Fore! Local pair’s golf-theme card game may hit casinos
Casino workers Ben Kowalski and Jeremiah LeClerc think they have the cure for gamblers looking for something other than blackjack and poker-based table games.
The two developed and sold the idea for a golf-themed card game. Bally Technologies, which owns such wildly popular games as Four Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em, bought it within a few minutes of trying it out.
“Themed table games are a thing of the future, and we’d like to be a pioneer of that,” says Kowalski, 34, of Bethel Park, a lead casino shift manager at Meadows Casino in Washington County. “There’s a void to be filled.”
Most new table games are variations of blackjack and poker because so many players are familiar with the basics. Kowalski and LeClerc aim to attract table game players looking for something different and slot players who are intimidated by traditional table games.
“People can get over the fear factor” says LeClerc, 34, of Canonsburg, a pit manager at Meadows. He came up with the concept and presented it to Kowalski, who refined the play.
The game, Go Fore It, is easy to understand. As in golf, the goal is to get a low score. Players and the dealer each get four cards from a single deck. An Ace is one point, a face card is 10 and all other cards are face value.
“Aces are good; face cards are bad,” LeClerc explains.
If the player’s four cards total less than the dealer’s, the player wins a “skins” bet. A player can win more if his four cards beat par by totaling 24 or less. A side bet pays for each Ace a player gets.
To begin, a player places one, two or three bets: the skins bet, on whether he or the dealer will have the lower point total; a “front nine” bet, which gives the option of adding a “back nine” bet if the player’s first two cards give a good shot at a four-card total of 24 or less; and a “gopher” bet that pays according to the number of Aces in a player’s hand. One Ace pays 2 to 1; quads pay 1,000 to 1.
Other than what bets to place, players make only one decision in the game. Those who make a front-nine bet may add a back-nine bet after seeing two cards. Kowalski says if the first two cards total 13 or less, the player should add the back-nine bet.
Little touches show Kowalski and LeClerc’s casino experience. The betting pattern and layout are similar to existing specialty games, making it easier to learn for dealers and players alike. The game moves quickly, about 35 to 40 hands per hour. And even if players show their first two cards to each other, it’s not vulnerable to card counters or other advantage players, the inventors say.
“Game protection” is important to casinos, because many professional gamblers find loopholes to exploit.
Bally says the game has a 4.31 percent house advantage on the skins bet. That means the casino expects to win $4.31 of every $100 bet in the long run. The house advantage on the back-nine bet is 1.85 percent, Bally says. It didn’t provide a figure for the front-nine bet.
Bally touts Go Fore It on the company website. Pennsylvania regulators are reviewing the game and must codify the rules before it can be played in the state. The inventors say Meadows plans to install a Go Fore It table upon state approval.
Roger Snow, senior vice president of table and utility products at Bally Technologies, says casinos can pay as much as $2,000 per table per month to the owners of specialty games. Kowalski and LeClerc, who are among the handful of independent game inventors to land a contract with Bally, declined to talk about how much they might make. LeClerc says their cash investment was “as little as possible.” They got help from friends with table-design ideas and statistical analysis.
Go Fore It breaks the mold of specialty games because it is not based on poker or blackjack, Kowalski says.
“This is a card game with a golf theme,” he says. “We figure that theme games are coming to (table) pits eventually” because themed slot machines are so popular with gamblers.
Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or [email protected].