Gambling City

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If the Shoe Fits, You Don’t Have to Wear It

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I favor the casinos out West where I can still find a hand-dealt game of blackjack. Even with an occasional “card down” or “one hand on the cards, please,” I prefer it to the volley of a shoe dealt game. I’ve been to Atlantic City on occasion and can’t find anyone pitching cardboard. All I find are shoes that don’t fit me, and I don’t like to limp. Is there some law or something against it? Randy

In the past in Atlantic City, Casino Control Commission regulations had mandated that all the casinos are required to deal blackjack from a shoe. Today, some casinos will offer a single-deck blackjack game. The issue, Randy, is that these single-deck games only pay 6-to-5 when you get a snapper instead of the standard 3-to-2. This increases the house edge on this game to at least 1.58%. Warning: Never play on this game!

Unlike Las Vegas, Atlantic City casinos cannot ban players from counting down the deck, so the administration relies on shoes to circumvent counters. They may also limit the size of your bet, not allow mid-shoe entry, lop off three decks with the cut card, and shuffle up any moment they suspect a player of counting. The last time I was in AC, I was on a rare $5 game, bumped my table minimum bet up a half dozen times to $25, and got some of the above related “special” treatment. Since they were in no frame of mind to offer any grub for my play, I politely thanked the dealer, and off I went to my go-to spot every time I am in Atlantic City: The Irish Pub for Jersey Crab Cakes and a couple pints of Guinness. The finest part of gambling, Randy, is that you can walk away when you want to. In my case, it was only 100 yards in from the boardwalk on St. James Pl.

Speaking of vexation for the shoe game, there was an incident in Atlantic City in the 1980s involving Frank Sinatra. On December 1, 1983, while gambling at the Golden Nugget Casino, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin tyrannized a dealer and a pit boss into breaking New Jersey law by making the dealer hand-deal blackjack instead of dealing from a shoe.

The New Jersey Casino Control Commission didn’t find it so humorous, so they fined the Golden Nugget $25,000, which Sinatra ultimately paid out of his own pocket. Perhaps no harm no foul for the casino; however, it wasn’t so amusing for the employees involved. Four of them, including the dealer, a supervisor and pit boss were suspended without pay.

When the only game in town is a shoe (multiple-deck) game, you absolutely give more of an edge to the casino. In comparison to a single deck, a two-deck game handicaps your play -0.35%, four decks, -0.48%, six decks, -0.54% and eight decks -0.58%. As you can see, the house edge goes up considerably more when you go from one deck to two, but the change is less striking as you add more decks.

So, Randy, how much will this cost you in dollars and cents? If you were to play 100 hands per hour at $10 per hand, each -0.1% would cost you approximately $1 per hour. Playing on a game with two decks versus one will cost you $3.5 per hour, with each added deck costing you progressively more.

Wherever you play, Randy, just be sure to play the most up front game you can find, that offers a 3/2 payoff on a blackjack, with the fewest decks, and a limit you have the means for. This is your best way to diminish the house edge.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Believe it or not, the beautiful lights, the around-the-clock activity, and the festivity and fast-paced action can sometimes make idiots of otherwise well-oriented, clear-minded individuals.” – Len Miller, Playing Games for Fun and Profit