Millions of people come to Las Vegas every year hoping to win big at a casino table. But gambling isn’t the only way to cash in on casino games.
Anyone with an idea for a new table game can submit it to Nevada’s Gaming Control Board to be approved for lease to casinos. Though the majority of design pitches come from major gaming companies and professional game inventors, concepts from hobbyists and Averages Joes can and do end up on casino floors.
“Someone literally might come to us with a concept drawn out on paper; they can be that rudimentary,” said Jonné Brunette, an agent with the Gaming Control Board enforcement division, which handles table game submissions. “People have pitched anything under the sun. It is amazing what has been submitted to us.”
The enforcement division can’t divulge details about the ideas it receives because of confidentiality agreements, but the majority of pitches tend to be game variations, such as side wagers on existing games such as blackjack. Entirely new game concepts are more rare.
The board approves seven to 10 new games and about 50 game variations per year.
Getting the green light is only half the battle. Just because a game is available for lease, doesn’t mean casinos will want it or it will succeed.
Few make it past one installation. Factors such as how casinos market the games and the changing tastes of consumers make it difficult for many games to take off.
Nonetheless, new games do thrive and can net inventors tens of thousands of dollars a year.
How to take a concept from a scribble on a cocktail napkin to the casino floor
• Inventors’ first step is testing the game on friends. Do the rules make sense? Is the game easy to understand? Is it fun and exciting?
• If the answers all are yes, it’s time to hire an attorney to help patent the idea and make sure it doesn’t already exist. This is a long process and can cost $10,000 to $30,000.
• If the idea truly is unique, then it’s time for marketing and pitching to casino companies. Before an inventor can approach the Gaming Control Board, he or she must find a casino to run a trial of the game. To do that, inventors typically must hire a mathematical consultant to do a computer analysis of game results, which can cost up to $10,000, and put together game fliers, table signs, rules, instructions and a table layout. Casinos also charge trial fees of several thousand dollars a month and keep all the profits from the game.
• Next, the inventor must submit a 17-item application to the Gaming Control Board that includes a formal approval request, rules and procedures for dealing, a proposed payout schedule, a filing receipt from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, certification from an independent laboratory verifying the game is mathematically sound, a personal history and a $3,000 application fee.
• After being processed by the enforcement division, the concept is sent to the technology division for analysis and verification, testing that ensures the game holds up as both original and valid.
• If it makes the cut, the game moves on to a field trial period lasting 45 to 180 days. Field trials are for new games only; side bets and other variations can skip this step and go straight to administrative approval.
• The field trial is used to gather statistical information about the game, such as how frequently it’s played, which casinos are responsible for submitting, and to test how susceptible the game is to cheating, which Gaming Control Board agents determine based on watching it be played.
• Once the filed trial ends, a request for a final approval report is sent to the Gaming Control Board and Nevada Gaming Commission. The approval request is listed as an agenda item to be considered by the Gaming Control Board at an official meeting. Most games that make it through the trial period are approved.
• If approved, the game heads to the casino floor, where gamblers determine whether it’s a hit.
Casinos pay game distributors anywhere from $30 to several hundred dollars per table per month for side bets and several hundred dollars to $1,500 per month for games, according to Mark Yoseloff, executive director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Innovation. Inventors typically receive a royalty of about 20 precent from distribution companies.
So if a casino leases a game for $500 a month, the inventor earns about $1,200 a year. If the game is placed in 25 casinos, the revenue for the inventor jumps to $30,000.
However, very few games make it past one installation.
– Andrea Domanick
LAS VEGAS SUN