Caution: Spoilers ahead.
If you do not, repeat, do not want to know the latest and greatest inflection point in table games development, one that has—to be honest—already started and one that will—to be more honest—only accelerate over the next five years, stop reading immediately.
Well, not immediately. We’ve got to give ourselves a little runway to get this thesis airborne. Don’t worry: you’ll get fair notice when it’s time to jump out the window and pull the ripcord. Just grab your chute and be ready.
It hasn’t been around for long, the concept of proprietary table games. No, no, the notion of 1.) thinking up unique content; 2.) securing intellectual property around it; and, 3.) licensing it to casino operators only traces back to the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Or, as modern historians refer to it: “Hammer Time.”
The Big Bang of this universe was, of course, Caribbean Stud. That simple five-card poker game, replete with a coin slot for accepting $1 progressive wagers, was the first successful proprietary title in history. And if you weren’t around to witness its heyday, then you missed something you will never witness again.
Because no proprietary game has ever or will ever dominate to the extent or for the duration that Caribbean Stud did. It’s not possible. Like literally. There is simply too much out there to compete for attention and floor space; back then, however, this was the only title in town. And its success, which went unchecked and unchallenged for years, led us to the first inflection point: poker-style games.
You know ’em. You love ’em. You can’t spread a casino floor without ’em. We’re talking about the Crazy 4 Pokers. The Casino Hold ’em Pokers. The Let it Rides. The High Card Flushes. The Three Card Pokers. The Mississippi Studs. (Wait. That’s a country music group from Biloxi.)
Then came blackjack side bets, aka Inflection Point No. 2. Once upon a time, the only side bet on blackjack was insurance, and that was something you could only take—but who ever did?—once every 13 hands or so, whenever the dealer was showing an ace. Now, 75 percent of all blackjack tables have some sort of optional wager that pays odds. And if you remove high-limit tables from your numerator, it’s closer to 90 percent.
Next were the blackjack derivatives, led by Spanish 21 and Pontoon, buffered by Blackjack Switch and Free Bet Blackjack and continued today by Multiplier Blackjack and Blackjack Burnout.
After that in this battle royale, coming over the top rope, were the commission killers, the games with mechanics (pushing something, half-paying something else) to obviate the need to charge players 5 percent on some or all winning bets. Case in point: More than half of the world’s baccarat tables are now commission-free, with Super 6 Baccarat, EZ Baccarat, Dai Bacc, Bad Beat Baccarat and Commission Free Dragon Bonus being the most popular.
What’s that—one, two, three, four so far? OK, the fifth and penultimate point is, alliteratively enough, progressives. Go back to the beginning. Caribbean Stud for the longest time was the only progressive table game in the industry.
But that started to change about 10 years ago. Slowly but surely, incrementing jackpots went onto games like Fortune Pai Gow and Ultimate Texas Hold ’em as a la carte upgrades. Then other poker titles. Then blackjack with Super 4 and Blazing 7s. Then EZ Baccarat. Yup, table progressives used to be harder to find than a three-legged ballerina.
Now they’re here, there and everywhere. Just like the Holy Spirit.
And the Electric Slide.
Which brings us to the most recent inflection, the one we are experiencing right now.
Again, if you want to be surprised, taken off-guard by the new wave of innovation that’s about to crest and crash at a casino near you, then . . .
- Here goes: The same old boring payouts on the same old boring—and not so boring—games that have been out there forever are going away. What will replace them is volatility, the chance at winning something more than you could have, you would have, before this inflection point.
Lightning Roulette from Evolution Gaming does this. Straight-up winners pay 29-to-1 (instead of 35-to-1), but some numbers—randomly chosen after new bets are locked up—pay up to 500-to-1.
Bonus Spins Blackjack from AGS does this. Instead of paying 15-to-1 or 17-to-1 on a prop bet that players get blackjack, you spin the wheel to determine your prize. Maybe it’s lower than it should be or maybe it’s higher than it should be. Sometimes much higher, like 10,000-to-1.
Lucky Cat Blackjack from Geoff Hall does this. When the dealer pushes, players don’t get paid 1-to-1. The dealer shakes a dice cup to determine the payout. (Spoiler Alert No. 2: Each die has two cats on them, one gold and one white.) They can push, win even money or even win 10-to-1. All on the main bet of blackjack.
And the rest are yet to come. You’ll see this year and next an absolute assault—White Walkers at Winterfell style—on the boring and the stodgy. The predictable. What if in blackjack you could win 10-to-1 on a push? What if in pai gow poker you could win 20-to-1 on a copy? What if in baccarat you could win 100-to-1 on a tie?
What if this column wasn’t subject to a word count and we could rattle off possibility after possibility?
Meh. That would just spoil the surprise.