Everyone talks about card counters and their ability to beat casino blackjack, but few casino operations have the ability to accurately confirm a customer is counting cards on a level where he or she would be considered a long-term threat to the casino. The following are several examples of how poorly our industry is equipped to make this crucial decision.
During a recent presentation of my Table Game Tactics seminar, I asked participants, who represented various casino operations throughout the West and Midwest, if any of their properties had “backed” a customer off blackjack for card counting during the past calendar year.
Practically all the hands went up. I then asked how many used a card counter-catcher software program, such as Blackjack Survey, Blood Hound, or Protec 21. Only a small number of hands went up. This is a standard response since many operations are too small for the big dollar outlay for this software.
Next, I asked how many of the properties who backed off players at blackjack had someone at the casino, either in floor operations or in surveillance, who would be considered at a “semi-professional” card counting level, i.e., if he or she possessed the complete toolbox of skills required to beat the game.
These abilities are,
- The perfect knowledge of basic strategy
- The ability to convert from running count to true count
- The immediate recall of the top 18 deviations from basic strategy based on the true count
- The necessary bet spread need to gain at least a 1 percent average advantage over the offered games
- The specific table bankroll requirements for the blackjack game in question
In other words, a semi-professional is someone who is equipped with all the tools to beat the game, but because they lack a bankroll (or the nerve), they don’t count cards for a living (professionally).
Only a couple of hands went up. This is also a normal response since it takes many hours of training and practice to reach this level.
What about charting, I asked? Does anyone chart the betting levels of the suspected card counter and compare those levels to the true count?
A few more hands went up, but by now I’ve only seen about half the participants represented by one of the three methods for identifying card counters.
What do the remaining participants’ casino operations use to confirm a player is a professional card counter? Do they use “the force”? Perhaps a card counter catcher “8-Ball” or an Ouija board? How do they know they are not backing off some lucky player who doesn’t know plus from minus? More About Blackjack
How Your Typical Casino Tries to Catch Card Counters
Several years ago I was conducting a presentation for surveillance operators and managers. When the topic of card counting and backing off players was tabled, I asked the group what the criteria were for deciding when to back off a customer for card counting.
The group consensus was (1) if the player was varying his bets and (2) if the player was winning.
When I explained it was a lot more complicated than that, one attendee stated that his surveillance department intended to err on the side of the casino, and if there was any doubt, they would back the player off the game.
It was his organization’s belief that if a blackjack player was winning and varying his bet size, it was better to eject the customer instead of taking the chance of allowing a counter to play.
My comment was different than what he had expected: If his organization wanted to err on the side of the casino, it should allow the customer to continue play until they were certain that he was a professional-level card counter. The look of confusion on his face shouldn’t have surprised me.
Most people in our industry believe that card counters are constantly ravishing the blackjack games, and when it comes to counting cards, “skeptical belief” is not that far from “confirmed fact.” Based on the fact that there are less than 100 professional-level card counters in North America, the chances of a “false positive” are much greater to occur than an “accurate guess.”
In the 1980s I was employed as a pit manager at Bally’s Las Vegas. I had survived one change of management and wasn’t faring well through the second change. The new management team was less than well-versed in the mathematics of casino games and established a new procedure in which anyone who was betting a substantial amount of money and was winning at blackjack would be looking to play through all future shoes that were cut in half.
When I explained this was a bad policy and compared this procedure to the Salem Witch Trials, I was looked upon with a jaundice eye. My reason for that comment: If the casino cut a shoe in half on a person who was counting cards, he would get up from the table and leave the casino; however, if the same “witch hunting” procedure was used on a desirable blackjack customer, there was a strong chance he, too, would get up from the table and leave as well.
Even good, non-card counting players understand that the change in deck penetration is done to discourage a person’s play. When the shoe is cut in half, and the player leaves the game, the uneducated casino executive says to himself, “I chased off a professional card counter.”
Without analyzing the blackjack play first, the executive probably “scared” away a valuable customer. For my astute comments on this situation, I was from then on labeled “not a team player.”
How Can a Casino Executive be Sure a Person is Actually Counting?
Before backing anyone off a game, changing deck penetration, or limiting the player’s bet spread, one needs a reasonable tool to determine that the suspected person is a professional-level card counter.
The executive or surveillance professional conducting the evaluation needs to use some type of analytical tool that will accurately determine the possibility the suspected player is in fact a card counter and also provide the evaluator with a printout or hard copy of these results.
This hard copy can be used to back up the evaluation and later can serve as proof that the suspect was in fact counting cards. How many times has your department taken action against a player for counting cards, only to have the legitimacy of the “back off” questioned by a host or casino marketing afterward? In addition, this evaluation tool can serve as evidence of why a player wasn’t backed off even though the customer is a big winner.
Note: In earlier articles, I have established that novice and semi-professional players do not pose a long-term threat to the casino’s bankroll through the ability to count cards. It is my supported opinion that novice and semi-professional card counters present no long-term threat to the profitability of the game of blackjack; they can largely be ignored. In most cases, these amateur counters contribute the same amount of revenue to the casino as would an average or basic strategy player.
Blackjack Card Counting Detection Software
Some casinos use software to more effectively catch card counters. One is a blackjack software package that analyzes a blackjack player’s skill and betting level.
Blackjack Survey Voice, developed by Oliver Schubert, is available through his company, Casino Software and Services. This same product was at one time sold through Shuffle Master Entertainment, known by the name of Bloodhound.
This system accomplishes a variety of game analysis and protection tasks, but is used primarily to detect if a player is counting cards.
Information regarding the person’s actual play is entered into the program manually or through a voice recognition program. After enough hands are entered into the program, it is queried by the analyst.
The program will indicate to what degree the information of the betting and hand decision patterns indicate the suspected player is counting cards. It’s important when using any type of card counter verification method that several decks or shoes are analyzed in order to calculate the best possible decision outcome.
Primary drawbacks to the software are in its inability to take into consideration other influence to the game and the hefty price tag that comes with the software.
Another counting analytical tool is a much lower-tech, less expensive system that accomplishes the same goal just as accurately. This is known as “charting.” A number of surveillance departments already use some form of charting a customer’s plays as a means to better understand the person’s play characteristics.
Charting is most effective as a card counter catch tool when the evaluator uses it to determine the breadth of the suspect’s betting spread, and the suspect’s betting correlation with the true count of the cards. In order to win money counting cards, the counter must wager significantly more money when he has the advantage and as little as possible when the casino has the advantage.
If the charted observations of a suspected player indicate that he is using a large enough bet spread and increasing their wagers to the larger bet level when he has a mathematical advantage of 90 percent or greater, then the evaluator has enough information to safely rule that the suspected player is counting cards.
As noted when using a software package to evaluate a suspected card counting play, it’s prudent to watch no less than four decks or shoe before making the final decision about the player. For more information on charting, please see my Casino Rankings magazine article, in the March 2008 issue titled, “How to Catch the Elusive North American Card Counter.”
How Casinos Should Handle Suspected Card Counters
The following are points that need to be followed to ensure the casino executive or surveillance professional is making the correct analysis regarding a suspected blackjack player’s long-term ability to be a card counting threat to the casino’s bankroll.
• Don’t automatically assume that a winning blackjack player is counting cards. There’s a greater chance he’s a desirable player who is running lucky. Assuming a winning person is a card counter will also cloud one’s ability to look for other more costly problems, such as advantage play techniques and cheating. • It’s a must for a successful card counter to have an effective bet spread, especially in the six-deck and eight-deck games (don’t forget the 6:5 single decks). Without the necessary bet spread range, the player cannot gain an advantage counting cards. • Never cut the shoe in half on a player to look for a reaction. You need to analyze the play before taking any action. If you cut the shoe in half on a desirable blackjack customer, he could get upset and never play at your property again. • Don’t rely on a decision that is made by one of your floor executives or surveillance operator who is not at least on a semi-professional card counting level. I’ve known a number of executives who claim to know card counting inside and out, but when asked, can’t answer simple questions such as the mechanics of true count conversion and hand strategy deviations. Take the Ouija board out of the equation. • Whether your organization uses a counter catcher software package or elects to chart the play, always look at several shoes or decks before making a decision about a player. I prefer looking at several examples in which the count is mostly minus throughout the shoe, as well as several examples in which the count is mostly plus. Taking your time to compare the extremes will help eliminate the chance of getting “false positives.” • Do not take action against a suspected player until you are 100 percent sure the player is counting cards. If you wish to err on the side of the casino, take your time and make sure you correctly identify a customer as a long-term card-counting threat before disrupting their play.
Shortcut for Detecting Card Counters
A very close friend of mine and fellow gaming consultant, Bob Del Rossi, passed along an interesting story about a situation that occurred at the Desert Inn Hotel/Casino back in the 1990s. Del Rossi started in gaming in Atlantic City in surveillance, and because of his desire to master card counting, he advanced to become one of the members of Harrah’s “card counting” team. During that time, Atlantic City casinos used some of their more knowledgeable employees to detect and confirm whether a player was counting cards. In addition, Bob engaged in card counting on a more personal level after moving to Las Vegas in the late ‘80s. In other words, when it comes to counting cards, Bob “knows his stuff.”
During the time period of this story, Bob worked as a pit manager on grave shift in the main pit at the old “DI” hotel. On this occasion, Bob had just been introduced to his new shift manager and new member of the DI team, Tom. He and Tom discussed a number of issues involving the shift and DI standard procedures, but like a good floor supervisor, Bob always positioned himself so that he could talk and watch the games at the same time. Tom thanked Bob for his time, shook his hand and as he walked way, Bob asked Tom for a favor. During their short conversation, Bob had noticed some characteristics about a specific blackjack customer he had been casually watching. “Could you please call surveillance and let them know there is a player sitting last position on BJ #2 who shows a strong indication he might be counting cards.” Tom agreed, but then hesitated. He turned back to Bob and said, “Don’t tell me you were counting down that six deck shoe while we were talking shop?”
Bob told Tom there was no way that he could manage to keep a running count in his head and still carry on a conversation with Tom; however, Bob had noticed certain indicators that led him to suspect the player was a serious, if not professional-level card counter. A call to surveillance was placed, and 30 minutes later surveillance had confirmed that the player was, in fact, a serious card counter. From that point on, Tom thought that Bob had to be one of the sharpest floor supervisors in gaming. Bob was golden.
How did Bob snap to the card counter without counting down the shoe, or watching the game for a lengthy period of time? Bob used a common sense technique known as “counting short cuts.” He noticed that the player in question appeared to exhibit a correlation between his wager size and the strategy he used to play his hands. Based on Bob’s experience in card counting, he recognized a pattern that only a person counting cards would use, and based on this pattern recognition, Bob felt the player was worthy of a more intensified investigation by surveillance.
A Suspected Card Counter Must Have an Adequate Bet Spread
One of the biggest misconceptions involving the threat of card counting is the degree a counter must spread his wagering to achieve a reasonable advantage over the game of blackjack. When sitting at a table and playing through most of the shoe, the card counter must use a sufficient minimum-to-maximum bet spread. If the suspected player does not meet this bet spread requirement, he or she will not be able to win enough money to make his or her time at the blackjack table worthwhile. The professional-level card counter—the only counter that is a true threat to the casino—does not count cards for fun.
The question is: What size of minimum bet spread does the professional-level card counter need to use in order to make his time at the table beneficial? Following is a chart I use in my “Finer Points of Card Counting” session of my Table Games Tactics seminar (Table 1).
Note: Single deck betting units is based on a 3:2 game. In a single deck game where BJs are paid 6:5 the spreads are 1 to 14 units (0.8 percent), and 1 to 16 units (1 percent).
The professional-level card counter strives for an average player advantage of 0.8 percent as a minimum level, with 1 percent or greater as their desired average player advantage. If you suspect a player is counting on a six-deck game with a shuffle point of 1.5 decks (75 percent penetration), he must use a minimum spread of 1 to 12 units (example: $25 minimum, $300 upper). If the minimum size of spread is not utilized, or the player does not spread the upper level on a majority of the player advantageous situations (true count of > +1), the counter will not achieve a large enough gain to make his time at the table worthwhile.
When observing suspected count play, first ask yourself whether or not the suspected counter has an adequate bet spread to win an acceptable amount of money from the casino. If the answer is “yes,” then you can do what Bob did to analyze the suspected counter’s play: Use the card counter detection short cuts. Remember, a bet spread is not the sole indictor that a person is counting cards. A player wagering within the parameters of the listed spreads, but wagering based on outcomes such as progressive betting systems is not an indication of card counting. The professional-level card counter must spread to a higher wager only when composition of the remaining cards in the shoe or deck give him a mathematical advantage over the house and bet as little as possible when the game is neutral or the house has the advantage.
Casinos Look For a Correlation Between the Size of the Bet and Hand Playing Strategy
Let’s assume for the moment that an observed player is strongly suspected of counting cards. If he is wagering with many units or few units of his bet spread, what does that indicate? Is the count plus (high in tens/aces), or is it minus (high in small cards)? If the person is wagering on the higher end of the bet spread, then this indicates the count must be plus. If the person is wagering near the bet spread minimum, then this indicates the count is neutral or minus. The reason the shortcut system is effective is through the observed correlation between the size of wager indicating the count and the strategy decisions the player uses to deviate from basic strategy. If after a period of observation the player is noted making deviations from basic strategy that are in direct correlation with the size of the bet, the floor supervisor or surveillance operator has evidence that the person is likely counting. Note: This method is used for detecting a card counter, not for confirmation. Accurate confirmation is conducted through a different set of observed factors.
In general, hand strategies fall into three categories: (1) hit and stand decisions, (2) double down and hand splitting decisions and (3) whether or not to take insurance against a dealer’s ace up card. In approximately four out of every five hands, the professional card counter will use basic strategy to play his hand. However, one hand out of five, the counter will deviate from basic strategy based on the composition of the cards remaining in the deck or shoe. Following are hand strategies one would look for when observing situations of minimum or upper wagering levels.
When the Suspected Player is Wagering Toward the Upper Level of Their Bet Spread
A higher wager indicates the deck is plus, and when the deck is plus, it contains a higher composition of 10 value cards and aces. The player who is counting cards will exhibit the following strategy changes:
1) Hit and Stand in a more “passive” manner. He will stand on hands such as 16 v. T, 16 v. 9, 15 v. T, and possibly 12 v. 2 or 3.
2) Double down and split more “aggressively.” The player will double on hands such as 10 v. T, 10 v. A, 9 v. 2, and 9 v. 7. The player may also split 10 value cards; TT v. 5, and TT v. 6.
3) The player will insure any hand total, including 12s through 16s.
In situations where surrender is offered, the higher unit spreads will also be subject to more aggressive surrender options including 16 v. A, and 15 v. 9 or T.
Regarding hand splitting; many executives question the wisdom of splitting 10 value cards in any situation; however, splitting TT v. 5 & 6 falls under the top 18 hand deviations a professional card counter will regularly use. Don’t turn your back on a suspected player just because he was observed splitting TT when wagering a large bet. Also, don’t rule out a suspected player because he didn’t split 10s. Some professional-level counters are reluctant to split 10 value cards because they feel it attracts too much attention. In most cases, the professional structures his entire play in order to attract the least attention possible.
The most important deviation for the counter, which I refer to as the “million dollar indicator,” is the taking of insurance. Most “everyday” players do not take insurance unless they are offered “even money” when holding a two-card blackjack on a 3:2 game. In order to maximize his strategy deviation return, the card counter has to take insurance on his hand anytime the count reaches “+3 true count” or higher (hi/lo count system). Watch for hands where the dealer offers an ace up-card. If you see at least a 90 percent correlation between a larger bet and the player taking insurance on any hand, you’re probably watching a card counter in action (or an advantage player getting the dealer’s hole-card).
When the Suspected Player is Wagering the Minimum Level of Their Bet Spread
A lower or minimum wager indicated the deck is minus or is composed of a larger number of lower-value cards such as twos through sixes. Lower wagering will correspond with following strategy changes:
1) The player will be more “aggressive” in hitting busting hands. He will hit on hands such as 16 v. T, 16 v. 9, 15 v. T, and possibly 12 v. 4, 5, or 6. This includes hitting some surrender hands such as 88 v. A, and 17 v. A.
2) The player will double down and split more “passively.” The player will hit on hands such as 10 v. 9, and 11 v. A.
3) The player will not insure any hand total; the most apparent being the refusal of taking “even money” on 3:2 blackjack hands.
It’s important that the executive using the “shortcut” method focuses on the contrast between key hand strategy plays during both higher end wagers and minimum wagers. For example: standing on 16 v. T and 15 v. T with a larger wager, and then hitting the same hands with a minimum wager. Another common example would be doubling down on 11 v. A and 10 v. T while wagering a larger bet, and hitting both hands when wagering near minimum. Of course, insurance is “the” key play and needs to receive serious scrutiny.
Casinos Then Pass the Information Along to a Person Who Can Confirm the Suspect is Counting
In the late 1980s, while working for Bally’s Las Vegas, I was involved in training floor supervisors to watch our newly implemented double deck blackjack games. The three areas I stress for protecting the double deck games from card counting attack were (1) understanding basic strategy, (2) knowing the minimum bet spread requirements for the double deck game dealt at Bally’s and (3) utilizing the detection short cuts as described previously. I always emphasized the value of detection. One has to detect the presence of a card counter before the suspected counter can be counted down and confirmed. Using the shortcuts also helps side step time wasted due to “false positives.” False positives occur when the casino focuses its efforts on the wrong player. For example, when a player is winning a large sum of money; however, he does not have an adequate bet spread, and/or does not show a correlation to the strategy of play dictated by the shortcuts.
One situation that occurred at Bally’s is a fine example of how using the shortcuts works to detect possible professional-level card counters. While working as a pit manager in a double deck pit, I was approached by one of my floor supervisors. The following is the information she passed along to me:
• The player in question was wagering from $25 to $125. Bally’s double deck game allowed the professional-level counter a reasonable gain if he bet from one to five units.
• The player had been seen taking insurance with a 14 v. A while wagering $125.
• The floor supervisor noted that on a number of hands, the player stood on 15s and 16s against a T while wagering $100 to $125. At other times, the player was observed hitting those same hands while wagering $25.
• The player split TT v. 6 while wagering $125.
After listening to her explanation of these observations, I contacted surveillance and tipped them to the player and the noted play/wager observation. Less than 30 minutes later, the shift manager arrived in our pit and proceeded to back the player off the game for counting cards.
A blackjack player suspected of counting cards must have an adequate bet spread, based on the number of decks and game rules, in which to overcome the basic mathematical advantage of the game and gain a worthwhile return for his time on the table. Don’t waste time and resources observing and counting down players who do not utilize an adequate bet spread. Just because they are winning doesn’t mean they are counting cards. Note: Don’t let your focus on card counting cloud your mind to other advantage play and cheating possibilities. I can think of numerous situations where floor operations and surveillance were unsuccessfully focused on card counting while the player was actually employing another advantage play technique.
If you observe a player spreading an adequate bet spread, look for a correlation between the size of his bet and the hand decision strategy he employs. Remember to watch for deviations from basic strategy in areas of hitting/standing mostly with 15s and 16s versus the dealer’s 10 value card, double down on 9s and 10s on borderline plays and splitting two 10 value cards against a dealer’s up-card of five and six. The most important player decision to look for is insurance. Watch for a player taking insurance with any hand value when he is wagering a higher limit bet.
Using this shortcut method is only good for detecting card counters. Once a player has been detected using the shortcut method, the information must be passed along to someone capable of confirming the count play. Confirmation needs to be accomplished by someone with access to counter catcher software, or has at the very least, a semi-professional knowledge of how to count cards.
Is Card Counting a Real Problem for Casinos?
Every year the casino industry in North America loses millions of dollars to card counting. However, it’s not a group of college students who are doing it. It’s not a congregation of blackjack-playing Christians. Nor is it a collection of computer nerds using concealed blackjack computers. It’s actually an assortment of individuals who work inside the casino industry. They come in a number of shapes, sizes, genders, and backgrounds, and are totally overlooked by game protection professionals tasked with safeguarding the casino’s blackjack games. You may know them by other names such as table games managers, casino managers, casino operation vice presidents, and a smattering of general managers as well. It happens to be almost anyone who has influence regarding the establishment of game procedures that dictate the dealing process of the game of blackjack. Why? Because it isn’t the professional-level card counter who is costing the casino money; it’s the casino executive who is hamstringing blackjack’s profit potential. A number of procedures in use today—procedures that have been established to deter losses from card counters—cost the casino industry millions every year. These procedures might prevent loss to a handful of card counters, but they limit revenue production to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of “square” or regular casino blackjack customers.
How Many Good Card Counters Are Out There?
Over the past 50 years, we casino executives have perpetuated the belief that the overall threat to the casino industry is card counting in blackjack. Why not? Almost every book you pick up on the game of blackjack goes into detail about the advantages of keeping track of the deal cards and using that information to gain an advantage over the casino. Hollywood has released a number of movies centered on educated blackjack players (the “good” guys) attacking the casinos (the “bad” guys) and walking away winning millions of dollars. Millions of people are exposed to the technique of card counting. It’s in magazines, on the Internet, in books, and on TV. A search on Bing for the term “card counting” revealed more than 11.4 million hits. When I queried “learn to invest,” I got 17.9 million hits. Based on this information, it could be assumed that there are as many people counting cards in blackjack as there are in making investments, and there might just be. However, like the novice investor, the novice card counter is likely to make mistakes and end up losing money to his or her venture. In addition, when comparing investing to card counting, you invest in a friendly marketplace with a potential upside of incremental annual gains of 5 to 20 percent. In card counting, you deal in a limited hostile market where your best case scenario is scraping out 1 to 1.5 percent returns on each investment. An overwhelming majority of persons who make an effort to learn card counting lose money. Novice card counters lose money at the same rate as the average blackjack player. The more sophisticated “semi” professional counter plays breakeven at best. The professional-level counter, the player that knows how to count flawlessly, has mastered all the technique’s nuances and has access to a bankroll that allows him or her to place higher-limit wagers during advantageous situations, is the only type of card counter who can achieve a long-term advantage over the game of blackjack. However, the professional card counter’s presence in the casino is very limited. After discussion with several advantage players, I have been informed that the number of professional-level card counters in North America, players who make their living purely from counting cards or shuffle tracking, is probably less than 100. So based on that fact, it is only a very minute group of people in North America (about one in 2 million) who have progressed to a level where they can beat the casino through counting cards. However, casino executives find that this threat needs to be mitigated through a series of game protection measures that, for the most part, reduce blackjack game decisions. Why are we targeting the very few at the expense of the masses?
Are We Losing Money Protecting Against a Minimal Threat?
The answer is yes. We focus on the imagined threat of 100 counters and literally ignore the profit potential from the other 200 million possible casino players. Card counting game protection procedures are designed to reduce the card counters’ advantageous situations. At the same time, these opportunity minimizations reduce the number of total game decisions. Reducing game decisions per hour reduces revenue potential per hour. For example, a midsized North American casino has the potential to increase revenue by $100,000 per year if they can gain an average of one additional round of play on every open blackjack game per hour. If a midsize casino can increase the number of rounds dealt from 70 per hour to 71 per hour, the operation has the ability to produce an additional $100k in blackjack wins per year. In the same instance, a reduction of rounds dealt per hour cost the casino the same amount of money. For example, a majority of the casinos incorporate a discard holder “plug” of the unused cards in the multiple deck shoe games. They do this regardless of whether the cards are manually or machine shuffled. What’s the cost? On average, it takes 8 seconds to complete the plug. If you shuffle four times an hour, it costs you about 0.6 rounds an hour. If you employ all multiple deck blackjack games using the same plugging procedure, it is costing you $60,000 annually. And that is if your dealers aren’t wasting more time looking around the casino and taking short breaks. Following is a list of costs in rounds per hour of different procedures used in blackjack to mitigate the threat of card counting or shuffle tracking.
The Reduction of Table Decisions
• Diminished deck penetration (shoe and pitch games). On a manually shuffled game, the reduction in deck penetration of a half deck (26 cards) cost about six rounds per hour. On machine-shuffled games, about two rounds per hour. It’s a common belief in our industry that reducing the percent of deck penetration will increase profitability. This is absolutely not true. Limiting penetration lessens revenue. Increasing penetration increases the number of decisions and increases revenue potential. This is the biggest revenue killer in the industry. For regulatory people, this is the biggest tax potential killer as well. On the opposite side of the coin, an increase in deck penetration will increase revenue. • The use of “No Mid-Game Entry.” Utilizing the policy of no mid-game entry after the first hand is dealt on a multiple deck shoe game costs roughly three rounds per hour across the board. This is based on 5 percent of your blackjack customers looking for a game in which to play. What no mid-game entry does is limit a customer’s ability for spontaneous play, i.e., you’re instructing them when to gamble. On double and single-deck games, the effect is not as bad; however, you can subtract at least one round per hour if you use this on hand-pitched games only. This becomes more expensive if you also restrict the number of hands played or changed during the deck. Your best course of action is to throw the signs away and use table minimum limits to keep “ploppy” blackjack players from jumping in on games played by higher limit customers. • Useless pre-shuffle antics (plugging the discards). This was discussed previously, but it still needs to be mentioned on this list. “Plugging” is a technique used to discourage zone shuffle tracking. First, a limited number of professional-level players use shuffle tracking to attack the casino (if any). Second, “plugging” is only a mild deterrence. This technique is especially costly in machine-shuffled games. In MD shuffled games, the optimal transfer time from when the multiple deck shoe is broken, to when the first card is burnt from the shoe, is about 30 seconds maximum. Plugging could increase the transfer time to a full 45 seconds. That translates to approximately one round lost per hour. Eliminate the plug and increase your revenue potential.
Discouraging Customer Participation
• Cutting the shoe in half to gauge the player’s reaction. This is a countermeasure that is used when an uneducated casino executive wants to view a suspected player’s reaction to severely reduced deck penetration. If the player’s reaction is to quit playing blackjack and leave, the uneducated executive claims that he or she has chased a card counter off the table. More than likely, the executive has chased a good customer away who does not like the decrease in hands played per shoe. The cost for using this tactic can’t accurately be estimated; however, the cost of losing a good, higher-limit player will cost the casino thousands of dollars over the next several years. That doesn’t include the cost of diminished deck penetration on the other customers at the table who are collateral damage of this inappropriate gaming decision. Note: In New Jersey, casinos are not allowed to back off skilled players. In this situation, reducing deck penetration should only be used if the player in question has been confirmed as a professional-level card counter. • Flat betting a specific customer. Here’s another method that is used in an attempt to discourage a suspected card counter. Although flat betting a blackjack player does not affect other players at the table, it does change the atmosphere at the game. I strongly recommend not using either of these two countermeasures (unless you’re in New Jersey). If the player has been identified as a professional-level card counter, ask them not to play. If you are not certain if the customer has a long-term advantage over the casino, allow them to play unmolested until you can confirm their professional playing level.
The number of professional-level card counters in North America is very few. In most cases, casinos lose money using hand decision killing procedures that are targeted to a minute sector of blackjack players. These procedures result in reduced game production and cost the casino industry millions of dollars each year. Card counter countermeasures, such as poor deck penetration and no mid-game entry are the primary culprits. Unnecessary pre-shuffling antics, as well as uneducated use of play discouraging countermeasures, contribute greatly to this loss as well. The wise casino executive understands the gains created through increasing hand decisions in blackjack. By foregoing former costly and irrelevant game protection procedures, the educated executive will experience a substantial increase in blackjack revenue over the long-term.