Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Best of John Grochowski
Casinos Take Measures Against Card Counters25 September 2001
A few years ago, I was playing a six-deck blackjack game in Las Vegas, and more than a full deck's worth of low cards came out in one hand. The table was full of 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s and 6s, as each of the five players at the table and the dealer took four or more cards before either standing or busting. The dealer busted with a six-card 22, and most of the table was happy.
An older gentleman with an Eastern European accent took note.
"All low cards," he said in an amazed tone. "Eight... nine... 10... 11... 12..."
The dealer chuckled as he called out to the pit boss, "Hey Mort, we have a card counter here."
Mort joined in the merriment, and the game continued.
Now, if the dealer and pit boss had thought the player was really a card counter, using the composition of the decks remaining to be played to gain an edge over the casino, the response might not have been so relaxed. Nevada casinos are permitted to ban players thought to be card counters. In fact, Nevada courts have long held that casinos are private clubs and may bar a person from playing or even setting foot in the casino for any reason.
Not so in Illinois. Each casino must submit a set of internal controls for each game to be approved by the Illinois Gaming Board. The board has never approved a set of blackjack controls that would permit the banning of card counters.
That doesn't mean the casinos are defenseless, as a reader found out recently at Hollywood Casino in Aurora. Casinos are permitted to take measures such as shuffling the cards early or moving the cut card up in the pack so the suspected counter sees fewer cards. They also may change minimum and maximum bets at a table. That's the route Hollywood chose, according to an e-mail I received from a player -- not the suspected counter -- who was at the table.
On the first floor of the little boat (Hollywood's City of Lights II), I was playing at a $10 minimum blackjack table. As you may know, the maximum bet is $1,000. There was another guy at the table who bought in for $300. After about 90 minutes, he had $2,200. I was betting $10 a hand and would go as high as $50. This other guy was betting at least $25 each hand, and would sometimes go as high as $500. He was obviously doing well.
Here's the strange part.
While we were playing, one of the pit bosses came over and changed the sign on the table to read that the max bet is now $100. That's not a typo. The max bet at the table was changed from $1,000 to $100. When they did that, I leaned over to the guy with the $2,200 and told him to leave since they were obviously targeting him. He didn't leave. I asked the pit guy why he was doing this, and he said he was following instructions he was given.
The guy with the $2,200 was upset and argued with the pit boss to no avail.
Probably because of his frustration, he started betting $100 on each hand, doubling down and splitting at every opportunity, and lost the entire $2,200 within 15 minutes. When he was down to his last few chips, they raised the table max back up to $1,000.
My first thought is that the big-betting player probably was not a card counter, and certainly was not one with enough discipline to be a long-term winner. A card counter gains an edge by raising bets when the count is favorable, and lowering bets when the count turns in the house's favor. By betting a flat $100 a hand, he was spotting the house the same edge it has against an average player. Then he made it worse by doubling down and splitting pairs aggressively. If he was doing so at every opportunity, as the reader says, then he was putting extra money at risk in situations that weren't in his favor.
With that lack of discipline, it's little wonder that he steamed through his $2,200.
The smartest move a player can make when the casino starts taking countermeasures is to leave. It's difficult enough to beat blackjack under the best of conditions, and it's impossible when the casino wants to be as tough as it can be.
Prospective card counters also must understand that spreading bets from $25 to $500 a hand -- a 20-1 ratio, is a big red flag to pit supervisors. Few supervisors really know for sure whether a player is counting cards, but a big bet spread is the main thing they look for. Any would-be counter who wants to be welcome in the casino needs to feel out the casino a bit and figure how large a spread it will tolerate before taking counter measures. Few will tolerate a spread as large as 20-1 for long.
As countermeasures go, the one Hollywood took was fairly benign. It affected only the targeted player, whereas shuffling early could take all players at the table out of an advantageous situation. Given that casinos are going to protect themselves from counters, this was about as fair a situation as we can expect.
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 email@example.com.
Best of John Grochowski