In 2009, Raving Consulting Company started the Cutting Edge Table Games Conference (since purchased and now produced by BNP Media). That year, EZ Baccarat was voted by table game executives in attendance, as the Gold Medal winner in Casino Journal’s Best New Table Games Competition. Today, EZ Baccarat is the leading brand in baccarat.
EZ Baccarat lost its patent protection two years ago, and its methodology became part of the public domain. “You can copy the methodology but you cannot copy the brand,” said Francisco “TJ” Tejeda, co-creator of EZ Baccarat. “EZ Baccarat has earned and retained something far more valuable than any patent: the loyalty of its players.”
When the patents on other popular games run out, players typically drift away to newer, more enticing versions of the original games. But players aren’t leaving EZ Baccarat; they’re staying and their numbers are growing because the brand itself means something valuable to them. “When a game loses its legal protection, the Darwinian law of the jungle takes over,” observed Tejeda. “Games with brand loyalty are like tigers; games without it are the prey.”
CHANGING THE GAME
“After years in the baccarat business, we realized there was a failing in the game: a commission that had to be manually collected after each hand, and this made the game very hard to deal,” said Tejeda. “If we could figure out a way of eliminating the commission, we were certain we would have a hit on our hands.”
Instead, it would be a decade before EZ Baccarat took off. The challenge was to convince the gaming industry to change what was already a good thing. The 1990s and early 2000s were an era of legendary baccarat “whales” like Australian tycoon and raconteur Kerry Packer, who would play the traditional game for $250,000 a hand. The idea that the game needed to change—let alone that it would soon need broader appeal in order to flourish—seemed absurd.
“The advantage of EZ Baccarat over the traditional game was as obvious as the advantage of a steamship over a sailboat,” said Tejeda. “Surely everybody would see that, right? Nope. The wind is free, but you have to buy coal to make a steamship go. And we were asking the gaming industry to buy our coal.”
FIRST INDUSTRY VALIDATION
Although the game had some traction with a few casino operators, EZ Baccarat’s first big endorsement from the gaming industry came when it won Casino Journal’s Best New Table Games of 2009 Competition.
The Gold Award had real meaning, since it was voted by the executives who really had a stake in a table game’s success—the table game operators themselves. In order to cast a ballot for the Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners, these savvy table execs had to first play all of the games involved in that year’s competition, and then evaluate them based on player appeal, ease of understanding and potential for commercial success. And EZ Baccarat was a runaway winner in that inaugural competition in 2009.
A UNIQUE MODEL
A key element of EZ Baccarat’s success was the licensing agreement: there’s a single, flat fee per table. As Tejeda put it, “If you’re a mom-and-pop operation, you pay one price, and if you’re a giant gaming corporation with a hundred tables, you pay the same price. This is unheard of today in the industry.”
As unusual as it is, this policy has always had a purpose: “As a concept, it’s revolutionary (it’s a fair brand) and it almost cost me my neck a couple of times: we were trying to make the big casino companies understand that EZ Baccarat wasn’t a commodity, with discounts for bulk purchases,” Tejada said. “It’s a brand, and the price reflects what the brand is worth.”
But, of course, there’s another key aspect of the brand: not its price to operators, but its value to players. That’s hard to put a dollar figure on, but easy to see. As Tejeda pointed out, “When a proprietary game loses its patent protection, the market quickly determines whether the game is a commodity—with game-makers racing to undercut competitors’ prices and offer new value propositions—or a brand, with loyal players sticking with the original.”
While EZ Baccarat has game placements worldwide through its distributor, its creators credit Casino Journal’s Best New Table Games Gold Award of 2009 for “putting it on the map.” As Tejeda recalls, “I remember putting the cut-glass trophy on display in our business suite at Wynn Las Vegas during G2E that year. I could see it made a huge impression on our potential clients, and ‘potential clients’ were pretty much all we had at that point.”
Like EZ Baccarat, Casino Journal’s Best New Table Games Competition has rapidly grown as well, and likewise created its own brand. Up to 25 new table games are entered in the competition each year, and now the Gold Winner gets the added bonus of guaranteed floor placement in a number of participating casinos, which is what the business of table game invention is all about—getting operators to give them a chance to prove their revenue potential.
Just like it did for EZ Baccarat.