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Oldies But Goodies

Are the original proprietary games the best or just survivors?

Oldies But Goodies

In April 1973, The Dark Side of the Moon—an album by a commercially obscure British quartet; an album that went on to launch zero top-10 hits; an album with spoken-word soliloquies on violence and mortality; an album with the F-word mumbled in opening track; an album with the sound of cash registers ringing and alarm clocks dinging; an album with one song that was nothing more than a woman wailing in anguish for four and a half minutes—entered the Billboard Magazine Top 200 sales chart.

And it stayed there for the next 15 years.

Even more impressive, after this ridiculous, Ripkenesque streak of consistency ended in 1988, the Pink Floyd opus to insanity and greed and conflict has since—a week here and a week there—logged another two years’ worth of chart time, most recently in 2014. So, not only have they been “mad for f——— years, absolutely years,” they’ve been madly popular for just as long.

Hanging on in quiet desperation? Uh, not this time.

Record albums—do they still call them that?—aren’t the only entertainment products able to put the “long” in longevity. In the world of proprietary table games, we love chattering on and on about the new, new thing, but look around any casino pit (and choose your own ground) and it’s apparent the old, old things are still going strong:

Caribbean Stud Poker: Regarded as the granddaddy of specialty tables, Caribbean Stud debuted in Aruba in the late 1980s… or in Las Vegas a few years before that. It’s a great debate. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, at least, the game was co-invented by a casino owner named Danny Jones and a casino gambler named James Suttle. Some believe, however, its true genealogy traces back to David Sklansky, the poker player and author, who called it “Casino Poker” in the early 1980s and then changed it to the eponymous “Sklansky Stud” while working at Vegas World Casino a few years later.

Despite its daddy drama, Caribbean Stud was the first major success in this industry, with more than 1,000 placements around the world at its peak. And while it’s no longer the preeminent force in it once was, the game still flourishes in pockets of New Zealand, Australia, Asia, South America and Europe.

Pai Gow Poker: If you thought Caribbean Stud’s beginnings were a soap opera—or an episode of The Jerry Springer Show—grab a tub of popcorn and listen to this checkered chronology: 1. Employee at a California card room creates pai gow poker in the early 1990s; 2. He considers filing a patent on the game, only to be told by a lawyer you can’t patent game rules; 3. Pai Gow Poker, as he dubbed it, starts gaining popularity among players; 4. A year or so later, he gets a second legal opinion that contradicts the first, and he files for a U.S. patent; 5. The patent office rejects his application because he waited more than one year submit his application; 6. The game becomes a mammoth success.

Fact or fiction? Legend or legit? Tell you what, if it were me, and even half of this tale were true, the next step would have been 7. Finds a tall building and jumps off it, preferably landing on the lawyer that gave him the bad advice.

Casino War: It doesn’t get any simpler than this. You get a card. The dealer gets a card. High card wins. And in the event of a tie, it’s W-A-R, flip! Just like you used to play at home. As an 8-year-old. At your kitchen table.

The grown-up version has been around since the mid ’90s and remains a staple on the Las Vegas Strip. You can also find it in Asia, particularly Macau, where it’s—believe it or not—a favorite among some high rollers.

Spanish 21: The first major blackjack derivative is still the most successful blackjack derivative, with 500 tables in the market. The game, which debuted around 1995, uses a modified deck containing no 10s (but does have Jacks, Queens and Kings). This, for boring mathematical reasons, raised the house advantage enough that its creators could ladle out all sorts of goodies for the player: doubling down on any number of cards; automatic wins for blackjacks and 21s; being able to surrender after doubling down. The result is the fun—albeit a bit crazy—twin sister of blackjack.

Let It Ride: By the time Shuffle Master founder John Breeding introduced his single-deck blackjack shuffler to casinos in the early 1990s, the industry had moved on to six- and eight-deck shoes. Oh, snap. Now what are you going to do with a warehouse full of shufflers that nobody needs and nobody wants?

Duh. Just go out there and on your first try, conjure up one of the biggest table games in history.

And that’s exactly what Breeding did. Let It Ride, as a counter-punch to Caribbean Stud, had players compete against a paytable, not against the dealer. All they needed was a pair of 10s or better. The game featured an ingenious—even by modern standards—betting structure that allowed players to risk their bets or, in the preferred parlance, let them ride. As with Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride is playing out the back nine of its pre-eminence, but additions like a three-card bonus bet and a progressive jackpot have helped it remain competitive with the newer, flashier offerings out there.

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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