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Blackjack Promo Swamps Online Casino

22 June 2001

Blackjack players swamped an online casino Thursday during an unusual promotion that gave savvy gamblers an edge against the house. StanleyAcropolis.com offered two-to-one payouts on blackjack, instead of the normal three to two. The promo ran for 24 hours, beginning just after midnight Wednesday. Thursday, of course, was the 21st of June.

Players had to make a new deposit Thursday to get the extra payout. The system immediately credited them with the normal three-to-two payout. Stanley had said it would review everyone's play at the end of the day, and credit players' accounts with the extra money the next day.

So, as Stanley explained in its newsletter, a player who bet $50 would automatically get $75 for a blackjack, with a $25 bonus added later. The promo was also announced on the StanleyAcropolis Web site.

The deal attracted considerable attention on the message board at www.bj21.com, the Web site run by blackjack expert Stanford Wong. Blackjack aficionados posting messages couldn't believe the offer. One wondered whether action from big players would put the site out of business.

The change may seem minor, but experts say it's enough to give a player who follows the "basic strategy" for blackjack a 2 percent edge against the house. With the normal three-to-two payout for blackjacks, the typical game gives the house an edge of 0.5 percent against the basic strategy player.

"It does give an edge, but you've still got to play well to benefit from that," Andy Mace, casino manager at Stanley Leisure Online, told RGT Online today. "Basically we just saw it as a way of drawing some attention to ourselves and trying to get some players to come and visit the site and see what we're all about.

"We own 33 land-based casinos, so we know real gamblers. Sometimes it's not enough just to take, take, take all the time, because they get upset. Every now and again we like to just give a little back."

The company is still calculating just how much money it's giving back. Mace said it will take more than one day to review the games and add the extra money to players' accounts. By the end of this weekend, he said, all players should have the bonuses in their accounts.

At least three times during the 24-hour period, one player said, the site went down. A message appeared that said: "Acropolis will be going off-line for routine maintenance now."

"This was one of the biggest promotions they've ever done," the player exclaimed to RGT Online, "and they had to do 'routine maintenance'!"

Mace said that notice was posted when the site was simply overwhelmed with traffic. Players were able to get back in after five or 10 minutes, he said, although one delay may have lasted 30 minutes.

"A couple of times we fell over from the sheer weight of transactions and activity on the sites," Mace said. "From about 7 o'clock EST last night, we were pretty much full, at the bursting point, to be honest."

Two other Stanley Leisure sites – AvalonCasinos.com and AcropolisCasinos.com -- ran the same promo. All three sites run on the same system, he said, estimating that StanleyAcropolis got about 50 percent of the traffic Thursday, with the other two sites splitting the rest.

Mace said the sites handled "several times" more business than they normally get on a Thursday.

Two-to-one payouts on blackjack are extremely rare, and always attract sharp players. In 1994, an inexperienced executive at the Alton Belle – a riverboat casino near St. Louis, Missouri – began a program of offering two-to-one payouts on every Tuesday in December. Professionals from all over the U.S., alerted by a newsletter published by Stanford Wong, descended on the small casino.

By the final Tuesday, the casino had enacted new rules to mitigate its losses, such as a maximum bet of $50. It also threw out players that were suspected of counting cards.

Of course counting, with or without the aid of a computer program, is much easier online. That's why most Internet casinos shuffle the virtual deck after each hand of blackjack.

But the Stanley sites offer a limited opportunity to counters, by dealing from a virtual shoe of six decks. Penetration is only one-third, as the casinos shuffle after two decks' worth of cards have been dealt.

Asked if this promo would be repeated, Mace said, "It's open for review. I can't promise. We're always looking for new and interesting things to do."

Stanley Leisure is a public company based in Liverpool, England. It has walk-in betting shops in the UK and Ireland, and owns Crockfords Club, a high-end casino in London.

The company first ventured into online gaming when it paid $8 million for the Acropolis site early last year. The site, formerly owned by Americans, is licensed in the Caribbean island of Dominica.

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