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Best of Mark Pilarski

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A backroom tour

21 March 2005

Dear Mark,
On your Hooked on Winning tapes, you said you worked in the soft and hard count rooms of a casino. What are they and what’s the difference?
Tom G.

Hard = coins. Soft = paper. There’s the distinction, Tom.

When I worked hard count, I removed and collected coin drop buckets from slot machines, transported them to a hard count room, machine-counted the change from the drop buckets, wrapped the coins, then prepared them for either bank drops or a quick trip back to the gaming floor.

As a soft count team member, I worked in a separate, tightly secured room with paper or "soft" currency from the table games. We all know what happens to the gobbled-up coins we play on a slot machine — insert coins, yank handle, insert more coins — so allow me, Tom, to take you on a step-by-step tour from the moment you pull out your Ben Franklin at a blackjack table to when it becomes gaming revenue.

You sit down at a blackjack table, pull out a crispy $100 bill, and get chips in exchange. The dealer then stuffs the $100 bill into a slotted box located underneath the table. Say bye-bye to Ben, Tom.

At the end of the shift, a drop team (which usually includes the drop team leader and one or two security guards) exchanges the drop box containing Tom’s $100 bill for an empty drop box to be used by the next shift. Tom’s box is then taken to the "soft count room" and is locked up until a count team (as a rule different from the drop team) comes in, coffee in hand, in the morning.

After the java fix and the morning gossip briefing, the soft count team empties the drop box that contains Tom’s $100 bill in the center of the count table. One member of the team then sorts all the currency by denomination. The stacks of currency are then counted and recorded and documented by a second count team member — call her the recorder. The count is then recorded on the count sheet and then a third count team member counts the currency and compares the result to the figures on the soft count sheet. If the two amounts correspond, the amount from that drop box and table is recorded on a table summary sheet. The money is then turned over to the casino’s cage, and the table games summary sheet is given to the accounting department where it is examined, then entered into the system as gaming revenue.

Dear Mark,
A pit boss brought eight new decks to fill the shoe on a blackjack table. Before the dealer shuffled them, she spread each deck across the table to see that each card was there. Then she laid all the cards face down on the table and start swishing them around, sort of like we use to do when we were kids and played the game of fish. Because this was the first time I have ever seen this happen, I am curious as to the reasoning behind doing it. Jenny T.

Card shuffling procedure can differ from casino to casino when new cards enter the game. With shoe games, which use multiple decks of cards (4, 6 or 8 decks), each casino uses some combination of mixing techniques to achieve a high degree of randomization. What you described in your question is called “washing,” a card-shuffling technique in which the dealer spreads the cards face down on the table and then proceeds to mix them up, flat-handed, in a washing-like action, before performing a standard shuffle. Card washing, Jenny, is intended to remove any residual sequencing of cards that new decks of cards have.

In the years that I pitched cardboard, no casino that I worked in had us wash the cards when dealing blackjack. Depending on the casino, we spread 'em for inspection, then shuffled each deck between three and seven times. An exception was when I dealt baccarat in one joint, where we always washed the cards, old or new, between shuffles. Also, Jenny, you’ll find in many poker rooms the cards are washed after every hand before they are given a more conventional shuffling.

Gambling quote of the week: “Never mix cards and whiskey unless you were weaned on Irish poteen.” Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (1936)

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.