Do card counters really hurt the bottom line for the casino? This has been a topic of debate for some time now. There are some who will say no that they should be left alone. On the other hand, I don’t think these people who believe this to be true have ever really witnessed a true professional that possesses a large bankroll at work as opposed to the players that watched the over glorified movie 21, went home and read a book and called themselves card counters. These types of players should be welcome to play in the casino any time. And we all have seen them. Small bankroll, unpolished skills (poor basic strategy and poor money management) with no idea why they go bust in such a short period. I just love the look that says “What? That wasn’t supposed to happen”.
Recently when I read about a court case in which a professional card counter claims he makes around $6,000.00 a year playing Blackjack in various casinos in the Midwest, it prompted me to ask the question, would this player be considered a threat? Keep in mind this is a combined total in a 2 state area where there are a dozen or more casinos. In this case and this is just my opinion, on a double deck game let the player play 2 hands then shuffle. The player gets the message and leaves, as is usually the case. Let me stress this once again, this is the way a player of this caliber would be dealt with where I am employed. I know all casinos differ in the way they handle advantage play, so I am not saying who is right or wrong. Which ever way your casino chooses to deal with the situation should be considered the correct way.
On the other hand, anybody that has been in this business for a number of years has had to deal with the professional that possesses a large bankroll and the skills that can tend to amaze even the most seasoned Surveillance personal. Any casino that uses Griffin, Biometrica or any other service knows the names and the faces. The players that frequently pop up in one state and a couple days later are spotted 600 miles away. These are the players that don’t have the typical job. This is their job. Also I would venture to think that they don’t even consider themselves gamblers. To them this is work and they don’t plan on losing. So if gone undetected and left alone to play as they like this type of player can and usually will have a dramatic impact on the casino’s bottom line. Also this type of player not only poses a threat as far as counting cards but some of them are very skilled at location play as well as shuffle tracking. Any Surveillance personal with a number of years experience has been witness to a player that was winning big but the betting pattern didn’t follow the count. Only to find out too late he or she happened to be a member of some well known team and had been tracking your shuffle all that time. I hate that feeling! I should have known! Yes they look different now, but I still should have known!
Should Surveillance personal know how to count cards? My answer to that question would be absolutely. Of course this is probably the old school mentality coming out in me as it usually does. It can also get me in trouble occasionally but I could probably write a whole other column on that. When it comes to this job that I have had the privilege to do since 1992, card counting would have to be my first passion above everything that we are required to do day in and day out. I love teaching it as much as I enjoy doing it. Learning and teaching the standard Hi-Lo count is not that difficult. I know from experience that you will only be as good as you want to be. Anybody can learn and memorize the card values but then what? Practice, practice, practice!! This I can not stress enough. In order to detect advantage play you must be able to recognize it. Why did that player split tens? How come he didn’t split the eights? That was a bad play, what an idiot! Has anybody besides me ever heard these types of statements muttered in a Surveillance room? These are just some of the red flags to look for. The professional Blackjack player knows basic strategy as well as you or me, probably better. Basic strategy not only dictates the correct play, but more important yet, the correct time to make the wrong play. So the bottom line here is you must learn basic strategy first before you even consider learning the card counting process.
Should pit personal know how to count? Well yes, that would be nice in the perfect casino world but we all know this is not the case. There are some pit personal that are skilled in this area, but with today’s casino environment it has become more and more clear that most of their time is spent with player ratings and customer service. Customer service being number one as this business has become more competitive then I have ever seen it. What I feel on this subject is that pit personal should be trained on the tells of advantage play. I wish I had a dollar each time the surveillance room has been called with a request to evaluate a player that was up a couple grand. Here’s the call; “Hello surveillance this is Billy-Bob in pit 2, I have a guy up about $1500 on table number 3 and was hoping you could check him out” Surveillance now says; “Sure Billy-Bob, but did you happen to notice that table 3 has a continuous shuffle machine there?” Billy-Bob then says “I’m sorry surveillance I should have realized that.” Of course Billy-Bob is a made up name, and in his defense he is so tied up in ratings and customer service that this can be an honest mistake. As a surveillance person I would just like to hear things such as; this player seems to be varying his bets a lot, and I notice he tends to watch me each time I’m around the phone. The pit should know when to back off of a player and let Surveillance conduct a through evaluation. Surveillance can then determine if or when heat should be applied, or if any counter measures should be taken.
Now this brings me to another topic. Card counting software. I know there are many types available, and I will be honest here, I have only tried one and that was probably about ten years ago. For me at that time I found out it did not work for myself or the department when using it in a live environment. It would work fine on the play back of a player that just took 25-50K off of us. I just felt I had a better chance of detecting the advantage play live before the player took the large sum verses waiting to check it on play back. It sure did print out a very impressive report though. I am sure these programs have evolved over the years, and I am certainly no expert on these systems. I also know a good percentage of Surveillance departments use them. I would even be very interested in trying the latest one, or seeing a demonstration of how it does in a live environment. I do know that those impressive reports and analysis they print out impress the people at the executive level, and after all, we do need to show productivity to the people that sign our checks. And if it looks nice, well then it must be good. I am all for new technology in the Surveillance world. For an example, just look at what digital has done for us. After using it for some time now I don’t even want to look at a VHS tape again. So I am not a complete dinosaur, I just don’t want to see the software programs out there become an excuse for Surveillance personal to not learn a skill that in my opinion should be a requirement.
So study your basic strategy, learn the simple high-low count, and set yourself some personal goals. Count down a couple shoes each day you work. If you’re at home watching the game or even the movie 21, keep a deck of cards on the coffee table. When a commercial comes on count the deck down. When you can get this to 30 seconds or less you are well on your way to mastering this skill. But, how good do you want to be? Keep in mind; this is what the professional does each and every day. They should be considered the worthy opponent and there should be a certain amount of respect for them. Anybody that has learned card counting and then went out and tried to do it in a live casino environment has usually found out just how difficult this skill really is to master. It is a whole different challenge doing it live on a table verses a quiet Surveillance room. Remember, someone can teach you how but ultimately you will be the one that determines how great you become. You may even find out that you enjoy it. It worked for me and some of my co-workers. It is just 3 words, Practice, Practice, and Practice!!