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An Authentic Friend

Dan Lubin touched many people in the industry

An Authentic Friend

In May. In Las Vegas. In the living room of a dear friend’s home.

In the company of acquaintances and associates—and in some cases, of adversaries—they sat there and they stood there, and they one-by-one exchanged their favorite memories of Dan Lubin, the table-game inventor and author who was found alone and unresponsive in the bedroom of his apartment less than a week earlier.

It was an impromptu affair. C’est la vie when la vie itself is extinguished so quickly, without warning or graduation. This wasn’t a slow descent into the afterlife; rather, it was a sudden and shocking plunge. Lubin was only 56 years old, for crying out loud! True, he had a history of cardiac issues. True, he had been hospitalized a few days before. And true, he had joked more than once that doctors should sew him up with a zipper instead of sutures, so when he goes in for his next bypass surgery, it will be easier for them to enter and exit his chest cavity.

Fine, whatever. But there’s a big difference between being unsurprised when something happens and actually expecting it to happen. And among the industry people Dan touched over the years, the ones gathered together that day and those who couldn’t make it, absolutely nobody saw this coming.

Or fully grasped that it had come. Case in point: On more than one occasion, amid recounting some wild, colorful anecdote about Dan, the storyteller referred to him in the present tense.

No one offered a correction. Perhaps it was out of politeness or perhaps it was out of wishful thinking.

Perhaps both.

For some reason (and maybe where Dan is now, he’s been enlightened with the answer to this celestial secret), the world of table-game inventors is populated exclusively by characters. Like with a capital C. We’re talking a mashup of The Big Bang Theory, House of Cards, and yes, even Looney Tunes.

And there was no bigger character than Dan Lubin. From his volcanic energy to his wax-on-wax-off hand gestures to his battering-ram tilt of the head when making a point, Dan was, in the literal sense of the word, unique. In the parlance of poker, what he was, was the worst possible hand you could get. In life, however, what he was, was the best possible thing you could be.

He was one of a kind.

And boy did his mannerisms, his voice, his persona make him ripe for imitation. He was the Elvis Presley of table games: Everyone did an impression of him. You could even hear it from the storytellers in the living room: whenever they had to recount something he had said, they did so in his professorial, passionate, almost singsong tone. All that was missing were the eyeglasses and the muff of silver hair.

The one atop his head and the one peeking out from his white dress shirt that always had one less button buttoned than it should have.

Yup. That was Dan. He was as authentic, as original as they come.

But, ironically enough, for someone so easy to mimic, he will prove impossible to replicate. This you can say with a mortal certainty: there will never be another Dan Lubin. Who else would spend months writing a pai gow poker manifesto with zero interest in financial gain? Who else would turn down a better deal with Shuffle Master in the late 2000s because of his loyalty to DEQ?

“Sometimes you’ve got to dance with the one who brung ya’,” he said back then, shutting down the protracted negotiations with the finality of an elephant gun.

Who else would devote the time—days, not hours—to educate a fledgling inventor on the launch of his first game at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, Nevada? Who else would lose his job at one of the largest table-game suppliers in the world because he refused to stop posting on an internet forum that catered to aspiring developers?

No one. No one else. No one ever again.

But there was more to Dan than his endearing quirkiness. He was a good friend. He was a loyal business partner. He was a kind man and a loving husband. Consider that of all his accomplishments inside gaming, nothing gave him more pride than something he did outside gaming, opening a Thai massage spa on Tropicana Avenue in Las Vegas last year with his wife.

He was also one hell of a game maker. EZ Pai Gow Poker, his firstborn, resides in the upper echelon of historically successful games. There are more than 100 tables in North America, a number that nudges upwards every year. Beyond that, his latest—sorry, last—game, Tiger Split (which he co-developed with Michael Shackelford, who hosted the living-room memorial for Dan), will debut at G2E Las Vegas this year. Lubin also, much like a record producer would, flushed out concepts and improved ideas that were brought to him during his employment at DEQ, Galaxy Gaming, and his own company.

He also wrote a book on the subject of proprietary table games. Wait. Check that. He wrote the book on the subject of proprietary table games. The Essentials of Casino Game Design is considered the most comprehensive how-to guide for people looking to turn their idea into a bona fide casino product. It was a massive undertaking, and when you read it, you realize he was someone who treated this industry with love and almost a spiritual reverence.

Dan may be gone, but his influence on our industry isn’t. That will live on for decades. Perhaps forever, as those he inspired and influenced go on to influence and inspire others, and they in turn do the same.

How we wish, how we wish you were here. Rest in peace, Dan.

Roger Snow is a senior vice president with Light & Wonder. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Light & Wonder or its affiliates.

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