The Confusing Origins of Caribbean Stud Poker

By in Poker on
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Caribbean Stud Poker Table Logo

Many casino games have muddled origins. But most of these games with murky histories are centuries old, including baccarat, blackjack, craps, and roulette.

Caribbean Stud Poker is not one of these games. Instead, it was developed at some point in the 1980s and eventually sold for a great deal of money.

Caribbean Stud has since become one of the most popular table games in modern history. But despite this game’s massive popularity, its backstory and original creator are still up for debate.

Assuming you’re up for a good mystery involving a casino game, you can keep reading as I discuss the strange origins of this game and uncover who likely created it.

Where Did Caribbean Stud Originate?

The first point I want to cover is where the game was conceived. All signs point to Aruba as being the birthplace of Caribbean Stud.

This Caribbean island makes sense when considering the game’s name. However, the key issue is whether the game was actually developed in Aruba or on a cruise ship around the island.

The game’s birthplace involves three possibilities:

  • Caribbean Stud was discovered on a cruise ship that was en route to Aruba.
  • It was developed at a nondescript Caribbean casino resort and spread around the islands, becoming most popular in Aruba.
  • It was invented by a Las Vegas-based poker player and author.

The first possibility doesn’t need much explanation. If Caribbean Stud Poker was invented on a cruise ship, or at least first played on one, the ship’s name has already been lost.

The second version doesn’t necessarily state a specific country or territory where the game was conceived. Instead, it just notes that Aruba became the primary hub for Caribbean Stud after its invention in the 1980s.

The King International was allegedly the first major casino to run multiple Caribbean Stud Poker tables. Located in Noord, Aruba, this establishment is known as the Excelsior Casino today.

As I’ll cover next, the third possible location is based on claims made by a famous poker author who may very well have invented this game.

Who Invented Caribbean Stud Poker?

In 2007, noted gambling author and three-time WSOP champ David Sklansky came forward regarding rumors about him developing Caribbean Stud.

Writing on his TwoPlusTwo forums, Sklansky stated that he indeed created the game in 1982. However, his version was titled “Casino Poker” and not Caribbean Stud.

The main ways that Casino Poker differs from the latter is that it features two exposed cards (instead of one) and no progressive jackpot. Other rules are the same, though, including:

  • One-unit antes
  • Two-unit bets/raises
  • Dealer’s hand qualifies with AK
  • Larger payouts for qualifying hands

Given that progressive jackpots have fueled Caribbean Stud Poker’s growth, Casino Poker might have never become as popular. Nevertheless, it may have still served as the precursor to Caribbean Stud.

If Sklansky went to the trouble of inventing Casino Poker, why didn’t he patent it? He notes that the laws regarding game patents changed shortly after he developed his poker variation.

Sklansky did trademark Casino Poker and trial it at the Vegas World convention. However, he stopped marketing the game because his girlfriend passed away around the same time.

A few years later, a fellow poker player asked Sklansky about Casino Poker. The player took the game to an Aruban casino owner, added a progressive jackpot, exposed just one card, and patented it. The casino owner later sold the rights to Caribbean Stud to Mikohn Gaming for $30 million.

A Second Source

Richard Marcus’ book Dirty Poker backs up David Sklansky’s claims to some degree. Although Marcus never mentions names, the world-famous casino cheat is likely alluding to Sklansky.

Marcus states that a “down-and-out poker player” with an alcohol problem developed “Tropical Poker.”  The player took their idea to a “high-profile” pro who’s known as the “author of poker strategy books.”

This famed author performed mathematical calculations to determine that Tropical Poker was indeed a viable table game.

The pair was supposed to split the profits from Tropical Poker 50/50. However, the struggling player jetted off to Aruba with the idea and left Sklansky in the dust. They allegedly got their karma when somebody named Rick Sayers stole the idea from them.

This account contradicts certain parts of Sklansky’s story, namely that he created Casino Poker out of thin air. But it does provide another source that states he was a key figure in the game’s development.

Another Person Claims to Have Invented Caribbean Stud

So far, the prime candidates who may have invented Caribbean Stud include David Sklansky and an anonymous, alcoholic poker player. However, these aren’t the only possibilities who might have conceived the game.

Dennis King, former owner of the King International Resort (Excelsior), also claims to have invented Caribbean Stud. He gets little credit, though, because he’s not as well-known worldwide as Sklansky. And he has no proof.

King may have been involved in the game’s adaptation once it reached Aruba. Furthermore, he could be the casino owner who sold Caribbean Stud’s rights to Mikohn Gaming.

Major Growth of Caribbean Stud Since Its Inception

You can see the difficulty in solving just who really developed this game. The only confirmed detail is that Caribbean Stud experienced a popularity surge at some point in the 1990s.

One huge factor behind the game’s growth is the cheap progressive jackpot feature. For just a $1 side bet, you can play for jackpots that sometimes reach $250,000 or more.

You need a royal flush to claim 100% of the jackpot. However, you can still win 10% of the progressive prize by getting a straight flush. These jackpots are reseeded at $10,000. They typically grow fast after being won due to the cheap side bet and large potential payout.

Unfortunately, Caribbean Stud jackpots are sucker bets. Casinos usually carry over a 26% house edge with these wagers.

The bonus payouts for high hands have also accelerated Caribbean Stud’s popularity. These prizes are available regardless of if you make the $1 side wager or not.

These payouts are commonly delivered as follows:

  • Royal flush = 100:1 payout (assuming you don’t place the side bet)
  • Straight flush = 50:1 (assuming you don’t place the side bet)
  • Four of a kind = 20:1
  • Full house = 7:1
  • Flush = 5:1
  • Straight = 4:1
  • Three of a kind = 3:1
  • Two pair = 2:1
  • One pair = 1:1

Thanks to its progressive jackpots and large hand bonuses, Caribbean Stud is one of the most popular casino games among jackpot or bonus hunters. It also draws plenty of gamblers who want to play an in-depth table game that involves strategy.

Conclusion

Developed in the 1980s, Caribbean Stud isn’t that old compared to other successful table games. Nevertheless, the location and inventor of the game are still a mystery.

Nothing is 100% confirmed regarding either of these aspects. However, the most-likely scenario is as follows:

  • David Sklansky came up with the rules that form Caribbean Stud’s foundation.
  • He never patented his Casino Poker invention.
  • A broke poker player chatted with Sklansky about Casino Poker.
  • The player modified the idea and took it to Aruba.
  • They worked with a resort owner (Dennis King?) to patent the game and spread it around.
  • Caribbean Stud eventually reached a much larger audience in the United States.

This scenario largely favors what Sklansky discussed on his forum. I have reason to believe him, considering that nobody else has come forth with a solid story.

Of course, Richard Marcus’ book paints a slightly different picture. Marcus writes that another poker player developed “Tropical Poker” and took it to Sklansky for help.

The player later reneged on a 50/50 profit-sharing deal and ran to Aruba with the concept. Here, they had the idea stolen from them.

The problem with Marcus’ angle, though, is that it’s based on heresy. He admits in Dirty Poker that the story comes from rumors swirling around poker rooms.

In summary, Sklansky is the only one who appears to have a real claim to inventing Caribbean Poker, or at least its precursor. Additionally, the game was likely taken to Aruba, where the finished version was first played.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...

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