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Rod Smith

Advantage Bettors Can Hurt Casino Profits, Experts Say

22 September 2003

Advantage gambling -- a player wagering with a legal edge over the casino -- is a growing problem for casino operators, industry insiders said at the recently concluded Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas.

Casino experts at G2E said estimates suggest advantage players can, in effect, skim as much as 3 percent of a casino's winnings.

An advantage gambler is someone who increases his chances of winning by taking advantage of a dealer's or a casino's mistakes or by means such as card counting.

"They come in large numbers. They have large resources. The question is pain (tolerance); how much are you willing to give up," said Doug Florence, casino segment manager for Verint Loronix Video Solutions.

Many Las Vegas lawyers say local casinos -- running the gamut from high-end to value operations -- are intolerant of the pain and that there is an emerging pattern of intimidation and excessive force being used against such gamblers. These lawyers say casino security and law enforcement personnel often trample on constitutional rights, civil liberties and gaming regulations to deter advantage gamblers from playing at local properties.

Keith Copher, chief enforcement officer for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said gaming regulators seldom get involved in such issues except when a player who claims to have been roughed up by security wants to file a claim against a casino.

"As an employer, keep it professional. Don't make it personal. And that will keep it out of the courts," he said.

In Nevada, where casinos have the right to refuse to do business with anyone, the main source of such problems stem from overly zealous casino security personnel who take enforcement issues personally, he said.

Bobby Siller, the Gaming Control Board member responsible for enforcement of the state's gaming regulations, has said such complaints are civil issues between advantage players claiming they have been victimized and the casinos. Several local casino operators have been caught in a growing number of lawsuits filed by gamblers who said they have been detained, roughed up, had their winnings confiscated and even been charged with minor offenses.

Siller recently asked the attorney general's office "to bring him up to speed" on state laws dealing with advantage gambling.

Siller could not be reached for comment.

At the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, Executive Director Gary Peck said: "Very serious questions have been raised and we would hope they are writing the opinion in all due haste to make sure no one else's rights are trampled."

Gaming insiders and civil rights advocates said the crackdown on advantage gamblers by some properties is not coincidental but reflects the priorities of the casino operators.

Ted Whiting, a surveillance director at The Mirage, said the main issue for casinos is profit.

And Jack McGinty, a security executive with Greektown Casino in Detroit, said the challenge for casino operators is identifying advantage players.

"Never ask floor personnel to catch a card counter. Look for people who deviate from basic strategy and call surveillance," he said.

In other states, players' rights are more strictly protected than in Nevada. In Illinois, for example, advantage players can be evicted, but only by state gaming control agents. And in New Jersey, advantage players cannot be evicted from casinos although they can be subjected to dealer pressures to deter playing.

New Jersey gaming Commissioner William Sommeling said Atlantic City ran into similar civil rights issues when gambling was first legalized.

More than 20 years ago, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court established the "inability of casinos to ban gamblers" based on advantage play.

Regulators in New Jersey, recognizing an obligation to keep casinos profitable, opted instead to allow casinos to use a variety of "countermeasures" that reduce the edge that an advantage could get over a casino, Sommeling said.

Such countermeasures include the right of the casino to shuffle at will, to prohibit players from joining a blackjack game in midshoe, and to prohibit a player from betting on more than one spot on a blackjack table, he said.

Also, New Jersey rules allow the house to raise the minimum bet and waive that for everyone but advantage players, Sommeling said.

To date, state and federal courts have upheld so-called countermeasures against all challenges, which Sommeling and industry insiders at G2E said should be seriously considered in other jurisdictions.