The Blackjack Page Archive
The Other Side Speaks
What you'll find here is a phone interview that I did recently with a former card counting student of mine. Back in 1994-95, I used to teach classes "live and in person" (as opposed to dead and in person, I guess - poor joke) so I got to know a lot of smart people and have kept in touch with many of them. Well, out of the blue, this student contacted me by email recently to let me know that s/he had gone into the casino industry in 1997 and was recently promoted to General Manager of a large brick-and-mortar casino. This person (no, I'm not going to tell if it's a he or she, nor give out any other identifying details) is very smart, so I'm not at all surprised by the success, but s/he was very kind and attributed some of it to what I taught him or her almost 10 years ago.
That's always gratifying to hear, of course, but I told this person that if s/he really wanted to thank me, I had some questions I'd like answered. I realized that this was a fairly rare opportunity to get the "scoop" from my primary adversary, knowing that s/he wouldn't lie, nor hedge the answers to my questions. I've edited this a bit, not for substance or style, but for length and relevance, plus to keep this person's identity the huge secret it needs to be. Otherwise, this is what we discussed (I'm GM and the Casino Manager is CM):
GM: Great to hear from you after so many years. Congratulations on the new job!
CM: Thanks. I thought you might find my new position interesting.
GM: So, you're the head honcho of a casino- the boss - the Casino Manager.
CM: Yes, while my title is different than that, all of the shift bosses, pit bosses and so forth report to me. I, in turn, report to an officer of the company that owns the casino, but I'm the number-one person on site. It's all in my lap, you might say.
GM: And knowing how to count cards was helpful in getting you where you are today?
CM: Definitely. I know you won't be surprised, because you always said it, but it's amazing how few people in the industry understand even the basics of Blackjack, let alone know how to count cards. Most don't even know the Basic Strategy for their game and words like "variance" or "standard deviation" are unheard of, at least on the day-to-day operating levels.
GM: So, how is it that people become casino supervisors or "pit critters" as we (lovingly) call them here?
CM: "Pit Critters" - I'm laughing, but it's not far from the truth. In the company I was with prior to this one, most of the people who were promoted from being a dealer, say, got it because of who they know, not what they know. There were exceptions, of course - but this business runs on a certain amount of "juice" - this guy's a nephew of a major shareholder; that gal is the girlfriend of a senior supervisor and so on. Just let me add, it's not so much the case of the company I'm with now, but I saw a lot of that as I was climbing the ladder. I'm sure there are those who think I got my job that way, but I and the people who hired me know differently. Nonetheless, we have a few of them here, I can't deny that. But as long as I'm here, people are going to be promoted because of their skill and expertise.
GM: A noble goal. Good luck with that.
CM: Oh, I understand the realities of this business, but I can only try my best.
GM: True. Okay, on to more serious matters. Why do casinos hate card counters? You and I both know that most counters can't win because of bad games, under-capitalization, poor discipline and so forth, but the industry spends a fortune trying to keep a handful of truly talented counters out of their casinos and the losing counters get swept up in the pile.
CM: I think "hate" is a pretty strong word and it may surprise you to know that our first reaction to someone winning is not, "Ah, we have a counter here." Our - or at least, my - first reaction is: "Why is this person winning?" Not that we mind winners; it obviously happens all the time and is ultimately good for business, but our primary concern is whether or not the player is cheating. As you know, there are a lot of ways for players to cheat, with or without the help of the dealer and that's what we have to be on the lookout for. Because of the way this business is structured, a big win by a player sets off a wave of paranoia that acts like a ripple caused by a stone tossed in a lake; it keeps getting bigger and bigger. The floorperson who's responsible for that game - usually a dealer who's been promoted - first wonders if the dealer's doing something wrong, like not adding the cards correctly, over-paying winning hands and so on. The pit supervisor wonders if the floorperson is doing his or her job correctly and, if the win is big enough, the shift supervisor wonders if the pitboss is doing his or her job correctly. Anywhere along the line, somebody might be either cheating (extremely rare) or just screwing up (very common) and everyone goes into a "CYA" (cover your ass) mode.
GM: But aren't a lot of those situations covered by the surveillance people? I mean, everything's on tape and can be reviewed.
CM: Sure, and they sometimes do a good job in detecting "leaks" at the table. But honestly, they miss a lot more than they catch. One does not get PhDs to work in the surveillance room.
GM: So, when it comes to counting, the "eye-in-the-sky" is not a big factor?
CM: It really depends upon the casino. Of the several places where I worked, I've never - not once - met a surveillance person who can count the cards. Consequently, the paranoia over a big win is never quickly resolved and paranoia that's allowed to run free only grows. Nobody gets upset over a player losing, except maybe the player, so casino personnel above the dealer level would be just as happy if nobody won anything. The dealers like winners, of course, but winners are a problem for everyone else.
GM: But if everybody lost every time they played, the casinos would go out of business.
CM: Sure, but casino personnel believe there'll always be another sucker to take the seat of the loser that just busted out. Plus, they know that some people will win just through luck alone, but they'll eventually give it all back. It's the consistent winner that bothers the casinos.
GM: And card counters can be consistent winners.
CM: Counters and cheaters. I don't lump them together, but most casinos do.
GM: Well, that's nice. What's your policy toward counters?
CM: What I care about is how good they are and how big their bets are. If a counter is betting under $100 per hand, I really don't care what they do. Of course, the counter has to survive the scrutiny of the pit personnel and if they can do that, more power to them. They won't get any hassle from me. Like we both know, winners are good for the business and as long as they're doing it honestly, I'm fine with it. Most of the time, a counter on a red chip table (below $25 minimum bet) will never come to my attention.
GM: What about counters betting, say, $50-$400 per hand?
CM: We're evidently talking about a double deck game here; the 1-8 bet spread is a dead giveaway and if the player's doing well over several visits, s/he is going to get some attention.
GM: By "attention", do you mean get tossed out?
CM: Maybe. If it's a player who's in the casino on a fairly regular basis, it'll eventually be brought to my attention. I'll look at the tapes of his (or her) play and, as you well know, a counter can detect another counter in about 5 minutes. If s/he's a counter - a good counter, in my opinion - then his or her time in the casino will begin to run out.
GM: You're being very diplomatic with your words.
CM: I'm trying to be. I know how hard it is to actually win at counting cards, so I want to give this person the opportunity to lose his winnings back to us. But if that doesn't happen or at least look like it might happen, then I'll probably make a decision that this player is no longer welcome at the casino, especially if all s/he plays is Blackjack.
GM: So, if counters play other games, it might increase their longevity factor with you?
CM: Sure. If a counter plays Craps or Roulette or something like that, we may get our money back anyway. We're very patient in those situations.
GM: What would your attitude be toward a counter who played Video Poker?
CM: Honestly, it's probably the best thing a counter can do to keep the welcome mat out. We know the payouts on our Video Poker machines are under 100% for the most part, so in the long run we'll win. The beauty of Video Poker is that a player can run up huge numbers insofar as total bets are concerned, so it makes the slot department love them. And if the table games people don't like the player, but the slot department does, I may have to make a decision.
GM: And what would your decision be?
CM: I've only run into situations like this a few times, but I've always let the counter stay.
GM: That's a rather enlightened attitude, congratulations.
CM: No congratulations needed. Once I've identified a competent counter, I always have the option of barring him or her should the situation change. Ultimately, I'm going to protect the company's bankroll; it's just that I don't necessarily think the company is well-served by throwing out every card counter who walks in the door.
GM: Again, an enlightened attitude. Now for the big question: Will you toss me out if I come to your casino?
CM: You're toast.
GM:And so it goes. My thanks to "CM" for letting me publish this. Hopefully there will be more conversations in the future.
I'll see you here next time.
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