Matthew Stream dealt hand after hand of blackjack at a Northern California casino and seemed to run into a similar problem for players. In the quickness of the game, they had a difficult time tallying the cards.
That spurred an idea for a new game — Easy Jack.
Stream, a student at UNLV’s Center of Gaming Innovation, developed his updated twist on blackjack and was able to get it onto a casino floor in Las Vegas. It recently ended a 45-day trial at Harrah’s and will remain there until the end of the year.
In Easy Jack, players receive one card to start play, not two. And instead of angling to accumulate the closest total to 21 without going over while beating the dealer’s hand, as in traditional blackjack, Easy Jack’s goal is to get as close to 11 without going over.
Stream’s first test came while teaching his elementary-aged cousin how to count.
“I was helping my younger cousin with her math when she was 7 or 8 at the time and I was going to suggest we play 21 but remembered how difficult 21 could be for adults, so I said ‘We’ll just stop at 11,’” he said. “So we started playing, and I realized that there might actually be something to this as far as those players who were overwhelmed by playing traditional blackjack.”
Players can make two wagers. The first is on the hand, comparable to blackjack. An optional secondary wager can be placed before the hand is dealt on whether the dealerl will bust — go over 11.
The dealer hits on all totals of six or less and stays on all totals of seven or more. A two-card dealer bust pays 3:1, and the more cards the dealer draws before a bust occurs, the bigger the payout is. On the initial hand wager, a natural 11 (the ace card) pays 3-to-2.
Stream said he relocated to Las Vegas and enrolled in the program at UNLV specifically to iron out issues with launching Easy Jack.
“Getting the input from everybody at the gaming innovation program was one of the man reasons I went (to UNLV),” Stream said. “The math as well. I had no idea how to come up with the house edge or anything else like that. That was one big thing they helped me out with. Also, getting the provisional patent process going.”
Mark Yoseloff started the Center of Gaming Innovation five years ago to institutionalize gaming innovation, teaching the basics and running a workshop and case study format class to innovate gaming products. The program features various mentors, including Yoseloff, mathematicians, a patent attorney and a professional poker player.
“We all mentor the students, we help refine their products … we train our students in such a way that they’ve become really productive in the gaming industry,” Yoseloff said. “They’ve become creators. They go through other parts of the program and become executives at the casinos.”
At the end of the semester the program invites executives from Las Vegas gaming companies to judge a contest of student-developed game ideas. Stream’s concept won the top prize of $1,500 and caught the eye of a casino executive.
“Easy Jack was not only the winning project this year, but Melissa Price from Caesars, who is responsible for their gaming worldwide, said that she wanted to do the field trial for that game,” Yoseloff said. “That’s very unusual for a game coming out of the program to immediately go to a major company like Caesars.”
Most game creators present new game ideas to Price that are overly complicated, but in Stream’s case, the simplicity (pointed out in the game’s name) sold her, Yoseloff said.
“She said people bring her more and more complicated versions of blackjack to look at, and finally someone had brought her a simpler blackjack,” Yoseloff said. “That’s exactly what Stream was aiming for, and I really think he nailed it.”
In addition to presenting students’ creations to gaming executives, the program will helps students with getting their game on a casino floor.
“It’s not a simple process,” he said. “One of the biggest benefits to the students is that we assist them with everything. We use some of our financial resources to pay for some of the thing. So, it would really be beyond the students to do this otherwise.”
Stream said the first time he saw his table game on the casino floor at Harrah’s, he was blown away and enjoyed the experience with those closest to him to celebrate the occasion.
“I couldn’t have been more excited,” Stream said. “My parents came out specifically for that day … just to see the table layout and my name next to the copyright symbol by the logo; it was more than I could ever imagine.”
Most of the feedback has been positive for Easy Jack, and there are plans for the game to stick around Harrah’s floor, Yoseloff said.
“I think Easy Jack was a good new citizen. It didn’t blow the cover off the ball — no field trial ever does,” Yoseloff said. “On the other hand, they’re keeping it at Harrah’s at least through the end of the year, which is a very good step. It gives the game more exposure.”
If the game catches on and more tables are ordered for other casinos, Stream is set to make money on his creation, as the initial table creates no economic benefit for him.
“For the casino, they are giving up floor space and putting the work into the field trial, so they get that one table gratis,” Yoseloff said “The hope, of course, is that more tables go in and there is a monthly fee.”
For Stream, the goal for Easy Jack is landing his game on as many casino floors as possible.
“I would love to go as far to say international patents … expanding first throughout the States, but Macau is the new Vegas, so there, Europe, Australia. There’s a handful of places with a healthy gaming market,” he said. “So as far as I can take it pretty much at this point, and with the support of UNLV, I expect that to be a real possibility.”