Gambling City

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Consistency is the Key

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I was playing blackjack, seated at third base, with a $50 wager, and was dealt 16. The dealer's up card was a three, so following basic strategy I stayed on 16. The dealer's hole card was a two for a total of 5. The dealer hit, got a two, then a Queen – for a total of 17 at that point – then took another hit and got an eight for a total of 25. A bust hand any way you look at it.

What happened next is what baffles me. She moved that eight aside and collected my bet. I argued the call then asked for the pit boss. The pit boss agreed with the dealer, saying the dealer was correct, and I was not getting my $50 back. Isn’t this a misdeal? I'd appreciate your thoughts on this and will go with your opinion. Gary

So, how should your $50 misfortune have been handled properly? Most likely the way it was handled was correct, so long as it was based on their standard policy. As long as you get consistency from all the pit bosses within the same casino, all following the same rules, you should consider it a fair shake.

One would like to think decisions on any table game are NOT arbitrary, with different pit bosses, even in the same pit, making contrary decisions. Calling a particular hand differently confuses the players and that is why most casinos have inch-thick manuals with rules and regulations for table games, covering every possible situation.

Now let’s take a look at the dealer’s error of failing to stop at 17. Gary, buddy, it happens. Dealers deal about 300 hands an hour, for six hours a shift, five days a week. That's approximately half a million hands a year of dealing, counting, paying and taking. The occasional mishap is to be expected. This was not an egregious error, nor was anything sinister happening here.

Next, let me bring your attention to the wording on the felt of every blackjack table. It states either, “Dealer must draw to a 16, and stand on all 17s” or, perhaps “Dealer must hit soft 17” – It does not appear, in your description of what happened, that the dealer had a soft 17.

It is said, “Cards speak,” Gary. Any card dealt by this dealer was not binding once she hit 17. Nor can the dealer make an arbitrary ruling in your favor on a whim. Regardless of how you call or miscall it, the dealer’s hand was what it was, a 17. You might want to claim the dealer’s hand was a misdeal, but her hand is viewed for its genuine value the second it hits 17.

I am a bit concerned about the way your description appears to be saying the dealer made an executive decision before you asked that a pit boss come over. Casinos do not want the inmates running the asylum, so someone like a pit boss should always make a call like the one you encountered.

Finally, a comment on that word “misdeal.” You seldom see, on any blackjack game, that cards are backed up. Nor do you hear anyone use the word “misdeal.” In a casino misdeals do happen, but they are related to a poker game where cards are dealt without being cut, or cards are dealt out of order, but not at a blackjack table. Allowing endless misdeals can spawn collusion among players in cahoots.

As I said, Gary, each casino has its own version of Hoyle to establish civility among the savages. As long as the decisions made remain consistent, the 17 stands, the money was theirs.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “At home all day playing cards.” – George Washington, Diary, (September 5, 1770)