first – building a new casino game from scratch almost always starts with using an existing game as a base. Take Super Fun 21, the wildly popular blackjack offshoot. This game just tweaks the rules of standard blackjack to create a whole new gaming experience. Super Fun 21 players can use almost any move at their disposal to beat the dealer. Plays like doubling up after a split, doubling up on any two cards, and late capitulation make players feel “game over.”
Rules like player blackjack always win – even against the banker – and a 2-to-1 payout of any blackjack hand turns the odds in the player’s favor. But the inclusion of a crucial fold – a split bonus for a blackjack instead of 6-to-5 or 3-to-2 – offsets all these “super fun” adjustments to skew the house edge further. In a standard blackjack game, players using the basic strategy can enjoy a house edge of 0.50% or less. But when you’re sitting at a Super Fun 21 table, even the perfect game will only give you a 1.40% house edge.
That’s three times the number of regular blackjack games, but players can enjoy every hand thanks to all these free rules without noticing the exorbitant odds. If you go back to the list of new games mentioned in the introduction, you’ll find that they all seem to include touchstones like blackjack and other classic casino offerings. It’s no coincidence either.
Games have been invented since the first humans sat around campfires and rolled polished seashells. We’ve run out of originality after spending thousands of years creating new ways to play cards, dice, roulette, and other games of chance and skill. After all, even the seemingly novel concept of Pai Gow Poker originated in the ancient Chinese card game.
Try to remember the adage: There is nothing new under the sun with that in mind. In other words, if a brand new, never-before-seen game could be created, it probably already has. Follow the wise advice of casino game inventor and analyst Michael Shackelford, known in the gambling world as the “Wizard of Odds.”
According to his “Ten Commandments for Game Creators,” Shackleford advises aspiring developers to keep things simple by sticking to the existing base game:
“Successful new tabletop games take an already popular game and add a new twist to it.
Namely Poker, Blackjack, and Baccarat – in that order. I’ve seen many game inventors trying to reinvent craps and roulette, but as far as I know, the amount of financial success is zero.”
Now that you know which games to customize, it’s time to tinker…
Decide how your new game will work – for the player and the house.
This aspect of the invention cycle is – invention. You can take these creative sources and delve into game design basics. But while I can advise you on the macro elements involved in designing a new game, the details are entirely up to you. Creation is very personal, and I would never assume to tell readers how to develop the rules, gameplay, and other essential aspects of a new game.
There are several tried and true methods you can rely on to keep yourself one step ahead. First and foremost, finding ways to improve your gaming experience should be paramount. The people behind Super Fun 21 realized that blackjack players love doubling down and splitting, as both of these actions add an air of skillful movement and strategy to the process. With that in mind, the game’s inventors just took regular blackjack and turned something on, allowing all the player-friendly rules to make the game – as the title suggests – more fun.
In short, you want a game that can be summed up quickly and easily. According to Shackleford — who advises many significant players in the gaming industry, including SHFL Entertainment, Bally, and Scientific Games — new casino games should be as simple as possible:
“A good standard is that you should be able to teach a new player the rules in 30 seconds.
It slows down the game as the dealer explains the rules, players don’t have the patience to learn complicated things, and the more complex the game, the more error-prone the dealer.
The more complicated the game, the more mistakes the dealer makes, which is why many games fail.”
The easiest way to make the game more accessible is to relax the rules that affect player behavior. Perhaps a hand in three-card poker could be improved by having players discard and draw a card. Alternatively, you can add a second ball to the roulette wheel, doubling the player’s perceived chance of winning. Regardless, the goal is clear – to give players an incentive to sit back.
Of course, relaxing the rules in favor of players only works if you can make up for the house’s lost edge. In the case of Super Fun 21, as blackjack leveled the board, the payout decreased—or, more specifically, tilted the board back in favor of the dealer.
With this in mind, the second piece of advice when creating a casino game is to remember who you will “work” for. While making the game accessible to casual players should be a goal, the priority is still to get the stakes back into the casino’s coffers. The key here is to strike the perfect balance between playability for the client and profit for the house.
This is how Shackleford describes this balancing act – which he managed to master himself while inventing some blackjack and video poker variants:
“A common mistake made by new game inventors is slaughtering players who have a huge house advantage. You can shear a sheep many times, but only once. Occasionally the opposite happens when the investor wants to release a game with a player advantage, erroneously assuming that the player mistakenly switches the odds back to the casino. A game without a player advantage lasts a long time. Well-funded dominant players will be like cavemen chasing mammoths.”
Test the game to fix any issues
You’ve worked hard for a long time to create a new version of Ultimate Texas Hold’em. In your game — tentatively called Ultimate Omaha — four-card hole cards replace the two-card starting-hand format used in Texas Hold’em in pot-limit Omaha, an increasingly popular Poker variant. Aside from this seemingly simple change, the game remains essentially the same – the player gets four cards and then decides to bet or when they see three cards “flop” and “turn” and “river” Fold. Once this five-card community board is revealed, players with the required three stakes will present their best five-card poker hand with exactly two of the four hole cards.
On paper, this sounds like a perfectly reasonable way to update Ultimate Texas Hold’em and turn it into something new. However, you won’t know this unless you’ve thoroughly tested the game yourself. These tests can be administered by a well-paid casino gaming consultant or by a few of your friends around a dinner table. As you approach the testing phase, keep an eye out for errors such as how many cards are dealt (this affects the seating capacity of the table), how many hands a competent dealer can deal per hour, and whether a mess of cards will result in a tie or a draw.
Take online courses and advanced courses.
This step is optional, but if you happen to be in Las Vegas and don’t mind paying for college classes, UNLV has the perfect Game Inventor program. Participants in UNLV’s Game Innovation Program will learn from Dr. Mark Yoseloff, formerly Chairman and CEO of SHFL Entertainment. With over 100 gaming patents, Yoseloff knows his stuff like the back of his hand.
A 2014 profile from ABC News described Yoseloff’s course as a competitive venue for aspiring game creators to test their skills:
“According to UNLV, the program’s purpose is to help students bring gaming ideas directly from the classroom to the casino. The course will be taught by Yoseloff and guest lecturers from the Las Vegas casino industry – experts in gambling such as idea commercialization, patenting processes, and successful business strategies.
Each semester culminates in a competition, where students present their ideas to a jury of faculty and gaming industry leaders. The best ideas win cash prizes. Under Yoseloff’s tutelage, students also can communicate their ideas to executives who can buy into them.”
So far, the program has produced 12 certified casino games you may be familiar with – including 888 Baccarat, Color Wars, and Flip Card Blackjack. But more critical than Yoseloff’s technical teaching is the coveted industry connections the course offers.
Just ask Gail Hancock, a student working on developing skill-based slot machines that allow players to influence outcomes subtly:
“Now I have the business cards of all these people.
Thanks to the demo I did, I could call them myself.
Last but not least, it’s worth it.”
Protect your new game concept by filing a patent
If the previous step is optional, this step is mandatory. There is no reason to invent a new casino game if you are unwilling to patent it. Once the inner workings of the game permeate the wider world, anyone with a deck of cards can replicate your creation. Without patents, their idea could be the next Pai Gow poker.
That’s precisely what happened to Sam Torosian, the so-called inventor of Pai Gow Poker, who still has no patent protection. Torosian heard a lawyer falsely tell him that the card game was in the public domain.
Las Vegas-based gaming analyst Peter Ruchman described Torosian’s flaws in a 2002 profile of the famous casino innovator:
“He was supposed to get a royalty check from every casino anywhere in the world that used his game, and he didn’t…but that was gambling. Life at the casino took a bizarre turn.” (quote)
The assessment of former Torosian casino manager Moe Mostashari is more difficult:
“Sam got the wrong advice. Talk about missed opportunities…no one loses more money than Sam for not patenting a game.”
If you’re not entirely convinced of your odds, consult an attorney and understand the patent process. Because if you don’t, this million-dollar idea could be in someone else’s pocket for the next 50 years.
Show the game to the producer.
This step is more straightforward said than done. As Hancock and her UNLV classmates know, the lack of connections in the casino gaming industry can be overwhelming for aspiring inventors. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on this – I play games for a living. I don’t invent them, but you have some experts to learn from.
I recommend reading this 2009 Las Vegas Sun profile on the two-card high creator to learn the steps you need to take. Check out “Contemporary Casino Table Game Design: A Practical Guide to Casino Table Game Design, Development, and Selection” by Eliot Jacobson for an advanced course on the industry’s best production methods.
Bring it to market and make the reception sweaty.
The final step in the invention process is getting your game to appear, and if you work with a valid manufacturer, they will take care of themselves. Casinos across the country will require you to play to ensure a trial period. The game has one or two tables and a fixed amount of time that the casino uses to view the game’s outcome. As an investor, all you can do is sit back and hope your concept resonates with living casino players. If they keep coming back, hopefully, the casino will too.
Playing casino games may be a profession for some people and a passion for others, but inventing these games is something else entirely. It takes creativity and cunning to make a game that delights players and players alike, which is easier said than done. However, if you manage to create your casino concept, there is probably nothing more exciting than betting a few dollars and beating the dealer at your own game.