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Max Rubin Invites Card Counters to Play

21 December 2004

Some would say that Max Rubin was the maverick, even the radical in the panel discussion "Game Protection: Advantage Players" at the recent Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. I'd call him a voice of reason.

How does Rubin deal with blackjack card counters in his role of training pit personnel at the Barona Valley Ranch Casino in Lakeside, Calif., near San Diego?

"We don't just let them play," Rubin told the standing-room-only conference. "We invite them in."

Some of you will know Rubin through is book, Comp City: A Guide to Free Casino Vacations ($17.95, Huntington Press), a favorite of mine in which he guides the smart player through ways to maximize casino comps. He knows blackjack from both sides of the table, knows what advantage play can do, what it can't - and how most players who try to count cards can't really do it successfully. Each year, Rubin hosts a card counters' gala, inviting known counters to play at Barona.

"We just ask one thing," Rubin said. "We ask them to evaluate us. Tell us how they're treated. What we're doing right, what we're doing wrong."

That probably wasn't a message most of the casino executives and table games managers in the jam-packed room were ready to hear. Even panel moderator Douglas Florence, casino segment manager for VERINT-Loronix Video Solutions and a former Mirage surveillance director, who had been urging restraint in dealing with advantage players, said, "That's probably not something the Mirage is ready to do."

What Rubin knows, and what too few casino execs are ready to hear, is that most card counters can't really hurt the casinos, and trying too hard to stop them from squeezing out a profit can be bad for business. Yes, a big-money card-counting team can do some damage, and operators have to be alert for them. But the average Joe who can squeeze a small edge by spreading his wagers from $5 a hand in bad counts to $50 a hand when the count favors the player - why worry about him or her? It can cost the casino more time and money to get rid of that player than the player can possibly win.

Even if a low-limit counter is good enough, disciplined enough and bankrolled enough to squeeze a $10 or $15 an hour profit, chasing the player can be costly. It's bad for image, and the casino could be chasing a profitable player in the process. What if a recreational counter is accompanied by a slot-player spouse? Fellow gambling writer Frank Scoblete tells of a casino that barred a counter who was winning a few bucks, and in the process lost a dollar slot player who was losing hundreds.

Tightening the rules on blackjack and moving the cut card, decreasing the number of cards dealt between shuffles and limiting the information counters use to decide the size of their bets, can have the opposite of the intended effect.

Problem is, increasing the number of shuffles decreases the number of hands per hour, lowering the amount of money casinos win from players who don't count cards. Besides, said Rubin, average players like to play games with the good rules. Toughen the rules, and you chase away business.

"We have the loosest blackjack rules," Rubin said, "and we also have a drop that's higher than any casino in Las Vegas."

The drop is basically the amount of money with which players buy in at the tables. There's another figure, hold percentage, that table games directors hold near and dear. That statistic measures the percentage of the drop that casinos win from players.

Rubin asked who is better off, the casino with a drop of $1 million that holds 10 percent, or the one with a drop of $500,000 that holds 15 percent. The first casino wins $100,000 from players, and the second wins only $75,000 - yet there are casino executives who measure success or failure by the hold percentage.

"One supposedly sophisticated casino manager told me that since he's gone to 6-5 blackjack, he's holding 22, 23, 24 percent," Rubin said. "I asked him, 'How's the drop?' He said, 'That's gone down, but the hold is great.'"

Big mistake. That great hold is costing his casino money by chasing off players looking for a better deal.

The rest of the panel was far from unreasonable. All cautioned against old-style harassment of card counters. Florence said he found all he had to do to discourage a card counter was limit him to flat bets - bets of the same size on each hand - and take away his comps. Ted Whiting, current director of surveillance for the Mirage concurred. And Tony Cabot, a partner in the law firm of Lionel Sawyer and Collins, detailed the legal problems the old ways of dealing with counters can cause - charges of illegal imprisonment, assault and battery, multi-million-dollar lawsuits, heavy fines from gaming authorities and even the risk of shut-down periods.

Rubin, though, was alone is saying simply to let them play.

"The last thing you want to do is run off the would-be counters" - players who are actually profitable for the casino, Rubin told the audience. "Don't sweat the money."

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski