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What Would You Do If...4 January 2005
The camera was rolling, and the first question came to me:
If you knew there was no possibility of being caught, would you cheat in a casino?
No, I replied, I would not cheat --- although to some extent, this depends on your definition of cheating. Some casinos regard counting cards at blackjack as cheating. I don't. Counting cards is merely skillful play.
With that, we were off and running for my portion of the taping for "Las Vegas: What Would You Do If... " a Travel Channel special that premieres Jan. 10. Further airings are scheduled Jan. 13 and 15 and Feb. 20 and 24.
The show grew out of an article Frank Scoblete did for Casino Player magazine in which he invited fellow gaming experts to explore knotty little problems in casino ethics. He's expanded the concept on this show, inviting writers including Henry Tamburin, Walter Thomason, John Brokopp and me, dice control expert Dom Loriggio, casino executives, gaming board officials and players to talk about what you would do if you found several large denomination chips on the floor, or if you discovered another player was cheating.
I can't speak for everyone on the show --- you'll have to tune in and see just what everyone has to say, and compare the viewpoints of players with casino industry professionals --- but I've encountered many of the situations described in the couple of dozen questions we were asked.
Take the one about finding the large denomination chips on the floor. This actually happened to me one night when I was playing blackjack at the Rio in Las Vegas. I'd been there for several hands, when a fellow who had left the table came back to complain to the dealer. He'd signed a marker for $500, he said, but he didn't get his money. The dealer thought he'd given the player a $500 chip, and called over the pit supervisor. The three of them hashed things out for a minute, but it was obvious player was going to get no satisfaction.
Finally, I said, "Is that your money?" and pointed under the table. I'd spotted a $500 chip. The player said, "Yes, thanks," picked it up and walked away.
I only had momentary pangs. I was convinced that this player had dropped the chip the first time he left the table, and that it belonged to him. Had he not shown up, though, I would have had no qualms about picking up the chip and keeping it, even though many casinos take the position that lost chips belong to them.
Similarly, what if you find credits on a slot machine that is obviously not being played? Do you take them, leave them alone, or do you alert an attendant? Again, many casinos take the position that abandoned money belongs to them. But I have had attendants point out machines with credit already on them. One day at Majestic Star in Gary, Ind., I was at the cashier's cage, redeeming a cash voucher, and a passing attendant said, "Why don't you start over there? That machine has credits on it." Good public relations, I think.
On other questions, some fine lines had to be drawn. Card counting by a player isn't cheating, just skillful play. But what about card counting by a dealer? If the dealer counts cards and shuffles the deck any time the count turns in favor of the players, is that cheating by the house?
To me, shuffling when the count favors players --- preferential shuffling, it's called --- clearly is cheating by the house and ought to be illegal. Why is counting on one side of the table just skillful play, while counting on the other side of the table is cheating? Because preferential shuffling affects all players at the table, including the vast majority who do not count cards. It turns blackjack into a non-random game, and the house has no business dealing a non-random game.
Blackjack includes stretches where the composition of the deck remaining to be dealt favors the house, and stretches where it favors the players. The balance between those stretches leaves the house with its 2 to 2.5 percent edge against average players, or a half-percent or so edge against players who know basic strategy. But when the dealer shuffles up any time the remaining cards favor the players, it means all players at the table always are playing in negative situations. The balance is gone.
Card counters can defend themselves against that --- if they see a shuffle coming whenever the count turns in their favor, they can change tables, or change casinos. Average players have no defense against such shenanigans --- they never know what hit 'em.
I've not seen the finished product of "Las Vegas: What Would You Do If..." But I know the questions were fascinating, and a top-notch panel was assembled for the discussion. Once it airs, e-mail me your thoughts on some of the topics covered, and we'll revisit them in future columns.
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.
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