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Casinos should make games better12 June 2007
There's no doubt that if a casino puts a beatable game on the floor, somebody will beat it.
Whether it involves counting cards at blackjack, applying expert strategy to the best video poker pay tables, practicing dice control at craps or simply recognizing a casino mistake that yields an unusual opportunity, there is always some one with the skill and knowledge to take advantage.
The question is, does that mean casinos should never offer beatable games?
As a player, my answer is "of course not." The large majority of players can't beat the games, but it's important for them to know that there are beatable games. Some of the casinos' best customers are those who know blackjack or video poker can be beaten, even though they don't have the necessary skill themselves.
My friend and colleague Dr. Henry Tamburin, one of the movers behind the Speed Count card counting system and publisher of the Blackjack Insider online newsletter, is on the same wavelength. In his column in the May issue of Midwest Gaming and Travel magazine, Tamburin answers questions he's often asked about blackjack. One is from a casino employee who laments declining business at the blackjack tables, and asks for advice on how to reverse the trend.
Tamburin's advice: Make the games better. Get rid of the continuous shufflers that make the game unbeatable for card counters and speed up play so much they put a hurt on ordinary players' bankrolls. Forget the 6-5 payoffs on two-card 21s that have become an unfortunate trend on the Las Vegas Strip, and pay the full 3-2. Let blackjack be a beatable game. After all, few players can beat it.
It's a discussion near and dear to my heart, so I had Tamburin as a guest on my WCKG-FM radio show to talk about it.
"Casinos have been asking me this for years," he said. "I always tell them that if they want more blackjack players, to make their games better. No one has ever taken my advice."
I have little doubt that a casino that did take Tamburin's advice, and did its job marketing the game so that players knew they were getting a superior game, would boost its blackjack play. It remains an open question as to whether boosting blackjack play is something casinos truly want. Certainly, blackjack's popularity is a bit of a dilemma for casinos with limited space, such as those in Illinois that are restricted by law to 1,200 gaming positions. How much space do you want to give to a game that can be beaten, when you can pack 'em in with games that are invulnerable.
Still, the idea that there is a beatable game in the casino is important. Make blackjack unbeatable, and you do more than just raise the house edge on the game. You also erase from players' heads the idea that there's at least one game that gives them a fair chance, one game at which a smart player can come out a winner. Does a higher house edge bring more profit if it attracts fewer players?
A bit of history: Blackjack was the second most popular game in casinos, trailing craps, until the early 1960s. That's when Edward Thorpe wrote Beat the Dealer, the revolutionary book that brought the word to the masses that blackjack could be beaten with a system of counting cards. Even among those who read the book, few actually learned to count cards. And among those who did try to learn to count, fewer still had the bankroll or discipline necessary to turn the odds in favor of the player.
But the word was out that blackjack could be beaten, and blackjack quickly deposed craps as the most popular casino game. Players were happy, because they knew it was possible to get an edge. Casinos were happy, because growing numbers of players were attracted by this beatable game, and nearly all of them wound up making a contribution to the bottom line.
The casino industry has changed a great deal since the early 1960s. Slot machines, a minor adjunct to the real gambling being done at the tables at the time of the publication of Beat the Dealer, have become the industry's profit center. Space devoted to table games has been shrinking, and much of what's left has been taken up by games that can't be beaten, such as Caribbean Stud Poker and Let It Ride.
In the short term, tougher games in markets with high demand and limited gaming positions may well bring increased profits for casino operators. But in the long run, the idea that players can win is not only desirable, it's necessary for the health of the casino industry.
For a struggling casino in a competitive market, there are far worse ideas than to make your blackjack rules the best in town, your video poker pay tables the highest around, then trumpet your largesse in all your advertising. The idea that games are beatable has led to increased play before. That most players can't really beat them is the icing on the cake.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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