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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Reader's take, well taken

23 January 2015

Dear Mark: I know you must have been asked this question many times but I haven't seen, or more likely missed, your comments on this subject. I should say although I read your column with interest each week, I am not myself a gambler. My question is this. How do the gambling industry and individual casinos justify banning card counters? I obviously am not talking about the use of any teamwork or mechanical or electronic manipulation, just someone with a good memory using their own brain. It just seems as though the gambling industry is saying we only want losers playing in our casinos, thank you very much. That's my take anyway. Comments? Ron S.

A card counter, Ron, theoretically has an inherent advantage of between .5 and 1.5 percent against the house. They accomplish this by tracking the changing imbalance of big to little cards in a diminishing deck. When the remaining cards, those being 10s and aces, favor the player, they wager more money. When they favor the dealer (2-6), they would bet less.

The gaming industry believes they have every right to back off a proficient player. They reckon, using your brain for counting should be banned. As you stated, Ron, the casino would prefer you to check your brain at the front door.

Personally, I don’t see it that way. I figure that the minuscule amounts lost to good card counters is trivial compared to the money made from the multitudes of poor players and bad counters. This is not to say that when I played a pit bull that I too didn’t run a suspected counter off the game. Just doing my job.

That said, all gaming jurisdictions do not treat card counters the same. Let’s compare two: Atlantic City and Nevada, where I worked.

Plain and simple, in Nevada, laws allow casinos to operate as private clubs and they can politely back you off the game for using your intellect.

If you’re going to play a cat and mouse game to gain a plus 1 percent edge, expect a pit boss to come and “amusingly” say, “Ron, we appreciate your patronage but we’re going to ask you to stop playing blackjack here. Feel free to play any of the other table games we offer.” “Amusingly” in that they know full well that the all other games offered have a built-in house edge, whereas card counting doesn’t.

Atlantic City, by law, cannot run you off. On September 15, 1982, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court ruled that a player could not be discriminated against because of his playing skills (counting). Nonetheless, many obstacles still hinder card counters on the Jersey shore. Casinos there have an assortment of countermeasures to offset a counter’s advantage. They lawfully impede skilled blackjack players by using up to eight-deck shoes and shuffle machines, shuffle at will to thwart bet variance, and instruct the dealers to move the cut card near the top of the shoe on suspected counters.

As an alternative to card counting, playing perfect basic strategy is a legal system against the house that will reduce the casino advantage to under 0.5 percent. By using your noggin and employing basic strategy, you get to avoid all the cat-and-mouse games you have to play against the casino.

The bottom line, Ron, is that casinos are not going to be too keen with any blackjack player who knows how to beat the house. They much prefer players who wing it, who use no strategies at all.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Today is Halloween, which would be every card counter's favorite holiday if you could get away with wearing a mask. Oh, what a joy it would be to hear a floor man muttering into a phone, 'I think Batman is counting.'” – Barry Meadow
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.