The gaming industry is a veritable super highway of career paths for people from all disciplines who possess the drive, desire, and ability to jump aboard for a ride.
Gaming history is filled with examples of casino employees working for a pay check who had a vision and seized an opportunity to become successful inventors, entrepreneurs, and even driving forces behind the industry’s expansion.
There are, however, some names which stand out, including Francisco “TJ” Tejeda. As a young man he began his casino career as a dealer. It didn’t take him long to put his situational awareness and ingenuity to work to become co-creator of what would be known as EZ Baccarat.
The game would earn a reputation as the world’s leading no-commission baccarat game and the only one operators and players ask for by name.
Tejeda attributes his service to our country in the United States Air Force as the springboard to what he has accomplished and the name and reputation he has forged within the casino gaming industry.
“The Air Force was the defining four years of my life,” he proudly revealed. “I owe the Air Force and this country a debt of gratitude. I would not have made it without my military experience. Even my ‘TJ’ moniker comes from my time in the Air Force. My friends gave it to me. I am very proud of it and still carry it some 60 years later.”
When he completed his military service, TJ entered the casino industry and went on to become a baccarat dealer. At about the same time, the man who would become his partner and co-creator of EZ Baccarat, Robin Powell, also dealt the game but they did not know each other.
“When we did become friends, it was very clear that we both loved the game,” TJ recalled. “Baccarat had everything. It had ‘007’ in its DNA because the classiest and most dangerous guy in the world (James Bond) played it.
“Robin and I were baccarat dealers in parallel worlds. We both came to the conclusion that the game was wonderful and was gaining in popularity. It was becoming a powerful game and getting more so.”
Their collective passion for the game fueled their thought processes for what could make it better. Rather than report for work, deal the game, and collect their paychecks, TJ and Robin explored a “feel and think” approach instead of just “see and do”.
“Independently, we came to the realization that baccarat had one complication that was preventing it from becoming even more powerful in the market. It had this ‘glitch’ that every time the bank won, a five percent commission had to be picked up from every winning bet.”
TJ went on to explain that the “glitch” slowed the game down and added a stress component to play that affected both the customers who had to pay it and the dealers who had to collect it.
“Robin and I got together one evening to brainstorm, and we agreed that there had to be a solution to make baccarat more practical, easier, more ‘civilized’ if you will, to give the game a better opportunity to grow during its popularity surge. With this in mind, we decided to find a solution to the five percent ‘glitch’.”
It just so happened that TJ and Robin were also experienced at dealing craps. They knew that a “don’t pass” bet on the come-out roll wins when a 2 or 3 are rolled, loses on a 7 or 11, but is a “push” if boxcars (12) show up.
Making 12 a “push” is how casinos make money on the “don’t pass” on the come-out roll. Otherwise, it would be a losing proposition because once a point is established don’t pass bettors exert an advantage over the house.
A similar situation is the case of betting on the bank in baccarat. In order for casinos to make money on winning bank bets, they extract a five percent commission.
“Robin and I reasoned that if there is one roll of the dice, one number, that can serve the purpose of assuring the house can make a percentage on the bet, there had to be one combination of cards that can do the same thing in baccarat,” TJ explained.
Craps play is not slowed down or encumbered by the dealers having to collect a commission, and players having to pay one, on winning don’t pass bets on the come-out. Why should baccarat? Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, but it took TJ and Robin to refuse to accept the five percent commission on bank bets in baccarat as a necessary component of the game.
“We hired a mathematician to run the numbers,” TJ said. “He came up with thousands of possible combinations. My partner and I picked the now famous three card seven. It was the proverbial ‘silver bullet’. It was the solution because it did not move or touch any other part of the game. By doing this we surgically removed the ‘glitch’ from baccarat.”
Instead of taking the commission when the bank wins with a total of seven consisting of three cards, the bank hand is a push or “barred” just as the 12 is a push or “barred” for a don’t pass bettor on the come-out roll in craps. The player, Panda 8, and the tie lose, the bank pushes, and the Dragon 7 bet wins.
Making it possible to host the game of baccarat on gaming floors without having the annoying five percent commission on every winning bank bet was the start. TJ and Robin proved it did not have to be an unforgiving component of the game. Now the real work began.
“We knew that up to now, no operator had to pay for any table game that was in the public domain,” TJ said. “Nobody owns craps, nobody owns roulette, so we knew we were going to be really different. Our game was brand new and we were going to ask money-conscious people that own and operate casinos to pay us for a game that they had on the casino floor already.”
Their strategy was to simply demonstrate how “new and shiny” their invention was, and to convince operators they had to get it.
“We knew immediately that we had to brand it,” TJ recalled. “Fortunately, that is my wheelhouse. I am a branding man. Nobody falls in love with a seven, which was the key number. We decided to name it the ‘Dragon Seven’, we gave it a color (Pantone Orange), and we gave it a name, EZ Baccarat. All of these decisions merged to become a brand.”
As incredible an innovation as EZ Baccarat is, and how it realized its potential to change the way people play while speeding up the game and driving revenue for casino operators, the partners found it a tough, frustrating sell.
“We started out with much enthusiasm, making sure our copyright, patent, and everything was all in order.” TJ said. “We went from casino to casino for 10 years and nobody would give us the time of day. They all said, ‘get out of here, we already have baccarat, and we’re not paying for it’.”
But as they say, the rest is history. TJ and Robin never gave up on their dream. When EZ Baccarat eventually took off, there was no stopping it, and to this day it is the undisputed, unrivaled king.
John G. Brokopp is a veteran of 50 years of professional journalist experience in the horse racing and gaming industries
John G. Brokopp, CDC Gaming Reports