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Gaming the Future

In an only-in-Las Vegas program, UNLV students are constructing the future of casino games.

Campus News  |  Feb 28, 2018  |  By Francis McCabe
Ace and Jack playing card on UNLV table.

(Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)

It’s an only-in-Las-Vegas program where UNLV students are not just learning the ins and outs of the gaming industry; they’re defining its future.

The work happening in the university’s Center for Gaming Innovation is unlike any college classroom you’ve seen. On a simulated casino floor, students are learning to monetize dominos and Candy Crush, they’re refreshing Blackjack and Roulette, and along the way they’re reimagining casino games that will attract 21st century gamblers.

The centerpiece of the program is a course offered once a year that teaches undergraduate, graduate and non-university students how to design the next wave of games for casinos and the Internet. Students are also guided through the patent process, develop business strategies and receive mentorship from top industry experts.

Four student-created games turned heads at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) last fall and drew interest from Caesar’s Entertainment executives at a showcase in January.

The gaming innovation class just wrapped up its fifth session this past fall. So far more than 120 students from all disciplines have participated. To date, more than 45 patent applications for new games have been filed, with six patents issued. In all, three companies have been founded which are actively commercializing their game products.

Here’s a look at some of the latest games from UNLV students being introduced on casino floors:

Matthew Stream dealing cards.Easy Jack

Created by gaming industry worker Matthew Stream, Easy Jack simplifies the strategy of Blackjack for a new, younger audience.

The 31-year-old came up with the idea while teaching his 7-year-old cousin math.

Essentially, the game is one-card blackjack with the bust number being 11, instead of the traditional 21. As a dealer in California, Stream noticed gaming patrons were having a hard time understanding the math of 21 Blackjack.

The odds are the same, but the simpler mathematical equations allow for more hands per hour and essentially, a larger winning percentage for the house.

The game had a field trial run at Harrah’s and is currently offered at the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas. This month, several Easy Jack tables will open at various casinos in Oklahoma.

Casino Dominos

Dominos is considered by many to be one of, if not the most popular game in the Americas. But until now it’s never been monetized for use by the gaming industry.

Meet Harold Moret. A student in the fall 2016 gaming innovation class, Moret came up with a way to use cards and the scoring rules for All Fives Dominoes to create Casino Dominos.

The game looks similar to a Blackjack table. Each player receives three specially designed domino cards dealt and a single domino connector card, all face up. To win, the player must match a connector domino card with one or more dominoes in their hand to form a point total of 5,10, or 15. They can also win on a side bet if they’re dealt two or more doubles dominoes.

Moret also runs the biggest Domino tournament league in the world, the Universal Dominos League that is operating in Las Vegas.

Color Changing Apparatus

Daniel Sahl, associate director for the Center for Gaming Innovation, not only teaches UNLV students the intricacies of creating their own games, he does it himself.

Sahl presented at G2E his own unique take on changing the gaming industry.

His patented idea: color changing gaming objects. Gamers would experience changes to the color of the dice/ball/flapper to create a higher possibility of payouts for the player.

The players get the benefit of the physical outcome or a digital outcome that would allow for more variance and volatility and potentially bigger payouts, Sahl explained. With a little tweaking of the base game, the math works out so that the house would maintain its advantage over time.

Line ‘Em Up

Guru Games founders Evan Thomas and Troy Petite are UNLV students with no background in gaming. They are majoring in computer science and physics, respectively.

But they’ve figured out that if you merge video game play on your phone with slot play, you can create a game that gives players more control yet allows the house to maintain a similar win percentage as traditional slot play.

Skilled slot play seems to be the next level of slot machines gaming companies are most interested in. Their game, on display at the Gaming Innovation lab, looks like a monetized version of Candy Crush, called Line ‘Em Up.