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Former UNLV star scores with new baccarat game

Sometimes late at night Bobby Florence will stop by the main gaming floor at the Gold Coast where people are wagering money on a new baccarat game called Rabbit’s Play. He’ll get a little twinkle in his eye, as he did when he scored 35 points in one half against Saint Mary’s 40 years ago.

Florence was the offensive catalyst of Jerry Tarkanian’s first UNLV team, though Ricky Sobers was pretty good, too.

Tark had inherited Florence and they didn’t always agree on shot selection. But it didn’t preclude the Iowa schoolboy star from averaging 21.7 points over his three years, and shooting 56 percent from the field, and being drafted by both the Lakers and Indiana Pacers of the old ABA.

Those 43 points Florence put on the Gaels and another 43-point fusillade against Guy Lewis and Houston two weeks later in 1973 remain the fifth-highest individual scoring games in UNLV history.

Bobby Florence is 63 now, and he invents casino table games, which is a lot more than J.R. Rider ever invented, if you don’t count falsified English papers. Florence came up with the idea for Rabbit’s Play; thanks to the folks at Boyd Gaming, he has two tables at the Gold Coast.

On Monday morning, one was filled with baccarat players making side bets. The other was unoccupied but that was only because it was 10:30 a.m. on the Monday after the National Finals Rodeo, and most of the cowboys were headed back to Montana and Wyoming and Stephenville, Texas.

Just wait until the next junket from the Far East arrives, Florence said. People from the Far East love baccarat and they love Rabbit’s Play, because the rabbit has symbolic meaning in Asian culture. Around here, you can also rub its feet for good luck, which never hurts when one is sitting down at a baccarat table.

Florence was a blackjack dealer for 30 years when he suffered a major stroke in 2006. He’s mostly recovered now and he looks fit, like he still could go for 18 points against Saint Mary’s were the Gaels to come out in a soft man-to-man.

It might seem strange that a former basketball star would have a knack for creating gambling games but it comes naturally to Florence. He also has developed three variations of blackjack, one of which, Royal 20s, you still can play at the Gold Coast.

Florence said casinos usually try out new table games on a trial basis but that Rabbit’s Play is proving more popular with tourists than a matchup 2-3 zone defense at Syracuse.

“If they like the game, they pay you a lease,” Florence said. “What happens is they put (the game) in on a trial basis, normally 90 days. But it’s been so well received they say they’re going to keep it.”

Rabbit’s Play is a baccarat side bet game that pays both on the player’s hand and on the banker’s hand. Players may bet on whether the player, the banker, or both will receive a pair on their first two cards, or three of a kind during their hand. An unsuited three of a kind pays 50 to 1; three of the same suit pays 500 to 1.

You don’t have to be the guy who ghostwrote J.R. Rider’s term paper to know that hitting a suited three of a kind in Rabbit’s Play will cause people to yell “Yee-haw!” even if they aren’t here for the rodeo.

Although I’m sure the house takes its percentage, too.

“Three of a kind, that’s the main hook,” Florence says.

Too bad they didn’t have three of a kind when he was playing. You only got two points for a long basket during Florence’s day.

When he got cut by the Lakers and then by the Pacers, Florence returned to Las Vegas to become a 21 dealer. At that time, when factoring in tips and longevity, it paid better than sitting next to Tom Abernethy on the end of the Los Angeles bench.

“I always knew when I left school I wanted to get into the gaming industry,” said Florence, who also has been involved with the Clark County School District in a stay-in-school program — he wrote and recorded a rap song about hitting the books — among other projects.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of things in my lifetime. But I’ve always been attracted to the gaming aspect. I thought I could come up with something different, a variation of the game to make it more exciting.

“Baccarat is such a big revenue booster for Las Vegas and Nevada that is was only natural for me to gravitate to that area.”

He said gaming and other people can reach him by email (dmgamming@cox.net) or sometimes late at night by the Rabbit’s Play tables on the main gaming floor at the Gold Coast.

He’ll be the tall one, probably the only one who looks like he could still sink a jump shot, unless Antoine Walker is gambling again.

You can ask Bobby Florence about the virtue of baccarat side bets, or staying in school and getting a degree when a lot of his teammates did not, or the night he scored 35 points against Saint Mary’s in one half.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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