How to Set a Fresh Table

Sometimes it seems like there are more people with ideas for new casino games than gamblers. From afar, it’s a lot like watching salmon swim upstream; you know that many of them aren’t going to make it, but in order for the big circle of life to keep turning, they’ve got to try.

As of April 30, there were exactly 5,441 table games in casinos across Nevada. More than half of them were blackjack and its variants; blackjack is by far the most popular game in the state (excluding slots). There were 468 roulette tables, 396 craps tables, and a total of 397 baccarat, midi-baccarat and mini-baccarat tables. Not much room for something new there.

But Nevada’s 271 Three Card Poker tables say that it can be done. Three Card Poker was developed by gambler Derek Webb in the mid-1990s. Even though Webb’s been mired in litigation with Shufflemaster, which acquired the rights to distribute the game, Three-Card Poker is the most successful proprietary game in recent history. The game is why the Nevada Gaming Control Board receives on average more than one application for new table games each month.

And those who get that far have already beaten the odds. Applicants must submit 16 items to get approval, including four copies of the game’s felt layout; a statistical evaluation of the game’s theoretical percentages (which is best done by a professional mathematician; those guys don’t work cheap); an agreement to bear all the costs of the the Gaming Control Bourd’s inspection (starting with a $5,000 deposit; with the board’s agents billing between $135 and $150 an hour, that’s not likely to cover the entire bill); a personal history disclosure form; and an agreement from a licensed Nevada casino to host the game’s trial evaluation for at least 45 days.

Despite all the obstacles, sometimes a new game really does make it all the way upstream. A Las Vegas insider’s journey from concept to formal evaluation is instructive.

If anyone knows table games, it’s Richard Fitoussi. The Israeli-born and Paris-bred vice president of international marketing for the M Resort has been in the business since 1978, when a planned weeklong visit to Las Vegas turned into a life in the Mojave. Breaking in as a dealer at El Cortez, he worked his way up to a spot on the wheel at Caesars Palace. He stayed there 14 years, much of it in the casino’s Palace Court high-limit room. That’s where he got inspired.

“Watching the high-hand customers jump from back and forth playing two wheels at a time,” he says in precise, elegantly accented English, “planted a seed in my brain.”

That seed developed into Double Action Roulette, which began its evaluation at the M Resort in late May. It looks much like a standard roulette table, except that there is a wheel within the wheel and two layouts. Basically, it’s two roulette tables merged into one, with a 1,200-to-1 side bet (payable if the same number appears on both wheels simultaneously) in the bargain.

Fitoussi started playing with the idea in 1990. Three years later, around the time that he moved from dealing into international marketing (he speaks five languages fluently), he debuted the game at a convention. It took four more years to secure a patent. Then, despite a partnership with TCS John Huxley, a worldwide table-game distributor, not much happened for the next several years. It wasn’t until he assumed his current role at the M Resort that he was able to convince a casino boss—in this case, Anthony Marnell III, with whom he’d previously worked at the Rio—to take a flier on the game.

All told, it’s been nearly a half-million dollars and over 20 years to get Double Action Roulette on a Nevada casino floor.

No one knows if Double Action Roulette will be the next Three-Card Poker or will disappear after its evaluation (early reports are favorable). But it’s crucial to the casino business that Fitoussi and those like him keep fighting the good fight. Because even though most games never make it on the casino floor, those that do offer enough novelty to keep the business moving forward. And that is the only way, in the long term, it will continue to have appeal.