Dealers Who Count Cards
Imagine the Atomic Energy Commission saying nuclear power plants can set their own safety standards, and anyway, there is nothing wrong with a little radioactive meltdown. Or the Federal Aviation Administration declaring that it not its job to check airplanes, and why don’t passengers just stop complaining about crashes.
Or the Nevada Gaming Control Board saying it is alright for a licensed blackjack dealer to count cards.
Just so we are talking about the same thing, let me make it clear that there is nothing wrong with a dealer who does no more than merely count the cards. But this is like the old joke: A teenage boy asks his priest if there is anything wrong with his sleeping with his girlfriend. “Certainly not,” the priest replies, “the problem is, you young people don’t sleep.”
Why would a dealer want to count cards? There are only two possible motives: the dealer wants either to increase or to decrease the house odds. And the dealer is either working in conspiracy with his superiors or on his own.
An “honest” dealer may have a profit sharing arrangement with the casino or may simply want to show greater than average profits to increase his chances for promotion. A dishonest dealer may wish to increase the house take to cover up his theft of chips. Alternatively, he may actually want to decrease the house’s advantage, but only when he is dealing to his confederate.
Of course, the government regulators charged with maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the game would never allow such shenanigans to occur — right? Well . . .
A former blackjack dealer recently alleged that he had been instructed by his superiors at a Las Vegas casino to count cards and shuffle when the count favored the players. When questioned about this, Gaming Control Board Chairman Bill Bible is reported to have said that although the casino may have violated its own procedures, there is nothing illegal about a casino counting cards.
This is not an isolated incident. Bible is simply stating a position the Board has taken for years.
In 1986 the old Gambling Times Magazine forwarded a letter to me from William R. Souligny, Nevada Gaming Control Board Training Officer. In the letter, written on official stationery, Souligny said he was writing “with the permission and at the direction of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board.”
Souligny wrote, “First, counting cards is not illegal in Nevada. Second, early shuffling does not alter random selection. Random selection for 21 is established during the shuffle. Random selection is not violated if a casino shuffles every hand, every other hand, or at the whim of a player, dealer, or pit boss. Dealing procedures are established by casinos individually, and the Gaming Control Board may not regulate shuffle points.
“Third,” Souligny concluded, “the Gaming Control Board vigorously enforces state laws and gaming regulations to the benefits of both public and state.” (His emphasis).
The truth is the Board has failed to do anything to protect card counters from expulsion, harassment and even physical attacks by casino personnel. The Board’s position is to allow casino dealers to count cards, to change the odds in its favor in the middle of a game, while also allowing the same casinos to bar card counting players. Sounds to me like some of us are being treated more equal than others.
If the Board truly believes this, they ought to at least warn players. How about requiring casinos to put up a sign,
“WARNING: The dealer will shuffle whenever he feels that you might win a hand.”
The law, of course, does not allow such unfair treatment of players.
A casino can lose its license for “unsuitable methods of operation,” including “dealing any cheating or thieving game . . . either knowingly or unknowingly . . . which tends to deceive the public or which might make the game more liable to win or lose, or which tends to alter the normal random selection of criteria which determine the results of the game.” Regulation §5.011(9)(b) of the Nevada Gaming Commission and State Gaming Control Board. The State Legislature defined “cheating” as altering “the elements of chance . . . which determine: (a) The result of a game; or (b) The amount or frequency of payment in a game . . .” Nevada Revised Statutes §465.015(1).
Somebody has to remind the Nevada Gaming Control Board that their function is not to ensure the casinos make as much money as they can. In fact, financial success is the least important goal of regulation. As the Nevada Legislature spelled out years ago when it set up the current regulatory system:
The continued growth and success of gaming is dependent upon public confidence and trust that licensed gaming is conducted honestly . . .
Public confidence and trust can only be maintained by strict regulation of all persons, locations, practices, associations and activities related to the operation of licensed gaming establishments . . .
All establishments where gaming is conducted . . . must therefore be licensed, controlled and assisted to protect the public health, safety, morals, good order and general welfare of the inhabitants of the state, to foster the stability and success of gaming and to preserve the competitive economy and policies of free competition of the State of Nevada.
The next time you see a government official issue a statement that strikes you as a little odd, ask yourself, “Is this the proper role for a regulator?” The same Nevada Gaming Control Board that says casinos can shuffle to hurt players once issued a press release declaring a player’s chances of winning are greater in Nevada than in Atlantic City.
Do we really want our regulators to be cheerleaders?