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Dirty Little Secrets

Things the casino don’t want you to know

Why do casinos split tournament prizes into half cash and half promo chips? Simple: they get to promote tournaments with large prizes when, in fact, they give away less than the advertised amount in cash.

There are secrets the casino bosses would rather that you not know. Here are a few of them.

“$50,000 First Place Blackjack Tournament Prize.”

That’s what it stated on a postcard I received from a local casino that was hosting a blackjack tournament. However, when you read the fine print, it said the $50,000 top prize “will be distributed in $25,000 cash and $25,000 in promotional chips.”

Sounds good—so what’s the secret? Well, the promotional chips (also known as “promo chips”) that the casinos give to the winners can’t be cashed out. They must be wagered, usually on any bet that pays even money (e.g., blackjack, pass line in craps, bank or player bet in baccarat, etc.). The vast majority of promo chips can be used only once, meaning that when you bet them, win or lose, the casino keeps the promotional chip. Therefore, the promo chips have an expected value of roughly half their face value, or in this case, $12,500.

casino

Why do casinos split tournament prizes into half cash and half promo chips? Simple: they get to promote tournaments with large prizes when, in fact, they give away less than the advertised amount in cash.

“I’m Sorry Sir, But You Can’t Play Blackjack.”

 

The card counter makes a big score in a casino, without any heat. He comes back to the same casino a few months later, and after playing only a few hands, he’s told he can’t play blackjack anymore. What’s going on here?

The secret is that if a casino suspects a player is a card counter, it may replay the tape of his playing session after he leaves to determine his skill level. If the analysis of his play confirms he was card counting, the next time he shows up to play they’ll nail him. That’s why card counters nowadays have to be very cognizant not only of the floor supervisors who are watching the game, but also of the personnel in the casino’s surveillance department that are taping the game. (There is an interesting book about how to beat casino surveillance written by a former casino surveillance supervisor and card counter, Vinny DeCarlo. For details, go to www.bjinsider.com/cs).

“These Shufflers Don’t Change the Odds.”

 

That’s what I overheard a pit boss telling a high roller when he inquired about a new automatic shuffler that the casino was using (the dealer was placing the discards into the shuffler after each round, rather than into a discard tray). The shuffler was a continuous shuffling machine (known as a CSM).

What the pit boss was saying was almost correct. It’s true that CSMs don’t increase the house edge. (Actually, the house edge decreases slightly with a CSM due to the absence of the “cut card effect”—but that’s a story for another time.) However, what the pit boss didn’t tell the high roller is that the casino can deal about 20% more hands per hour using a CSM, compared to a conventional automatic shuffler. Unless you are card counting, the casino will have the edge on every hand, and when they deal more hands per hour, your theoretical hourly loss will also increase by 20%. Therefore, CSMs negatively impact all players and should be avoided.

“We Offer Single-Deck Blackjack Games”

 

You’ll see billboards, marquees, and newsprint advertisements screaming about a casino’s newly implemented single-deck blackjack games. The reason that casinos like to promote single-deck games is that historically, they offer players better odds than multiple-deck games, and therefore, management hopes that the single-deck games will attract more players.

But here’s the secret: on most single-deck games nowadays, a winning blackjack hand is paid at 6-5 or 7-5 rather than at the traditional 3-2. A 6-5 payoff increases the house edge in a single-deck game by 1.39%, and a 7-5 payoff increases it by 0.46%. Some casinos are also paying 6-5 on double and six-deck games (yikes!). Before you buy in at any single-deck blackjack game, ask the dealer what a blackjack hand pays. If she says “6-5,” say “thank you” and walk away from the table.

“You Can’t Lose When You Take the Even Money.”

 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard blackjack dealers and floor supervisors tell that to players. Even though what they say is correct, here’s the secret they don’t reveal.

When you get a blackjack and the dealer shows an ace, the casino will gladly pay you even money on your wager before the dealer checks his hole card to see if he has a blackjack. But here’s the catch. Over time, you will win roughly 4% more money if you decline the even-money proposition when it’s offered to you. The reason? More often than not, the dealer will not have a blackjack and you will get paid 3-2 for your natural, rather than even money. Sure, sometimes he’ll have the ten and you’ll wish you had taken even money. But in the long run, this is a sucker bet that will cost you money and make the casino more money (which is why they go out of their way to offer players this option).

“Double-Deck Game”

 

You glance at the blackjack table and see a dealer with two decks of cards in her hand, pitching them to players. So, you take a seat at what appears to be a double-deck game. Right? Not always.

In their paranoia over card counters, some casinos implement a fake double-deck game. Here’s how this secret works. The game is actually a six or eight-deck game. After the cards are shuffled, the dealer picks off two decks and deals the cards with them. What appears to be a double-deck game is actually not a double-deck game. If you see this scam, voice your complaint to the floor supervisor (loudly so other players will hear you), and then walk away.

“Single-Player Video Blackjack Game.”

 

You’ll often find a video blackjack game as one of the options on video poker or slot machines. The betting limits are usually much lower than the regular table game, which makes video blackjack games attractive to low-rollers.

How can the casino afford to offer the game? Here’s the secret. If you check the playing rules, you’ll see that a blackjack often pays 2 for 1. So what’s the big deal, you ask? A 2 for 1 payoff means that, when you win, you get back a total of $2 for every $1 you wager. In other words, a 2 for 1 payoff is the same as a 1 to 1 payoff. Paying only even money on a blackjack boosts the house edge by over 2.3%. Thanks, but no thanks.

“The House Edge On Spanish 21 Is the Same As It Is For Blackjack.”

 

This is another piece of “advice” I overheard a casino supervisor tell a player who was contemplating playing Spanish 21. What the supervisor was saying was almost right; now here’s the secret that he forgot to mention. Spanish 21 playing rules are much different from the traditional blackjack playing rules; therefore, the basic playing strategy is different. If you sit down and play Spanish 21 using the traditional basic strategy for standard blackjack, you will be hammered. If you want to play Spanish 21, you should learn the basic playing strategy for that particular game.

Casinos have other secrets and in a future column, I’ll reveal more of them.

Tamburin’s Tip Of the Month

 

Here’s a secret to confuse your opponents in a blackjack tournament on the all-important last hand. If you’re betting ahead of your opponents, instead of placing one or more chips of the same color (i.e., denomination) in your betting circle, bet a “rainbow” of different-colored chips. For example, if you want to bet $1,000, don’t put one $1,000 chip in your betting spot. Instead, make it more difficult for your opponents to figure out how much you’ve bet by placing a stack of different-colored (denomination) chips in your betting spot (that totals $1,000).

This last-hand betting technique is legal and it often results in your opponents over or under-betting because they couldn’t estimate how much you had bet (which could give you the edge to winning the round). Just remember that in blackjack tournaments, you should stack the chips that you want to bet outside of your betting spot first, then slide the entire stack into the betting circle.

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Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com), Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com), and host of www.smartgaming.com. For a FREE three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/freetrial.com. To receive his free Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.

Dirty Little Secrets of Casino.

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