Picture this. Five blackjack card counting advocates addressing an audience of casino industry executives in Las Vegas on the topic of “The Intelligent Player: Friend or Foe”? The panelist included Stanford Wong, Arnold Snyder, Olaf Vancura, Anthony Curtis (moderator) and yours truly. For those that don’t know these gentlemen let me elaborate.
Wong played blackjack professionally for many years and his books and monthly newsletter are used as ‘bibles” amongst the card counting community. He also hosts the popular web site frequented by card counters at www.BJ21.com. Snyder is an advocate for card counters and publishes the widely read Blackjack Forum that addresses issues important to card counters. He has also written and published several books for blackjack card counters and he hosts the popular web site www.RGE21.com. Curtis began his gambling career in Las Vegas as a blackjack card counter, tournament player, and subsequently publisher of a very successful newsletter for visitors to Las Vegas (Las Vegas Advisor). He also hosts the popular web site www.lasvegasadvisor.com and recently began publishing books including the best-selling Knock Out Blackjack co-authored by panelist Vancura.
Of course the concern that the casino industry has with card counters is that they win too much money and are hurt their bottom line. Some of the ways that the casino industry has resorted to in the past to eliminate, or at the minimum frustrate, blackjack card counters include, premature shuffling, shallow penetration, decreasing the table minimum/maximum bets, using 6 or 8 decks of cards, distributing photos of card counters to casinos in the infamous Griffin Book, player analysis software, employing counter catchers, and last but not least barring players from playing.
You would think that with this arsenal of weapons the casinos would be satisfied. But at this conference several vendors were displaying even more weapons to “thwart card counters and shuffle trackers”. One was an automatic continuous random card shuffler and delivery system that was being promoted to “eliminating card counting”. Essentially the shuffler immediately recycles cards from one hand back to the shoe where the shuffled cards are randomly selected for the next hand thus eliminating a card counters edge. Biometrica Systems displayed their facial recognition software that “will identify the bad guys before they take your money”. According to their literature the software contains a database of “known card sharps, card counters, and other casino miscreants”. Using the casino surveillance cameras, a photo of a suspected card counter can be compared to their database of photos to determine if the player is a known card counter. Another product on display was Digital 21, which uses video displays of cards on the blackjack table instead of real cards. A virtual shoe shuffles and deals the “video” cards. Casino’s can program one or more decks of cards including the penetration. They could also at their option reshuffle the cards after every round thus eliminating a counters edge. Digital 21 also maintains the history of all hands played and provides an electronic summary to pit bosses. Not a very conducive playing environment for card counters.
Then there was the display of the “SmartShoe 21”. This dandy dealing shoe keeps track of every card that is dealt and computes the tables expectation based on the remaining cards to be dealt. The information is displayed to surveillance computers including which tables have a house advantage and which have a player advantage. The latter “instantly alerts surveillance personnel when game conditions favor counters”.
Should the casinos go to such lengths to eliminate card counters? Here are a few of the points that we made to the industry to convince them that their “counter paranoia” is costing them rather than saving them money in the long run.
The casino game of blackjack has survived for nearly 40 years since card counting was first introduced as a playing strategy. Blackjack’s tremendous popularity over the years as the number one table game stems from the fact that most players know that blackjack gives them the best odds in the casino. However, the vast majority of blackjack players do not posses the skills to beat the game in the long run hence the casino wins a lot of money from these players. Even players who learn how to count often fail to win serious money because they either overbet or they can’t handle the pressure of a wildly fluctuating bankroll.
Actions against counters will hurt the casino profits in the long run because they alienate the average blackjack player. The cost of expensive equipment and specialized personal engaged in catching counters (part of the “counter paranoia”) often cost more than counters could possibly win. Most counters hold professional jobs that pay a lot more per hour than what they could earn as a “professional card counter”. In fact most successful counters are happy to supplement their income playing blackjack rather than trying to earn a living playing the game. And most importantly screwing around with the game may kill ‘the goose that lays the golden eggs” for the industry.
Stanford Wong made probability the best point at the conference. Casinos continue to build first class hotels with gourmet restaurants to attract wealthy casino players. Wealthy individuals tend to be intelligent individuals that are more likely to be a card counter. If the industry really wanted to eliminate counters, then they should instead build more modest casinos to attract a lower class of player.
Did we get our point across to the industry folks that attended the conference? I would hope so because as Arnold Snyder succinctly put it “if the card counting days are numbered, then the four decade old casino boom will grind to a halt”.