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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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New Blackjack Features May (or May not) Be in Your Future

15 February 2006

There's big money in casino games. For the bosses who run them. For the lucky ducks who win them. And also for the entrepreneurs who create or improve them.

Old standbys like blackjack, craps, baccarat, and roulette are in the public domain. Casinos can mount them without paying any royalties. But new games and features are proprietary and the joints must compensate whoever owns the rights. Fees are usually high and ongoing, so returns to developers can be lucrative.

It's therefore hardly surprising that casinos are flooded with proposals. Most never get to first base, deservedly or otherwise. A smattering actually get approved for trials. And a small percentage of those tested prove popular and profitable enough to earn a place in the standard lineup. Anyone who's been visiting casinos for a while will recognize Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride, Three-Card Poker, and Spanish 21 as examples of the latter group.

A search of United States patents for blackjack variations yields lots of results. And not all of them seem to have been applied for on forms bought from 1-900-PAT-ENTS. A more-or-less random sampling suggests features you may one day find in your favorite casino. It may also give you pause to consider whether you'd be tempted to shift from what you've been playing to something new. And it might help you understand why few of the folks who devise these diversions make a dime from their work and investment.

Take, for instance, patent number 6,598,879. This blackjack derivative includes "hit insurance" as a side bet. Several alternate approaches are described. In one version, after seeing their first two cards, players can bet they'll bust by taking a hit; if they don't break and want to draw again, they can repeat the wager. A different mode makes hit insurance available before the start of the round. Either way, the idea is to "hedge" with a small bet, to "protect" the main wager when drawing to a "stiff."

Then there's patent number 6,536,767, a blackjack variation vaunted as a way to increase the action, presumably for hot-shots who think the traditional game too tedious. It includes a choice of side bets prior to the deal. One of these pays 2-to-1 if the dealer has a 10-valued up-card. Another wins when the player's own initial two cards include jacks and aces of spades; the suggested payoffs for multi-deck games are 5-to-1 for either card, 100-to-1 for either pair, and 500-to-1 for one of each.

Something else entirely is disclosed in patent number 6,523,831. Here, the optional side bet is on the Three-Card Poker hand comprising the player's two cards and the dealer's upcard. Payoffs range from even money for a pair to 35-to-1 for a straight flush. A Four-Card Poker rendering is included in the patent, too, where the dealer's hole card is also utilized.

How about patent number 6,341,778? This lets players make side bets prior to the deal on the point spread between their own and the dealer's final hands. Or patent number 5,673,917, under which players can bet on how many cards they or the dealer will draw?

This diversity is just the tip of the iceberg. The patent omnibus is overflowing with others. All promise or imply they'll deliver gambling excitement and interest that will attract solid citizens to the tables, keep 'em there, and bring 'em back later.

That's not all they promise or imply, though. In describing a proposed insurance bet on a dealer's 10, patent number 5,743,532 is typical. It estimates that while conventional ace-up insurance nets the average casino only $251,888 per year, annual earnings with the new proposition should be $4,030,790. This, without even claiming more players will be drawn to the tables by the feature.

The bottom line is that at first blush, an innovation in the casino may look too good to be true. If so, you might be wise to look again. Here's how the poet, Sumner A Ingmark, put it:

That which endures the test of time,
Oft proves to be what's most sublime.
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.