Author Home Author Archives Search Articles Subscribe
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Related Links
Related News
Recent Articles
Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Casino Workers Frequently Confused on Card Counters

22 November 2004

Jimmy Pine is an animated, stocky former singer with a vague resemblance to Tom Jones and a propensity to gamble.

But the Rhode Island resident is not welcome in many Las Vegas casinos, where he goes by the nickname "Young Jimmy Dime" and is tracked by surveillance and told to leave if he tries to sit down at a blackjack game.

But last week was a rare moment at the Golden Nugget, which rolled out the red carpet for Pine and about 40 other "advantage players" who participated in the newly crowned second season of the "World Series of Blackjack."

The players included Kevin Blackwood, the buttoned-up author of "The Counter," Joe Pane, a retired Brooklyn cop who is banned by more than 30 casinos in Las Vegas and "Hollywood Dave" Stann, a 25-year-old actor who dresses like a punk rocker and talks a blue streak to distract his competition. None are welcome at local blackjack tables but are rising stars on cable television.

The World Series of Blackjack, patterned after the famed World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe, airs on GSN (formerly the Game Show Network). The network is capitalizing on the nation's growing obsession with Las Vegas and casino culture by showing an increasing amount of gambling tournaments.

While the casino industry has embraced poker tournaments and credited the poker craze with revitalizing table game play, it is still wary of blackjack -- a game where the math can favor expert players.

Casinos regularly have blackjack tournaments but those are usually reserved for casino high-rollers (read: people who typically lose lots of money) rather than advantage players who have made careers out of beating casinos. For people like Pine and others in the spotlight at the Golden Nugget last week, playing blackjack has become a cat and mouse game perfected over decades of experience.

The age-old battle between "professional" gamblers and casinos has brewed for as long as gambling halls have existed, though the days when casino toughs roughed up players in back rooms is largely gone, players and casinos say.

The rules of engagement have shifted over the years. Nevada casinos have always had the right to refuse service to anyone provided it doesn't conflict with federal discrimination laws. But gamblers have become shrewd about knowing their rights and are pushing the envelope by filing lawsuits.

Casinos often dismiss such "nuisance suits," claiming that they usually involve gamblers suspected of cheating. But the gamblers in such suits typically deny such cheating claims as a smokescreen. Such gamblers say they are singled out, detained and even handcuffed for their skill at cards as a way for the casino to fend off potential losses.

Casinos have won such suits in the past, saying they have the discretion to detain and ban people they suspect of cheating. But this month, a bomb dropped on the industry when a Clark County jury awarded $400,000 to advantage gambler James Grosjean against the Imperial Palace casino.

According to the suit, Grosjean was detained and handcuffed in the casino shortly after entering the property. The 2001 event is linked to an earlier incident at Caesars Palace in which Grosjean and gambler associate Michael Russo were accused of bending cards and peeking at the dealer's "hole" card. The gamblers denied bending cards but said they were able to see the dealer's hole card because the dealer was sloppy. A separate suit by Grosjean and Russo is pending against Caesars Palace.

While bending cards is considered illegal, benefiting from dealer mistakes could also be considered fraud, according to the Gaming Control Board, which was dropped from that complaint by the court.

"The system of excluding gamblers runs the gambit from merely asking players to not play a particular type of game through actively seeking prosecution and fabricating bases for prosecution or arrest of legal gamblers in an attempt to protect their earnings from those gamblers and provide a deterrence to other professional gamblers who might seek to capitalize on games offered," according to the Imperial Palace suit.

Jeff Voyles, a table games floor supervisor at MGM Mirage and adjunct gaming professor at UNLV, said casinos are becoming more tactful in handling expert players.

"I think it's improved from a corporate standpoint and a liability standpoint," said Voyles, who recently wrapped up a two-day surveillance training seminar at UNLV and will be teaching additional seminars next year.

Still, Voyles said many casinos are mishandling players and inviting lawsuits because their security and table games employees aren't adequately trained.

"People aren't trained enough in these casinos to understand the difference between cheating and advantage play," he said. "There's a lot of overreacting. Most pit managers or shift managers will tend to step in too early."

Most who attend his seminars are casino employees from far-flung areas new to casino gambling.

"They're lost," Voyles said. "You've got someone who was taken off an assembly line in Detroit and then they're up in a surveillance room watching a game."

The lack of locals in attendance at the UNLV sessions is evidence that many Las Vegas companies don't want to spend the money necessary to train their employees, he said.

The MGM Grand, a card-counting target with more table games and a busier floor than typical casinos, uses a team of employees including card counters to identify and analyze players for their profit potential, Voyles said.

"In over 10 years (at MGM Grand) we've never 'backroomed' anybody for advantage play," he said. "We know the difference between a card counter and a cheat."

Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter and a blackjack player, said he is usually asked, politely, to abandon a blackjack game if he tries to play.

"I never get as far as a back room," said Curtis, who also played in the World Series of Blackjack last week.

"Casinos are more careful now because they're corporate. They don't want these lawsuits," he said.

Some pit bosses still don't understand the dynamics of card counting, he said.

"They don't want their employer or players to know they don't know anything about (card counting) so they go off half-cocked," Curtis said. "They're so afraid to let anyone get by that they're running off losers. It's bad for customer relations and it's not good for the bottom line."

Pine calls the casinos' attitude toward blackjack experts like himself "ridiculous."

Players will try to beat the casino at blackjack but more often than not will end up playing other games as well, he said.

"I will give them action in other games" while attending tournaments, he said.