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Howard Stutz

Inside Gaming: Blackjack win dip? Don't look at us

19 May 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Maybe those crazy kids from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology held a class reunion.

Gaming analysts had trouble explaining why blackjack revenues on the Strip fell almost 18 percent during March. Gamblers wagered $746.6 million on the game, 1.3 percent more than a year ago. However, the win by casinos was $76 million, a 17.8 percent decline from March 2007. The hold percentage, which is normally about 12 percent, was 10.18 percent.

So what happened? Could it have something to do with the movie "21," which premiered at Planet Hollywood Resort in mid-March?

The film, which opened to audiences March 28, profiled the exploits of a team of MIT classmates who took casinos in Las Vegas and around the country for millions of dollars through a systematic blackjack card-counting operation in the 1990s.

The premiere of the movie, based on the best-selling book "Bringing Down the House," attracted some of the former MIT students, many of whom have gone on to other professions.

"Unfortunately, we didn't do it," said Dave Irvine, one of the MIT team members.

Irvine and fellow team member Mike Aponte co-founded the Blackjack Institute, which teaches blackjack techniques to gamblers and helps casino executives understand ways to protect their games. Irvine said he saw "21" at a sneak preview in New York City.

"I promise it wasn't us," Irvine said when told of the March blackjack totals. "That's more money than we won in all our years combined. It would have taken us a decade to do that kind of damage."


Where are Las Vegas' hottest slot machines? Apparently, McCarran International Airport.

In a span of four days, two visitors waiting for flights home struck six-figure jackpots on the airport's Wheel of Fortune MegaJackpot slot machines.

On May 10, a retired Sacramento, Calif., woman, waiting for a connecting flight after a family trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, won $391,979. On Tuesday, a New Hampshire man, heading home after a Las Vegas vacation, hit a $257,845 jackpot on a similar slot machine.

McCarran has more than 1,300 slot machines, which are operated by casino owner Michael Gaughan through a contract. In fiscal 2007, the airport, which is not funded by local taxes, reported $40.9 million in slot machine revenue.

"We're thrilled to see our customers enjoying this recent run of good luck," said Rosemary Vassiliadis, sounding like a slot machine host rather than the deputy director of the Clark County Department of Aviation.