The Cheat Sheet
5 Clues That You May Be Getting Cheated
by Basil Nestor
Remember that the dealer does not necessarily know what he is doing. Even if he is not intentionally stealing from you, there is always a chance that he may be running the game incorrectly.
I recently loaded a blackjack game onto my Android phone. I like to practice on days when I’m not playing live, just to keep my strategies sharp. This particular blackjack application had gotten a lot of high ratings from users, though some had posted bad reviews. For example, one player said, “The dealer wins nine out of ten times if you double down or split. The dealer also takes five hits and gets 21.”
Another review said, “Fun, but the dealer gets way way WAY too many blackjacks (naturals) or hands over 17. Random, my left butt cheek.”
And a UK writer complained, “Crappy game. Lost nine out of ten hands. Bollocks.”
But is it really bollocks? What are the actual odds of losing nine out of ten blackjack hands?
The answer is, not very high—only about 2%. But 2% is not the same as zero. Zero means never, but 2%… well, it happens. Sometimes it happens right away. And after only 200 trials, the probability of seeing nine losers out of ten is about 98%.
In other words, if you play for a long time, it’s an inevitable event. Thus, you cannot say a game is crooked simply because you lose nine out of ten hands. Similarly, the dealer sometimes gets a lot of naturals. And taking five hits to reach 21 is not a statistical impossibility.
So when can you suspect a game is crooked?
The Reality Of Regulations
First, consider the conditions under which the game is offered. If it’s a brick-and-mortar casino, is the venue unregulated? To enter this casino, do you walk up a secret staircase and get buzzed in after providing a password? Do large muscular men pat you down for weapons before you’re allowed to play? If you answer “yes” to the any of the above questions, then it’s possible you may be cheated.
On the other hand, if you play in a public casino in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, in another U.S. municipality, or in a country that has a well-regulated casino industry (such as the United Kingdom or Monaco), then the chances of you being cheated are slim. The same goes for licensed Internet casinos in reputable jurisdictions.
Regulated casinos have little incentive to swindle their customers. The casinos have a built-in advantage against most players, so they would rather follow the rules, earn a steady income, and not kill the golden goose by breaking laws.
Also, from a practical standpoint, a conspiracy between dealers, pit bosses and upper management is simply too complicated to exist in the modern world of regulations and surveillance. Indeed, the biggest stack of chips on the table is usually the dealer’s bank, so most cheating involves dealers swindling a casino in collusion with players, or players scamming the games.
The chances of you being cheated in a regular casino are extremely low. But as I mentioned before, a low chance does not mean zero chance. It can happen.
Clues That You ARE Being Cheated
Recently, I was consulting for an Internet casino. After a long day of testing the blackjack software, I called one of the owners of the company and told him flatly, “Your game is fixed.”
He was shocked and offended. In a shaky and high-pitched voice he asked, “What makes you say that?”
I replied, “Every time I split cards, the additional cards dealt to each hand are identical. This is a multiple-deck game, so the first time it happened was well within the bounds of statistical chance. But identical cards after twenty consecutive splits? No. If I can accurately predict a supposedly random event again and again, that’s a cheat.”
There was a very long pause, and then the casino owner’s voice dropped to his normal octave range.
“Okay. I’ll get that corrected.”
Was it a deliberate attempt to cheat? I don’t think so. It was just a mistake in the software, but it was still cheating.
Super-unlikely events such as these indicate something is amiss. My personal criterion is to suspect any series of events that are absolutely predictable, or any event that has a probability greater than 1 in 1 million—for example, 23 consecutive blackjack losses. The probability of that happening is about 1 in 1.6 million. Keep in mind that you have to look for this extreme variance because something seemingly unusual, such as 17 consecutive losses, is actually fairly common. It happens about 1 in 40,000 hands, which is roughly equal to a royal flush in video poker. And those come around pretty frequently.
Even 1 in 1 million is not an indication of cheating; it’s just a criterion to cause greater scrutiny.
Motive is another big factor. I mentioned earlier that regulated casinos don’t have a motive to cheat. But if you’re playing in a private game, then anyone might be doing anything and you wouldn’t necessarily know it. This is why you should only play for small stakes in private venues.
Another criterion is the degree to which the dealer is following the rules. Remember that the dealer does not necessarily know what he is doing. Even if he is not intentionally stealing from you, there is always a chance that he may be running the game incorrectly.
It happens all the time. You will see dealers resolve hands incorrectly, pay you incorrectly, or otherwise make errors to your disadvantage. So watch carefully and speak up when something is amiss. If the dealer disagrees, firmly request a review by a floor person. Any reasonable request cannot be denied.
Now let’s recap. You may wind up being cheated if:
1. The venue is unregulated.
2. The dealer and/or other players have an incentive to swindle you.
3. Weird things happen in the game, coincidences that are far beyond the bounds of regular probability, at least in the realm beyond 1 in 1 million
4. The dealer is inept.
5. The casino or the dealers are not following the standard rules of the game.
The bottom line is that you can easily catch bad cheating, but good cheating is hard to see. The best way to protect yourself is by using the same mechanisms that casinos and regulators use to prevent cheating. Be sure the game is played by industry standards, and watch out for strange stuff.
Basil Nestor is author of The Smarter Bet Guide to Poker, The Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack, and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? Visit SmarterBet.com and drop him a line.
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