by Vic Taucer


How Table Games & Surveillance Departments. Are mis-handling this issue and hurting their future.

This whole term “Advantage Players”, has been bandied about so often and misunderstood in its interpitation that the results of the miss-use are really hurting table games. The overreaction to this issue ahs caused many table games operations, in both commercial casinos and in Indian Country to be losing players in an age when we have to start adding players. This continued trend must be stopped or at least slowed down.

What is Advantage Play?

In a skill based table game like Blackjack, the casino advantage is based on how the customer makes their playing decisions. When to stand, hit, double down or split are options that the player can execute according to game rules. How the customer makes these decisions has a factor in how much of an advantage the casino has in the game.

In Blackjack, the natural disbursement of the cards also has a say in how much of an advantage the casino has. Simply stated, how the cards fall dictates the casinos advantage. Sometimes the houses edge in this game is in the players favor just because of the natural disbursement of the cards.

An Advantage player is someone who uses the information that the game naturally gives him (card disbursement knowledge and use of its options) to try to best know when the games advantage has swung over to his favor. The advantage player will then use this information to try to have a winning experience. This is the basis behind the most well known form of advantage play (and the most misunderstood and mis-handled), Card Counting.

Is this legal? Of course it is! The player is using information that is known to all the players hence not getting an advantage that the other players at the game (nor the house) do not have. It is not illegal to be smart!

Is this desired in our casinos? Do we want all the players to do this? Of course not! If all players were this smart or good at this type of play we would be in big trouble. In our industry we have the right to not allow players to participate on our table games if we think they are "Advantage Players". We as operators determine who gets to play in our casinos and we can bar or dismiss who we want. Gaming is a privileged& regulated industry and the industry itself dictates who can work or play in it.

Here’s the Problem…..

We are using this privileged industry scenario and rules therein to "back-off", throw out, dismiss, too many of our Table games players because we are suspecting them of being "Advantage Players". This has gotten to be so ridiculous it is mind boggling! A player is winning in Blackjack…must be an advantage player…lets get rid of them!! This is becoming all too common.

When I first started my training & consulting company in the early 1990’s and would see the misuse of this issue primarily in newer casinos. In my 20 years in casino operations in Las Vegas, you rarely saw this as the staff was too savvy. I knew that once these casino’s hired more experienced staff, accepted training issues and became veterans, this would cease. Sadly it hasn’t happened this way and I surmise they have had the wrong type of training. I have written articles on this wrongful training, I called it using fear as a training method.

My friend Doug’s experience…he’s not that smart!!

But this commonality of backing off players is rampant in Las Vegas also. Let me tell you what happened the other night….

I have a golf buddy named Doug, a nice guy who makes a lot of money and likes to have fun. Doug was out the other night doing just that. After dinner and drinks, Doug decided to play Blackjack in one of our large strip casinos that shall go nameless!
Doug likes to play $25 chips, he can afford it! Doug also likes to "fire it up", meaning he is not afraid to gamble. A high roller? Not really but Doug will put his bets in action. Does he pay attention and play good basic strategy? Definitely, who doesn’t in today’s Blackjack game. Is he a card counter or an advantage player? Definitely not!

Well Doug was treated like this in his evening. After buying in for $300, he was winning almost $1000. After about 90 minutes of his play at this major resort he was told by management that his play was not wanted in the casino and he cannot play Blackjack anymore!

This casino took a player who had $1000 of THEIR MONEY and told him he couldn’t play anymore as he was too smart! Doug is a nice guy but too smart is not a term I would use in describing him!

Sadly this is the method that is being used in commonality in all of our casino operations. The player is winning…must be an advantage player…lets get rid of him!

The Solution…Training & Accountability!!

We must strengthen our efforts in both table games and operations to put better parameters on the methods we use to identify advantage players. We are using this term as a catch-all phrase to eliminate any player who is either winning or god forbid using some intelligence in playing Blackjack.

The problem lies in most casinos in who is making the determination on the player’s ability. Who in our casinos dictates the player’s skill level, which puts the "Advantage Player" label on the customer? Is it someone observing the game from Surveillance? Is it someone who is deemed an "Advantage Play" expert in operations that is the judge of the player’s skill?

What is the knowledge level on this matter of the person making the decision on this is the underlying problem here. Are we making decisions on the player’s skill level based off of one person’s evaluation? Sadly to say that this is happening often.

The decision to "back off" a suspected advantage player cannot come from one observer’s opinion. The decision to "back off" a suspected advantage player cannot be based off of a 90 minute play. That decision has to make by a group of people (operations & surveillance) who come to a common agreement. This decision has to be based off of multiple plays, not a 30-60-90 minute look at the player’s methods.

Training on this subject is of the utmost importance. And lets cut out that “fear based training” that so many surveillance departments get. This training is acting as more of a deterrent to growth in table games. My company, Casino Creations, has a course for casino managers and surveillance, Pit Boss 101, addresses Advantage Play in its true meaning. Understanding the subject, player skills analysis, identifying true Advantage Players and methods to be used in handling this.

Cooperation between Table Games Operations and Surveillance is imperative here. The training also has to insure that all have a complete and detailed understanding of what advantage play actually is. Let’s stop “backing off” random players and get back in the gambling business!

Call or get in touch with us anytime to assist on this one!

Date Posted: 27-Nov-2006

Vic Taucer is president of Casino Creations; a Las Vegas based casino educational, training and consulting company. Casino Creations specializes in customer service, dealer training and casino managerial& surveillance training for table games operations. Look for Vic Taucer’s new book, Table Game Management, available at booksellers nationwide and at www.casinocreations.com

A former professor of casino management for the University & Community College System of Nevada and long time casino manager at many resorts, Vic can be reached at 702-595-7800 or at vic@casinocreations.com

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