Posts Tagged ‘blackjack’

Philadelphia cop caught cheating at blackjack

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

When the U.S. state of Pennsylvania legalized blackjack and other table games, it brought a lot of excitement to the area casinos. Profits have increased, as has attendance, but so has cheating. Blackjack is a lot easier to cheat on than slot machines. Since the blackjack games opened in the Pennsylvania casinos, there have been several arrests and cases of players caught cheating. The most recent case is a little worse than that, though.

This time it involves one of Philadelphia’s Finest. John Gallagher, 56, was allegedly caught cheating at blackjack during a game at Parx Casino. According to law enforcement officials, Gallagher was seen using what they called a “card-counting device” during the blackjack game. No arrest was made and Gallagher has not yet been charged with a crime.

However, Gallagher abruptly retired on Tuesday after 32 years of service in the Philadelphia Police Department. According to Lieutenant Frank Vanore, the State Police are investigating Gallagher for “committing a crime outside of Philadelphia.” In addition, Internal Affairs has begun an investigation of the incident.

Gallagher joined the Philadelphia Police Department in 1978 and, according to sources, was well-liked by his colleagues. Still, it seems that he made a big mistake. One of the great things about blackjack is that players can actually gain an advantage over the house if they keep track of the cards. If you count cards using only your mind you are not breaking any law (though the casinos don’t like it). However, using any external device – which can range from a rubber band to a notebook to electronic devices – is illegal and can land you in jail and placed on a blacklist that bans you from that casino and others.

Iowa wants blackjack tables

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Blackjack tables are all the rage in the United States. This year both Florida and Pennsylvania passed laws allowing them and other table games to be added to slot parlors, turning them into full casinos. Now Iowa wants in on the action as well.

Recently, the owners of Larchwood Casino, a gambling and golf resort in Iowa, applied for a license from the state to run a casino with blackjack tables. Iowa doesn’t exactly have a sprawling metropolis, but because Larchwood is located near the border with South Dakota, they hope to get some Dakotan business.

In response to the license request, the Iowa Gaming Commission compiled a report saying that nearly ¾ of the money they would make would be from South Dakota residents. According to the report, it is estimated that South Dakotans would spend nearly $55 million at the casino. The bulk of the employees would also come from South Dakota, according to the report, though all construction and purchases related to the business would have to be in Iowa, due to the state’s Buy Iowa First rules.

Those statistics are interesting but what it immediately made me think has nothing to do with Iowa. This report indicates that South Dakota should open a casino. If an Iowa casino would draw 75% of its business from South Dakota, it makes sense for South Dakota to build its own casino to keep those gamblers and their money in the state. Currently the only casinos in South Dakota are on tribal land.

At this point, it’s too early to know anything, since the parties involved are only gathering data, but if Iowa does add blackjack tables to their casino and draw players from South Dakota, it will be interesting to see if South Dakota has a response.

Playing blackjack with soft hands

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Soft hands are great when it comes to women and blackjack. Aside from a pair of aces, which actually is also a soft hand, there is nothing I’d rather have in blackjack than a soft hand. Well, that’s not true, either. I’d rather have a blackjack or a 20. Still, soft hands are powerful hands that give you a lot of room to improve your hand without the risk of busting.

I have covered blackjack basic strategy for soft hands before, telling you what to do when you have a soft hand. This time, I want to go more into your mindset. In my mind, when you have a soft hand you are then the one with the advantage. You are the aggressor and should play accordingly. Too often I’ll see someone stand with a soft 17, probably because they think their hand is already pretty good, but it’s not. Since a dealer will draw to a 17, that hand will only win if the dealer busts. That means it’s not much better than standing on a soft 13 and no one would do that, right?

Still, from time to time you’ll see someone look at their soft 17, look at the dealer’s five up card and stand. And then the rest of the blackjack table groans and rolls their eyes. Not only should you not stand in that situation, but you should actually double down. Why? Because the dealer is likely to bust, so why not double your wager? After all, with a stiff hand you cannot bust.

Stiff hands allow you to be more aggressive in your play. If you have a good hand you can take a hit and try to make it into a great hand. If you draw a card too high, all that does is turn your ace into a 1 and you have a hard hand, but you can draw again.

In that situation, often times other players at the table and even the dealer will advise the player to hit. Usually they won’t listen. I can understand that, because the other players might not know basic strategy and the dealer, well, isn’t he the bad guy? The player is skeptical of the advice, much like I feel whenever a homeless person tells me a sob story about how his family was evicted and needs money for food yet rejects my idea to buy him a slice of pizza.

While it’s okay to listen to the advice of others, it’s best to know strategy yourself. That is why I always advise that players learn basic strategy before playing at any blackjack tables. If you don’t have it memorized, use a strategy chart while you play. The good thing about online blackjack is that you can take as much time as you need. You can look over a chart, look online and even call your friend the gambling expert and ask for advice. Just don’t do that in a Vegas casino.

Blackjack odds: How shuffle machines hurt your wallet

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

In the game of blackjack, there are a lot of things that can affect your bankroll. While the odds are the same as long as you stick to blackjack basic strategy, there are a number of things that can cause you to win or lose money faster. One such example is the shuffling machines.

Few dealers shuffle by hand today. Most use a shuffling machine, which can be a continuous shuffling machine or a non-continuous shuffling machine. In both cases, use of the machine results in you losing money faster, because it allows you to play more hands in the same period of time. Since, even with perfect strategy, the house has a slight edge, more hands means more money lost. There is also a difference between the two types of shuffling machines, though.

Continuous shuffling machines randomly shuffle the discards after every round is played. Compared to shuffling by hand, these machines allow you to play up to 20% more hands per hour, meaning you could lose 20% more money. With non-continuous automatic shufflers, an entire deck of cards is shuffled at a time once the deck is used up. Because the non-continuous machines require a stop in the action to shuffle cards, they do not allow as many hands to be played as with a continuous shuffling machine. However, it still moves the game faster than shuffling by hand. Therefore, a hand-shuffled game is the best to play, followed by a game with a non-continuous automatic shuffler. Your last choice should be a blackjack game with continuous shuffling machine.

The speed of play isn’t the only way the shuffling machines hurt your odds, though. If you are a card counter, those machines can really be a thorn in your side. For a card counter, the shuffling machine – especially the continuous shuffler – makes card counting much more difficult, because cards you counted as being used could suddenly be put back in play. Some players are able to use shuffle tracking with a continuous shuffler, though that can be combated with batch shufflers.

Blackjack + exotic dancers = lower payouts

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

There is a recent trend in casino blackjack and whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing is in the eye of the beholder. The trend is combining table games with table dancing. Many brick and mortar casinos have started providing exotic dancers in “party pits” in the middle of blackjack areas. The thinking is that players will spend more time at the blackjack table if they get to watch half-naked women dancing on a pole while they do it.

Since my wife doesn’t read this blog, I can say that it would work for me. The hard part would be having enough concentration to stick to blackjack basic strategy. If you’re a card counter then I doubt you’d be able to do it with a hot girl table dancing right in front of you. So maybe that’s another reason for the trend: exotic dancers as card counting deterrents.

Some big-name casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City have turned to exotic dancers to provide entertainment to the blackjack players. Harrah’s, Mandalay Bay and Hard Rock (pictured above) are three examples of casinos that have added some skin to the scenery.

So is the trend a good thing? If you’re offended by exotic dancers (usually non-nude), then no, it’s not. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, then… maybe. Another recent trend at the casinos is lower payouts for the blackjack games. On average, those same casinos are dropping their blackjack payouts by 20% by dropping the payout ratio for a natural blackjack from 3:2 to 6:5.

The casinos say that the decreased payouts are necessary in order to pay for the entertainment of the dancers. Instead, it just seems like a convenient excuse. I understand that such entertainment comes at a cost and I can see there being a tradeoff if you’re basically paying extra to watch the dancers, but the problem is that not all of the blackjack players want to watch them. Some just want to play blackjack and when you play blackjack, you expect a 3:2 payout.

I imagine that the lower payouts will anger blackjack purists, who will take their games elsewhere, but the party pits will bring younger customers to the casino who may not have otherwise had any desire to play blackjack. If so, it could end up cancelling out and the casino doesn’t lose any money. So do I support the idea of exotic dancers performing in party pits while customers play blackjack? I guess so, as long as the casino keeps the payout at 3:2. If it’s 6:5, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not really blackjack. I’ll go to a strip club if I just want to pay to watch a girl dance.

Cheaters caught at new PA blackjack tables

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Not long ago, along with other blackjack fans, I applauded the launching of blackjack tables and other table games in Pennsylvania casinos. The blackjack tables quickly attracted fans of the game, but they also attracted cheaters. I guess I should say alleged cheaters.

Three examples immediately come to mind. At the Hollywood Casino in Grantville, Pennsylvania, Claudie Kenion III was caught trying to change his bets on winning hands. When his hand won, he would sneak extra chips into the betting circle. He was arrested for attempting to cheat at blackjack and is accused of doing this technique for 13 hands. This happened on only the second day of blackjack tables at this casino.

Then there is Thomas Albright, who was arrested at a Hollywood Casino in East Hanover Township, Pennsylvania after he was caught trying to do the opposite of Kenion. Albright tried to sneak chips that he had bet out of the betting circle on hands that he lost. He was quickly arrested and charged with theft in addition to being banned from the casino for a minimum of 30 days.

Then there is the man who last weekend was seen cheating at Mount Airy Casino in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania. The man, who hasn’t been identified to the press, was caught trying to use counterfeit $100 chips at the blackjack table. When he was approached, the man fled the casino and is still at large. If apprehended, the man faces a theft conviction among other charges.

I point this out for a couple reasons. The first is to show that the casinos notice when people cheat. The dealers and other casino employees are trained to look for suspicious behavior and there are also surveillance cameras that cover the entire casino floor. The other reason I point this out is to show the harsh penalties that go along with being caught cheating in a casino. In the state of Pennsylvania, anyone caught cheating at a casino faces up to five years in prison and a $150,000 fine. Depending on the amount that is stolen, they could have a felony criminal record. In addition, they can be banned from the casino for an unspecified amount of time.

Blackjack games open in Pennsylvania

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Tuesday saw the U.S. state of Pennsylvania celebrate the launch of table games in their casinos, which had until then housed online slot machines. The Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs hosted a grand-opening ceremony, where the Mohegan tribe’s vice chairman, Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum, offered a blessing.

There was then a free ceremonial blackjack hand played by four lucky customers chosen at random. In that hand, the players competed for a prize of either $25,000 or a new Mercedes. Two of the players beat the dealer and won the money, but the other two didn’t walk away empty-handed. As a consolation prize, they won $5,000.

The Mogegan Sun casino, located in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, now offers 46 tables of blackjack, poker and more. That is not the only improvement made to the casino this week, though. The casino also instituted a new rule where all drinks are on the house for players at tables with a $25 or more minimum.

Nearby Mount Airy Casino Resport also opened table games this week. Like the Mohegan Sun, they now offer free drinks, but there the drinks are free for anyone who is gambling on the gaming floor, whether you are playing at a high-roller table or a penny slot.

All of this is good news for blackjack players and drinkers (for players who like both, it’s a great deal). It is common for casinos on the Las Vegas Strip to offer complimentary drinks to anyone on the casino floor, but smaller casinos outside of Sin City usually have not had that practice. By instituting those perks, the Pennsylvania casinos are signaling an intent to compete with the big players in the casino market.

Blackjack in Pennsylvania Casinos Tomorrow

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

It has taken over six years, but blackjack and other table games are finally coming to Pennsylvania casinos tomorrow. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania’s state legislature passed a bill allowing 700 tables to be put in their casinos. Governor Ed Rendell then signed the bill into law. Tomorrow, the first 202 tables will arrive and be put into service.

With the addition of table games to the Pennsylvania gambling industry, people in the area won’t have to go as far as Atlantic City, New Jersey if they want to play blackjack. Rivers Casino and the Meadows Casino have already completed testing of their blackjack tables under the supervision of the Pennsylvania Gaming and Control Board. Thousands of players took part in the trial runs, while gaming officials kept a close watch on the event so make sure everything runs smoothly. The first full implementation of table games in the state starts tomorrow.

Aside from blackjack, the state’s casinos will also have poker, roulette, craps, baccarat and more. The state has already made $165 million in the last fiscal year in licensing fees from ten casinos for the privilege of offering table games. In the new fiscal year, which began this month, the state hopes to make an additional $15 million in licensing fees as well as $75 million from a 16% tax on revenue from the tables.

Governor Rendell said that the casino expansion is “good for the people of Pennsylvania” and various casino operators have said that, while people like playing the slots, most of their customers are excited about the addition of table games.

With blackjack and other table games coming to Florida and now Pennsylvania, here’s hoping that many more states in America follow suit.

If you don’t live in the United States or don’t live near any casinos and want to play blackjack, there are plenty of online casinos where you can play your favorite game. Online blackjack offers the same fun and skill of the traditional game with the added bonus that you can play with the comfort of your own home and tipping is not expected.

Blackjack Strategy: Dealer 4 Card

Monday, May 24th, 2010

This is the third part in the series covering what to do based on what up card the dealer shows. This is according to blackjack basic strategy, the accepted means of reducing the house edge to as low as 0.5%.

If the dealer shows a 4 card, he had a good chance of having a stiff hand (12-16), especially considering that there are more cards with a value of 10 than any other value (which would give the dealer a 14). With that in mind, here is what you should do when the dealer has a 4 as an upcard.

You should obviously hit with an 8 or lower, because there is no risk of busting and your cards aren’t good. If you have a 9, 10 or 11, you should double down. That is because the dealer has a bad hand that is likely to bust anyway. You, on the other hand, will have a hand of a 19, 20 or 21 if the next card you draw is a 10. Your chance of a good hand combined with the dealer’s likelihood of busting means this is a good situation to double your bet and take one more card.

If you have a hard 17 or more, you should stand as always. Against a dealer up card of 4, you should also stand if you have a hard 12-16. That is because you have a stiff hand and if you hit, you have a good chance of busting and low odds of improving your hand. On the other hand, the dealer also likely has a stiff hand. If you both bust, you lose, but if only the dealer busts, you win no matter what hand you have. Therefore, in this situation it is best to stand and hope the dealer busts.

Soft hands are a little more complicated when the dealer shows a 4. If you have a soft 13 or 14, you should take a hit, because your hand isn’t great, you have no risk of busting, and your hand would only win if the dealer busts. If you have a soft 15-18, you should double down. In this situation, there is no risk of busting. If you draw a low card you improve your hand but even if you draw a high card you are left with a stiff hand, which isn’t any worse than what you started in the case of the 15 and 16. Also, the dealer has a good chance of busting with his hand, so doubling the bet makes sense.

If you have a soft 19 or 20, you should always stand, no matter what card the dealer shows. You have a great hand that can only be improved with an ace or two and even though you can’t bust, your odds of ending up with a lower hand are better than your odds of improving your hand.

When it comes to pair splitting strategy, there is a lot to remember. If you have a pair of twos or threes, you should split against a dealer 4. The dealer is likely to bust and hands of 4 and 6 are likely to land you right in the middle of a stiff hand. It is better then to double your bet and start each hand with a two or three. If you have a pair of fours, though, you should hit because your 8 can become a hand of 18 if you draw a 10. If you have a pair of fives, you should double down because you have a good chance of drawing a 20 by taking one more card.

If you have a pair of sixes through nines, you should split when the dealer shows a 4. Hands of 12-16 are stiff hands that you always want to break up when you can. A pair of nines is a good hand (18), but if you split them you have a good chance of getting 2 hands of 19. If you have a pair of tens, you should always stand, because you already have a 20, which can only be improved with an ace. If you have a pair of aces, you should always split because an ace is the most powerful card with which to start a hand.

The above strategy works at online casinos and brick and mortar casinos.

Blackjack Strategy: Dealer 3 Card

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

This is the second part in the series on basic strategy that covers what to do based on the dealer’s up card. In this post, we’re looking at when the dealer shows a 3.

If the dealer shows a 3, basic strategy says that he likely has a stiff hand (12-16) due to the likelihood of having a 10 in the hole. For that reason, you should stand if you have a hard 13-16, because those are also stiff hands that have a high probability of busting. If you both bust, you lose, but if only the dealer busts, you win no matter what cards you have.

Therefore, in this situation, it is best to stand pat. If you have a hard 17 or better, you should stand because those are good cards with a low chance of improvement, so you always stand with those hands.

If you have an 8 or lower, you should always hit because there is no risk of busting but your hand isn’t necessarily good enough to win by taking one more card. Therefore, you don’t want o double down. You should also take a hit if you have a 12 versus a dealer 3 up card, because even though it’s a stiff hand, it’s a stiff hand that will only bust if you draw a 10 card, meaning you have a 69% chance of improving your hand. And if the dealer doesn’t bust, your 12 loses.

If you have a hard 9, 10 or 11, you should double down when the dealer has a 3 as an up card. This is because the dealer’s hand is not good (probably a stiff hand) and your cards are awesome. Taking into account your high probability of drawing a 10 card, you have a good chance of having a 19, 20 or 21 when taking one more card. For that reason, combined with the dealer’s likelihood of busting, it is best to double your bet and take one more card.

Now for the soft hands. If you have a soft 13-16, you should take a hit. Unlike with a hard 13-16, there is no risk of busting, so it is a good opportunity to improve your hand without any risk.

If you have a soft 17 or 18, you should double down. Why? Let’s look at the possibilities. If you have a soft 17 (ace, 6), then 4 cards (ace, 2, 3, 4) improve your hand, 5 cards (5, 6, 7, 8, 9) give you a stiff hand, and 4 cards (10, J, Q, K) put you right back where you started: with a hand of 17. That means 62% of the cards will either help you or keep your hand the same while 38% will make your hand worse, but there aren’t any cards that can bust you. Therefore, it’s best to take a chance. You should stand on a soft 19 or better, though, because there aren’t many cards that can help you and you already have a great hand.

Now, let’s talk about the blackjack basic strategy for splitting pairs against a dealer 3 up card. If you have a pair of twos or threes, you should only split if you are allowed to double afterward. If not, take a hit. You should also take a hit with a pair of fours, because you don’t want to start two hands with a four, which are likely to lead to stiff hands. If you have a pair of fives, you should double down, because if you draw a 10 with the next card, you will have a hand of 20, which can only be bested by a dealer 21.

If you have a pair of sixes, sevens, eights or nines, you should split against a dealer 3 up card. A pair of sixes, sevens and eights unsplit are stiff hands (12, 14, 16), whereas if you split them you could end up with hands of 16, 17 and 18. You have better odds with those hands. A hand of 18 is good and hard to pass up, but the odds say you are better off splitting that pair of nines and hoping to draw 2 hands of 19.

As for the other two hands, no matter what card the dealer has, you should never, ever split a pair of tens. That is a hand of 20, which can only be beaten by a 21. I know you think you can split it and get 2 hands of 20, but the risk outweighs the reward when you already have a 20. As for a pair of aces, you always split that, no matter what card the dealer has. An ace is the most powerful card in blackjack, so starting 2 hands with an ace really increases your odds. Which would you rather, a hand of 12, which is a stiff hand, or two soft hands? Always split a pair of aces.