Frank Floor Talk: How innovation and cross-cultural understanding made EZ Baccarat a casino favorite

May 22, 2024 9:45 AM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • John G. Brokopp, CDC Gaming Reports
May 22, 2024 9:45 AM
  • John G. Brokopp, CDC Gaming Reports

Call them “Brandman” and Robin if you will, a.k.a. Francisco “TJ” Tejeda and Robin Powell, the co-creators of EZ Baccarat, the first and most successful proprietary no-commission baccarat game in the world – and the only one players and operators ask for by name.

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Unlike the fictional characters of comic book fame, this “dynamic duo” is flesh and blood proof that the American Dream is real for those with the talent, desire, and drive to make it come true.

TJ’s gift for appreciating the value of branding gave life to the name, colors, and icons which have given EZ Baccarat its enduring appeal. Robin’s talent for operations completed what would become a harmonized meeting of minds.

Tejeda and Powell, in 1997, partnered to create Talisman Group LLC, a Las Vegas-based consulting firm for which both are co-principals. The firm specializes in providing expertise in the gaming industry, including project development, pre-opening strategies, marketing, operations, and asset management.

The making of their friendship and ultimate partnership is the stuff of which dreams themselves are made. Characterized by TJ himself as “such disparate characters”, the union represents two men from completely different backgrounds possessing different expertise merging as one unified force to build a true American success story.

TJ was born of Mexican parents in Yuma, Arizona, grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and returned to America as a teenager in 1966 to enlist in the United States Air Force and ultimately volunteer for duty in Vietnam.

“I left my home in Guadalajara to look for my future,” TJ said. “I never looked back because I fell in love with this country.”

Powell’s story begins in Africa where he was born the son of the British Magistrate in Kenya. Of English descent, he left home and became a chemin de fer dealer in Swaziland and Botswana when he was 19 years of age, then moved on to Monte Carlo among other global destinations.

As if by fate, the young Air Force Veteran and the world traveler found themselves in Las Vegas at the same point in their lives at the opening of the MGM Grand baccarat room. Sharing an appreciation for the game of baccarat, they met, became friends, and together formulated an idea which was destined to change the way the game is played.

Whereas TJ is often the public facing component of EZ Baccarat, he is quick to remind “I am not the hero of this story. I am the co-hero. I bring lyrical life to EZ Baccarat. Robin brings operations and managerial skills. If it wasn’t for Robin, I wouldn’t be here. I am an incredibly fortunate and thankful guy”.

Knowing that Asian people represent a huge portion of baccarat’s fan base, TJ took it upon himself to learn about the cultures. He even studied the Mandarin Chinese language.

“Having studied Mandarin, when it came time to brand our game, I wanted to choose a name that was easy to pronounce and easy to remember,” TJ said. “I came to the conclusion that EZ Baccarat had all of those traits. In Mandarin, something that is ‘easy’ is associated with ‘EZ’.”

The EZ Baccarat story began with TJ and Robin arriving at the mutual understanding that the five percent commission that had to be picked up from every winning bet on the bank was slowing the game down and preventing it from becoming more powerful in the market.

Both are ones to challenge the status quo. They pondered why baccarat was shackled with the five percent commission and why nobody had ever challenged it.

According to TJ: “It wasn’t long after that Robin said, ‘We ought to do this. We should go out and find the Holy Grail, the silver bullet that would change this’.”

They brainstormed, retained the services of a mathematician, and came up with the now famous solution that has been copied but never duplicated.

“Here we were, two guys with only our casino experience as a common thread,” TJ said. “Between the two of us we developed a radical concept. We had many rigorous discussions, but we always came together on the principles of what we wanted to do.

“We knew to be a brand, we had to be different. We had doubts, we had dialogue, but ultimately, we came to the conclusion that this was the way to go.”

There was even much thought that went into the dominant color of the game. Tejeda came up with orange, which in Mandarin sounds like ‘fortune’, and a color which evokes feelings of happiness and positivity among Asian cultures.

One trailblazing component of EZ Baccarat’s marketing strategy was to sell the game at the same price for every operator, no matter how big or small. They decided it was going to be a fair brand, that no matter how many games an operator has or where they stand in the market, the price was going to be the same.

With EZ Baccarat, Tejeda and Powell brought innovations to the existing market as well, including avatars that are part of the game in the form of the Dragon 7, and, four years later, the Panda 8.

Players soon began asking for ‘The Dragon Game’. Once they did that, TJ related, it was very difficult for operators to deny their customers what they were requesting.

“People are a never-ending source of not just wonder, but a happiness for me, that satisfies my curiosity,” TJ believes. “It helped shape the way that Robin and I created EZ Baccarat.”

Ultimately it is this personal touch based upon life’s experiences, an appreciation of and understanding for different cultures, that combined to make EZ Baccarat the success it is today