Arnold Snyder and Fast Action Jackson discuss making a living at blackjack card counting in Las Vegas on a very small bankroll.
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The Low-Stakes Lane: Fast Action Jackson's Distractions
By Arnold Snyder

(From Blackjack Forum Volume X #4, December 1990)
© Blackjack Forum 1990

A fixture at the blackjack tables of Las Vegas for almost a decade, Fast Action Jackson has never had much of a bankroll. Standing 5-foot-3 in his Western boots, what’s left of his hair slicked back over his tanned pate, like so many card counters I’ve met, overeducated and undercapitalized, he holds a masters degree in philosophy from some obscure east coast college. I don’t know if he’s ever been married. Every time I visit Vegas, he’s living with a different woman, always at her place. He’s not an easy guy to track down.

“I’m living proof, Bish,” he says, “that you can play your system perfectly, study your ass off, know more about fluctuations and standard deviation than most statisticians, have the persistence of Sisyphus, and still never make it into the big leagues. If you can’t take the flux, you can’t make the bucks. It’s that simple.”

I had asked him to write an article for Blackjack Forum on how a player with a small to moderate bankroll goes about surviving as a professional blackjack player.

“You don’t want that article,” he insisted. “It’s too depressing. I once went ten weeks sleeping in my car so I wouldn’t have to use my precious bankroll on such a luxury as rent money. I’ve lost two girlfriends who believed in me enough to invest in me at the wrong time. I don’t know what it is about women, Bish, but they get very irritable if you lose their paycheck a few times. Even when you finally pay ‘em back, it’s all over.

"You alienate your friends. You take chances with advances on your credit cards. It’s a rotten life. Right now, I don’t owe anybody anything. The past two months have been great. I’ve dug out of yet another hole, saved my credit rating again. My bankroll is back up to six thou. Unfortunately, in this game, six thou is nothing. I could be flat broke two weeks from now.”

“The fact remains, Fast,” said I, “that you’ve been doing this for ten years. It may be a tough grind, but you’re making it. You make your living playing blackjack, and you’re not rich. My readers want to know how you do it.

"Most of them aren’t wealthy, but they say they’re willing to work. What most often happens is they learn a system at home, build up their fantasies, then find out they can’t hack it in the casinos. The table conditions are lousy. They get heat when they start to win. And the casino environment is nerve-wracking—the noise, the smoke, the constant interruptions. I always tell them to play during off hours—weekdays, early mornings—in order to minimize the distractions. Am I right?”

“Wrong,” says Fast. “Casinos are designed for distraction. That’s their game. As soon as you take away the noise and the crowds and the booze, you’re not playing their game anymore, you’re letting them watch your game. You’ve got to keep in mind that what distracts you distracts them. As long as I’ve been playing in this town, my action is still welcome everywhere. That’s because I follow the crowds. That’s the only way to survive, to have staying power. But, Bish, it’s a rotten life. Believe me.”

I asked him if he had any favorite casinos. “My favorite casinos are always the busiest casinos,” he said. “Right now, in Vegas, the new stores are great. The Mirage. The Excalibur. The Rio. These places are attracting crowds. I used to like Caesars because that’s where the big money played. Money is a great distraction. Who’s going to look at my $50 bets when the george sitting next to me is betting table limit? It’s all over for Caesars now, what with the Mirage next door. Even the over/under won’t save them. Caesars is empty. You can’t play there anymore. They’re dying a slow death.

“The Rio may be off the strip, out there next to the Gold Coast, and they canned the liberal rules they opened up with. But they’ve still got good games and great crowds on the weekends. Plus they’ve got that hot double exposure.”

“Double exposure?” I asked. “At the Rio?”

“Not on the tables,” he explained. “I’m talking about the cocktail waitresses. You see, Bish, I’m a connoisseur of distractions. Just check ‘em out sometime. You’ll see what I mean. I order a lot of drinks when I play, and I spend a lot of time looking for the waitresses. It’s all part of the strategy. Drinking a lot of booze is very distracting. Counters don’t drink.”

“But doesn’t that affect your accuracy?” I asked.

“Not if you do it right,” he said. “There’s a trick to it. Always order a drink that comes with cream. Kahlua and cream. A toasted almond. You just never swizzle it. You can be damn sure the bartender doesn’t have time to stir it. The booze sits in the bottom of the glass. You drink the milk off the top. By the time you finish the milk, the waitress is bringing you a fresh drink. I’ll tell you my health has improved significantly since I started ordering so many drinks. Lots of calcium.”

“So, Fast,” says I, “Your advice to my readers who really want to enjoy that wonderfully romantic life of the professional card counter, where you lose your girlfriend only after you lose her paycheck, ever rejoicing that if you jeopardize your Diner’s Club membership, the collection agency probably won’t be able to find you since you’re sleeping in your car, all you have to do is play in the noisiest, most crowded casinos, order lots of drinks, and ogle the waitresses while playing?”

“That’s my secret,” he says. “And except for the double exposure, there’s not much fun in it.”

“Hmm…,” says I. “Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe the reason you haven’t made the big leagues is because the distractions are killing your game?”

He shrugged. “I know what I know,” he said. “And any big time pro would tell you the same thing I’m telling you. Maybe you should stop to consider that I’ve been making my living at this game for ten years, while you’ve been writing about it.”

Point well taken.

Advantage Jackson. ♠

[Note from the Blackjack Forum moderators: Most professional gamblers who succeed in turning a small bankroll into a large one are using methods other than card counting to beat the casinos at blackjack and other games. You need a bigger edge than you can get with card counting to overcome the fluctuations that can kill a small bankroll.

For more information on how professional gamblers turn small bankrolls into larger bankrolls, see Arnold Snyder's Blackbelt in Blackjack.]

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      Blackjack Card Counting in Las Vegas on a Very Small Bankroll
Arnold Snyder interviews Fast Action Jackson (the late Paul Keen) about surviving as a professional gambler in Las Vegas on a very small bankroll. Keen shares his low-stakes blackjack card counting techniques and trials.