Childhood friends finally see slot design on casino floors

18 October 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- As teenagers, Terry Gold and Jeremy Zarowitz would sneak into local convenience stores to play video poker.

Fast-forward two decades and the childhood friends now watch as Strip slot machine customers are playing 2nd Chance Royal, the video poker game they designed.

Getting the game onto casino floors was a much more formidable challenge than the pair ever dreamed.

Patenting took four years. Afterward, Gold and Zarowitz brought the idea to slot machine giant International Game Technology in 2006. It took another four years for the game to wind its way through the equipment maker's system.

After completing testing mandated by Nevada gaming regulators at different casinos this summer, the pair watched recently as customers played the slot machines at the Palazzo.

"We filed the patent in August of 2002 and we figured it would be a year or two tops and we would be making money off this game," Zarowitz said. "If we had any idea it would take this long, I don't know we would have done it."

In 2nd Chance Royal, gamblers who play the maximum number of coins are allowed to draw a free second card when their ending hand is one card away from hitting a royal flush, which is a 10, jack, queen, king, ace all of the same suit. A royal flush is typically the highest jackpot in most video poker games.

The second chance for the royal flush pays 200 times the amount wagered.

Players also have a chance to win two payouts. Even if they already hold a winning hand, such as a straight or a flush, they can draw the second chance card free without losing the initial payout.

"We thought it would be good to pay all winning hands," Gold said. "That way, a player never feels like they have lost anything."

Gold said the idea of a second chance when just missing out on royal flush came to the pair when they were 14 and not even old enough to legally gamble.

Years later, they were at a local tavern when a video poker customer began complaining loudly that he had missed a royal flush by just one card.

"That kind of got us going again on the idea," Zarowitz said.

After receiving the patent, they created a company, Vegas Royalty Enterprises, and hired an expert to handle a mathematical analysis for the game's odds. A college friend of Zarowitz's, who was a computer programmer, helped with the game concept so they could present the idea to slot machine manufacturers.

"We initially approached some people we knew at casinos and from slot machine routes to gauge their interest," Zarowitz said.

IGT video poker director John Daley said the manufacturer receives more than 100 new game pitches a year from inventors. The mathematics of a game and player acceptability are the key ingredients for a successful video poker game.

Very few, he said, make the cut.

"We've got challenges with only 52 cards to play with," Daley said. "If we find something that's interesting and compelling to the player, then we'll take a good look at the idea and see if we can make a match."

IGT's video poker team reviewed 2nd Chance Royal and the company bought the patent from Gold and Zarowitz, who still make money based on how well the game performs. Daley said IGT, which configured 2nd Chance Royal for 10 of its video poker products, is looking at distributing the game more widely, including into markets outside Nevada.

Zarowitz and Gold have more ideas and game concepts in different stages of development, undeterred by the time it took for 2nd Chance Royal to break into the market. The challenge is they both have other careers.

Gold, who graduated from Bishop Gorman High School and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is an officer in his father's radio broadcasting business.

Zarowitz, who graduated from Bonanza High School and the University of Arizona, works as an energy trader for a company in Houston.

"We have different games in the pipeline, but without each other's influences, we wouldn't be here today," Gold said.

Zarowitz hopes experience pays off.

"We're hoping the next games go a little quicker," he said. "We had never done anything like this before and we had to feel our way through it."

Copyright GamingWire. All rights reserved.

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