Dan Lubin Interview
Question 1 - [00:06]
Mike: Hi, this is Mike Shackleford with the wizardofodds.com website. And my guest is Dan Lubin, the inventor of the game EZ Pai Gow. And I'm going to be talking to Dan in his capacity as a game inventor and what it takes to get started and to make it in that business. Before we get to that though, can you tell me the thrust of EZ Pai Gow, how was it different from regular Pai Gow poker?
Dan: All right. The problem with regular Pai Gow is that it has a commission on it. And commissions are first of all they're a pain to deal and second of all to the players- players point of view they seem unfair. In other words, you bet 100 bucks, you don't win a 100 bucks, you win 95 bucks, you are short changed.
And the commission was a necessary. Pai Gow kind of evolved with the commission and there was an attitude, if it isn't that broke, don't fix it. And the thing is, I felt that it was broken and I fixed it.
Question 2 - [01:06]
Mike: So probably as a dealer, I could imagine, you thinking- here's a great way to improve Pai Gow. And so, once you have your idea, what's the next step for the game inventor should take and what do you do?
Dan: The vision was Pai Gow without commission. Operating just like blackjack size and go more hands per hour, fair to the player, and that was the vision. But the problem was, how do I implement it? How do I make it happen? There was a lot of work behind the scenes to find the best to- first of all creative mechanism or a bunch of mechanisms that would affect commission through Pai Gow and then use the best most transparent, most visible, most elegant solution and get it patented, get the math worked out and bring it out.
Question 3 - [01:57]
Mike: Two things you've got to do before you try to pitch your game, at least in my opinion, is you need to get the math done, you need to hire-- you probably have to hire a mathematician to work out the odds for you and provide a report. And you need to protect the game legally, so to protect your idea. So, is there any particular order how you should do this between the math work and the legal work?
Dan: The order is actually very important because it is so expensive to get a new game out for the guy in the garage that you have to be very precise with the order and take no further steps until you're ready to spend the money because you will spend money. In the way I did it was, is that I worked out a couple of mechanisms for EZ Pai Gow that would get rid of the commission. And I had to make sure that they did not affect the game negatively.
In other words, it's not just a question of doing the work of getting the game mathematically correct or patentable, the game has to be good. In order to get a game into casino, it has to knock out an existing game in the limited real estate they already have.
So, the first thing you do, is to make sure that your new game idea is viable. It's fun, it's easy to learn, transparent, you can pick up that game in a minute. And the second thing was, was I had to make sure the game was mathematically correct and viable because if a game is not mathematically correct, it's either going to take too much money from the players or it's going to dump on the house. Either scenario is death for a game.
And I was a computer programmer and a high school math teacher. So, I was able to work out the math algebraically. And then later get a mathematician that you referred to do the stimulation of hands. 500,000 hands, a million hands, a billion hands, whatever it took.
And the third step is to do a thorough patent search. Is the idea patentable and if it is patentable, did somebody else think of it before or is it public domain? Can you secure the intellectual property rights? And those were the steps that I had gone through for the base work. Then after that, you have to find the key players in the industry to pitch the game to distributors, like Gaming Network, DEQ Gaming, Shuffle Master Galaxy Gaming and see what they would say. And if they do not give a yes to you, then you're pretty much not happening. Because first of all they know whether or not a game is viable. Not that they're always correct but they do have good pulse as to whether or not a game is going to be worthwhile. And if they say no, it's game over.
Question 4 - [04:53]
Mike: I totally agree that it's- the most important thing about a new game is that it's fun and that it's not to make too much money or too little money. And as someone who deals with a lot of amateur game inventors, 100% of them are totally enamored with their game and it's going to be the next three card poker but trust me, they're not. Most of them, in my opinion are too complicated. They take too long to explain. Tell me what do you think makes for a good game?
Dan: For something to have a shot, it has to be something that people can jump right into, right? Now, taking the game of Standard Casino Pai Gow Poker and making it commission free, with everything else about the game exactly the same, transparent is a good word, makes it very easy for the game to succeed. EZ Baccarat the same thing, just get rid of the commission on the banker side, and offer exactly the same game and you're ready to go. Lots of people come up with blackjack variants and poker variants and have some success with that.
Now there is a category of totally novel games like Two Cards High, which is a distant relation to Baccarat, there is Easy Over Under, [inaudible 00:06:20] these games are totally new high games ideas that are not related to blackjack, they're not related to existing casino games. And when people see them, they see something very alien and they say, I want to stick with the tried and the true and the things that I already know and allow. If it doesn't make sense to me, I'm not going to approach because there are so many casino games out that people already invested their learning into, you really are going to have a long shot with something that's totally radical.
Mike: I agree with you. I think that the odds are tough no matter what you do. But in my opinion the odds are best, if you take an existing game, like blackjack poker or baccarat and add some twist to it, try to find some way to make it more fun or to simplify it. I think that the games like they had a Backgammon at O'Sheas and a football game. Those were completely off the wall and I think that they crashed and burned. Correct me if I'm wrong.
Dan: They pretty much did. And that's the thing, you can't be off the wall, you have to show something to the general casino customer that forces them to say to themselves, “That makes sense, I can see that, I can play that, I'll play.” You don't want them to say, “What in the world is that?” Even if it's a fun game, in other words, if they have to get to know it, in order to love it, they're never going to love it. And that's just how it works out.
You don't get a critical mass, you don't get momentum. Unless, you're building momentum that's already there, so a fun twist on Blackjack, like Blackjack Switch, play two hands and you get to switch cards to make better hands. Just evolving games, evolution is better than revolution in game design.
Mike: That's a good way to put it.
Dan: Because if it's revolutionary, it's scary, it's alien, it doesn't get touched.
Question 5 - [08:22]
Mike: Okay. So, I think we would agree that your chances are best, probably with a blackjack baccarat or poker variant but between those three, do you think that there's any one where your odds are a little better or is it about equal for all of them?
Dan: I actually think poker variations are good because every American grows up knowing poker, if they gamble pretty much. And there are problems with existing games like in Texas Hold'em, in the poker room, too many people are out of the game. It's just not- you want a full table, so some variations of Texas Hold'em and Omaha are beginning to take all hand. Variations of poker are much more approachable than variations of baccarat.
The other area that is useful is coming up with a side that improvement for an existing game. But again, that market is just so crowded, it's just very tough. If I had known how tough it was to get a game from a cocktail napkin sketch to the casino floor that it's a one-million-mile journey of great expense, I would have been too scared to do it.
Question 6 - [09:41]
Mike: Now speaking of a cocktail napkin to casino floor, that's a long journey. New game inventors always think that they can pitch their game at the first casino and the casino will be enamored with it and beg to play it. No, it's a tough competitive business. Now my question is, how much money do you think a game inventor should have to get his game from cocktail napkin to the inside of the casino?
Dan: $50,000. So, it takes a lot of money. The other thing, that is very important, it's not just a money, then spending that money wisely and paramount is coming up with a game that is not only a good idea but is very worked out, in terms of game protection, in terms of documentation, in terms of the sales pitch for it. Everything has to be in place. In other words, games have to be so refined and so documented and so well known by the parties who are pushing it, that you are a thousand miles away from the cocktail napkin. By the time you're ready to pitch a game to casino game distributor like Shuffle Master or Roger Snow there or DEQ or Gaming Network, the game has to be practically ready to be dropped into the casino floor. The game protection procedures are worked out, the dealing procedures are worked out, the product description guide is ready for it, the casino manager, you have a training video on it for the dealers, the patents approved, the math is done. And it works out great. All that has to be in place to make it easier for distributor to say okay to your game.
You show up with a cocktail napkin, you are 10,000 miles away, even if it's a great idea, they're not going to take it because it's just too much work to go from that point to the casino floor. They want a game that's already approved or is awaiting a field trial, ready for the field trial, which means just about everything is done.
Question 7 - [11:42]
Mike: So, if someone approaches Shuffle Master and just has the cocktail napkin, will Shuffle Master even give them an audience just maybe to say whether or not it's a good concept?
Dan: No. Basically you have to know somebody like you or me or somebody like Rob Scott to say, “Okay, pitch it to me.” The other thing is that if it is a great idea and you don't have a patented on it, somebody can just take it. So, by the time you show the game, you already have the game protected, legally in terms of intellectual property and you have the game worked out.
You have to be able to go to a distributor and say, it's ready to roll, it's ready to run, you can drop it in, give it a field trial or if it already had a field trial and it has a few installs, just sell it. If they have to do a lot of front end work for something that is unproven, the answer is almost certainly no.
Question 8 - [12:36]
Mike: Now what do you think about the strategy of trying to get past the field trial all on your own, you don't ask for anybody's help, hoping that the game will be a success at field trial and perhaps maybe some placements after that. And then you approach a company like DEQ or Shuffle Master and saying, “Look, I've got proven results here,” and going in there with more bargaining power.
Dan: I actually think that's a bad idea. I didn't mean to say to go that far. What I meant to say was-- the amount of distance you should go, is to show that the game is viable, to show that the game is protected legally under the patent laws, to show that the math is correct and to show that the game is dealable. In order to get the field trial, you basically have to become your own distributor, which is another $100,000, you have to set up a gaming company and that is exorbitantly expensive.
It's kind of like if you're a book author like Tom Clancy. You don't buy a paper mill and print your own books. You go to Random House or you go to Dover, you go to some publisher and say, “Look, I've got a great book, read it, it's copyrighted, it's protected, it's great material and then take 20 or 30% of it.” Let them get the game out, because they know what they're doing.
Question 9 - [13:58]
Mike: One story that I'd like to tell is that, if you go to a Galaxy Gaming to pitch your game, the President Roger Saucier says, he pretty much has a policy that you have to be able to explain the game in under- it's either 20 or 30 seconds or less. Good advice, bad advice, what do you think?
Dan: Yes, explain it in 30 seconds. It's Pai Gow poker without the commission, more hands per hour, fair to the players, they like it better. Okay. That's good. Hong Kong poker, it's like Omaha with a Slam Bam Showdown, Texas Dinero- it's Texas Hold 'em, with everybody staying in. A real catchy thing to get them hooked and then to explain it. In other words, you basically have to explain how the game is played in 30 seconds. And if it takes you more than that, it's too complicated to play, so it's dead. So, that actually makes a lot of sense.
Mike: Great stuff from Dan Lubin. I pretty much agree with all your advice. Thank you very much and it's been my pleasure having you.
Dan: My pleasure too.