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Continuous Shufflers Cost You Money

17 April 2000

They are starting to pop up all over. Continuous shuffling machines that keep several decks in play at all times, with no need for the dealer to shuffle the cards. Most of the machines in use today use either a four- or five-deck shoe, and the games are dealt face-up, like other shoe games. Casinos are interested in them because they believe these machines cannot be beaten by traditional card counting or shuffle tracking techniques, but that's not enough in and of itself to get the casinos to shell out the thousands of dollars these machines cost. What makes these machines worthwhile to the casinos is the fact that they can put more money in the bank for the casinos. That means that games dealt with these machines take more money out of your pocket than games dealt in the traditional fashion. If the general gambling public takes a shine to these machines, then more games that use them will start to appear in lieu of the games we are used to seeing today. The sad result is an 18% increase in hourly loss rates.

One wonders if the casinos are killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Blackjack was an afterthought in casinos before Edward Thorp's groundbreaking work, Beat The Dealer. The real money in casinos was made at the craps tables back in those days, while blackjack and slot machines were relegated to second and third class status, intended to provide some gambling activity for the girlfriends and wives of the real high rollers that were found at the craps tables.

Things have changed since then. Slot machines have become the centerpiece of the casinos and blackjack has found a place as the pre-eminent table game. The blackjack tables make more money than all of the other table games combined, day in and day out, even when the high rolling baccarat tables are included. The primary reason for this is the fact that the average gambler knows that blackjack is the one game in the casino that can be beaten with skilled play.

Shuffle Master, one of the manufacturers of continuous shufflers, has offered a $100,000 challenge to advantage players. If a player can show the machines can be beaten by legal card counting or shuffle tracking techniques, the machine's manufacturer will give that player a cool 100 grand. If this is indeed the case, then blackjack played at continuous shuffle tables will lose the mystique and the luster that it has gained over the last 38 years and it will become a candidate for the dustbin.

Of course, the corporate minds that run casinos don't see things in quite the same way. What they are seeing is the potential for profit that lies in these machines. That potential boils down to the increased speed of the game and that is bad for the average player. The more hands you play, the more money you lose. How much more? Let's take a look at figures published by Stanford Wong in his book Professional Blackjack for some answers.

Wong conducted a study of six-deck shoe games several years ago in order to determine the average speed of a game. He discovered that, on average, one player and the dealer take 12 seconds to play out a single hand of blackjack in a shoe game. Each additional player adds another 7 seconds to the length of a single round. The average shuffle for a six-decker takes 100 seconds. Wong was able to conclude that one player at a six-decker gets an average of 248 rounds per hour (RPH), while two players get 158 RPH, three players get 116, four get 91, five get 76, six get 64 and 7 players get 56. If you take out the shuffle time, the RPH changes dramatically. One player gets 300 RPH, two get 189, three get 138, four get 109, five get 90, six players get 77 and seven players get 67.

Consider the average shoe game, which has a house advantage of around 0.5%. Let's take a player who has an average bet of $10 playing at a table with four other players. In the traditional game, he is playing 76 rounds per hour. If that player is playing the correct basic strategy for the game described, he can expect to lose an average of $3.80 per hour. Standard deviation would find this player in the range of being down $77 or up as much as $69 about two thirds of the time. About 95% of the time, this player would find himself in the range of minus $150 to plus $142, while he would fall in the range of minus $223 to plus $215 a total of 99.7% of the time. What happens to this player when he sits down at a table with a continous shuffler?

His rounds per hour rise to 90 and this changes things considerably. Now, his average hourly loss will be $4.50, an increase of 18%. One standard deviation will find him in the range of being down $89 to being up as much as $81, while two standard deviations will find him down as much as $174 to up as much as $166, and the dreaded three standard deviations could find him down as much as $259, while he could be up as much as $251. The odds are that the player will be on the negative side of standard deviation. If the machine malfunctions and keeps an ace or two out of play, then these losing rates would increase dramatically, and you would never know why you were losing so much.

Your best bet when you see a game with one of these continuous shufflers is to avoid it altogether.

For more information about blackjack, we recommend:

Best Blackjack by Frank Scoblete
The Morons of Blackjack and Other Monsters! by Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Blackjack! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
Bootlegger is a frequent contributor to various gaming web pages on the
worldwide web. His intelligent, insightful opinions and analyses have gained him quite a reputation in cyberspace as an expert who knows the games and understands the gambler.
Bootlegger is a frequent contributor to various gaming web pages on the
worldwide web. His intelligent, insightful opinions and analyses have gained him quite a reputation in cyberspace as an expert who knows the games and understands the gambler.