Game designers face rocky path on journey to casino Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports · February 15, 2020 at 4:00 pm Dawn and Billy Takacs own a business, a patent, and a dream. The couple hope those provide a ticket to success in the longshot world of casino game development. That’s because their baby, which has yet to make its first dollar, already has cost almost $200,000 over the past 3½ years. And that doesn’t count untold hours of labor ranging from designing the game and debating about color schemes to poring over interminable legal documents and filling out background inspections for multiple gaming jurisdictions. If they are among the few independent entrepreneurs whose game gets onto casino floors, they could recoup their investment, maybe even turn a profit. Table game developers Dawn and Billy Takacs “I feel like I’m having a child,” Dawn Takacs says. “This journey has been such a long one.” She and her husband marked a milestone last week: Tulalip Resort Casino in Washington, about 40 miles north of Seattle, began offering their game, a craps derivative called Yo!, marking the first casino placement of the game. Dawn Takacs said casinos in four other states have expressed interest. Players enjoyed the game, Dawn Takacs says, with the table attracting a broad range of players and staying busy throughout first night. Still, it was a learning experience for the designers, as they cleared up procedural questions in a final training session before the game went live. “There’s a great sense of accomplishment” in seeing the game on a casino floor, she says. Still, “We learned how maybe we could have communicated better and how much more we should have been involved in the marketing aspect of it.” The trial of a new game is a critical step, said Mark Yoseloff, founder of the Center for Gaming Innovation, part of the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “The hardest placement, of course, is the first one,” said Yoseloff, who was chairman and CEO of Shuffle Master Inc. before creating the innovation center in 2013. “The second hardest placement, truthfully, is the second one.” Few make the cut Although many table games get invented, few see the inside of the casino, Yoseloff said. Even fewer get much beyond the first site. Excluding side bets on blackjack or other games, “substantially fewer” than 50 new table games have 10 placements, he estimates, while less than a dozen can boast 100 placements. Mark Yoseloff, founder of the Center for Gaming Innovation Casinos don’t pay inventors a royalty during the initial trial period, which provides real-world data on how much a game makes for the casino and how popular it is among players. “At some point, some casino has to start paying for the game. That’s where the hard part is,” Yoseloff said. “You have to out-earn something else. If you can’t out-earn something else, they’re not going to keep your game in.” Each fall, the center offers a semester-long class focusing on new games or gaming-related accessories. Since its founding in 2013, students have received nine patents and developed eight commercialized games. “Table games really are the only way an inventor can get a product on the casino floor by themselves,” says Daniel Sahl, associate director of the center. One challenge is that a new game must prove itself quickly. “People are voting with their wallets,” Sahl adds. “If it appeals to a segment of players that no other game does, they’ll stick with it. If the novelty wears off, or it’s too complicated, they’ll stop playing.” Finding the sweet spot for a new table game is tough. While the first rule is that it must make money for the casino, Yoseloff says a game also must give players the sense that they can walk away a winner. It must have an element of strategy but not be too complicated for either players or dealers. A game also must offer a good number of hands per hours, Sahl adds. “It has to appeal to players but also offer operators a product that’s worth the several hundred dollars per month they pay for the game,” he says. In addition to appealing to what Yoseloff calls the “gambling psyche,” games must pass muster mathematically and be graphically attractive. Few games can meet all those requirements, but statistics are difficult to come by. Sahl says a widely quoted 1% success rate “might be” too pessimistic. The center’s program includes discussions of casino game history, math and psychology, and technical points such as volatility and patenting. “Most students who take the course already have a game idea, but they don’t know what to do with it,” Yoseloff says. “We do know.” The class meets once a week, culminating with a panel of casino industry leaders judging students’ projects. “That’s been a road for a bunch of our students to get their game into casinos,” says Yoseloff, who holds more than 100 patents and invented Mississippi Stud Poker. ‘Persistence and passion’ The Takacses did not participate in the Gaming Innovation course, but each has decades of casino experience to contribute to Yo!. After leaving casino employment, they formed Elite Casino Events, a Pittsburgh-based provider of gaming-style entertainment for charity nights and corporate parties. They developed Yo! so their casino nights could include a dice game without the large table and multiple dealers needed for craps. Yo! uses a blackjack-size table, two sets of dice – one red, the other yellow – and a “random roll dice cup” that Billy Takacs designed. It requires only one dealer and offers eight bets. They say the game generated so much interest that they started thinking about getting it into a real casino. They researched books about game design but learned more through the school of hard knocks. “You have to have persistence and passion,” Dawn Takacs says. “You have to be resilient. You can’t let anything knock you down.” At first, they thought they might spend $50,000 to $100,000 on the game. That was before almost $50,000 for trademark, copyright, and patent expenses; $8,000 for GLI certification of the math behind the game; $22,000 for licensing fees in Washington, plus thousands more for each additional state where they become a vendor; and more than $60,000 for booth space and other expenses at three Global Gaming Expos and Cutting Edge Table Games Conferences. Such costs are daunting for many independent operators. In addition, entrepreneurs compete for table game space with established casino suppliers. Scientific Games, for example, owns more than 50 table games and side bets, including the widely popular Three Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold ’Em. The Takacses say independent designers must do more than come up with an idea for a game. They must understand game protection and marketing. They must be able to communicate with a variety of people – not only casino executives but also regulators, dealers, and players. They must be able to write clearly, whether it’s the game rules or a patent application. Because the Takacses have offered Yo! in their casino-night business for three years, they gathered valuable feedback. They got rid of craps jargon and simplified the game so even youngsters at a family party could understand it. They eliminated some bets and fine-tuned procedures to strengthen game security, although players weren’t using real money. Dawn Takacs suggests that designers follow their example by testing their idea through a trustworthy casino party company that has signed a nondisclosure agreement. “Get time on the game in an environment where you can troubleshoot and find out if there’s any problems,” she says. “You’re not going to come out of the gate and create the perfect game. People are going to give you feedback. You have to listen and at least consider their opinions.” Next? With the casino debut of Yo!, the Takacses can’t help but dream big. #weekendREPORT – Exclusive: Game designers face rocky path on journey to casino. –@MGRUETZE, CDC Gaming Reports. https://t.co/qCqPCCFXQN #CDCgaming — CDC Gaming Reports (@CDCNewswire) February 16, 2020 Billy Takacs says table game royalties range from $500 to $2,500 per table per month. The American Gaming Association says the United States is home to 465 commercial casinos; the National Indian Gaming Association counts 488 tribal gaming facilities; scores of passenger cruisers offer casino gambling. Placing just one Yo! table in a handful of those locations would more than recoup their investment. In the meantime, they depend on their “real” jobs at Elite. But over dinner one recent night, they came up with a catchy name and logo for another new casino game. All they have to do is come up with the rules.