Arnold Snyder writes about extreme countermeasures Las Vegas casinos have been using against card counters and professional gamblers.
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Casino Countermeasures against Professional Gamblers get Extreme

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Spare the Rod, Spoil the Card Counter

By Arnold Snyder
(From Blackjack Forum Volume XXIII #2, Summer 2003)
© 2003 Blackjack Forum

In the two-plus decades that we’ve been publishing this mag, we’ve covered many stories about professional players suffering physical abuse at the hands of casino personnel. Back in June of 1986 (“Why I’m Suing in Nevada”), Ken Uston wrote about a former teammate of his “…100 pounds soaking wet…” who had been dragged across the floor of the Flamingo Hilton and was back-roomed and bruised about the arms and legs by “…two huge uniformed Neanderthals.”

Uston also wrote about his own 1978 beating at the Mapes Casino in Reno, a beating that broke five bones in his face and left him without feeling in the left side of his mouth.

In March of 1988 (“The Horseshoe Trial”), Anthony Curtis updated us on the case of two card counters and hole card players who were beaten and hospitalized by Binion’s Horseshoe security guards.

In the Spring 2001 issue (“A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Forum”), James Grosjean tells the story of his back-rooming, handcuffing, and arrest on false cheating charges at Caesars Palace, charges that were dropped after he had spent three days in jail and thousands in attorneys’ fees.

In the Spring 2003 issue (“Blackjack Wizards,” by Richard W. Munchkin), interviewee “R.C.” discusses his being handcuffed, back-roomed and beaten up by half a dozen security guards at the Eldorado in Reno a few years ago, and having more recently been tackled and handcuffed by security guards at the El Cortez in Las Vegas.

In the past couple of years, it seems these types of incidents have been increasing, both in frequency and severity. On our website, there has recently been a lengthy discussion about a card counter who was “tortured” (thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and kneeled on) by Mandalay Bay security guards.

But, according to one industry spokesperson, players who express shock and outrage at this type of treatment are overreacting.

“We hardly ever beaten a player badly enough that he requires hospitalization,” he insists. “I’m not saying it doesn’t happen—but that’s not the norm. And you should also keep in mind that when a player does require hospitalization as a result of a casino beating, the player actually gets to go to the hospital. The days when we just left them out in the desert are history. Players today can pretty much rest assured that if they beat us at the tables, they will not be killed. A relatively mild beating, with perhaps one broken bone—maybe a cracked rib or two—that’s it. This is a kinder, gentler casino culture today.”

Old time players agree. “The beatings today aren’t that bad,” says one old pro. “The corporations that own the joints now are very restrained compared to the way the mob used to handle winners.”

But, is it legal for a casino to physically assault players who beat them at the tables?

One Las Vegas attorney says, “In Nevada, beating the crap out of players who beat the house is a long-standing tradition. And tradition has a lot more weight in this state than the letter of the law. Historically, gamblers have never been permitted to beat the house and walk out with the money. If a player beats a casino, then tries to leave town without giving it all back and then some, that foils the whole purpose of the casino, at least from the owners’ perspective.

Imagine how a casino stockholder feels when some wiseguy shows up with a ‘system’ and starts siphoning money off the top of his investment returns. When this player—who has no investment in the casino at all—starts beating the house, this is like a slap in the face to the stockholders. It’s like this player is telling the owners, the investors, the bosses, everyone involved in the operation, ‘I’m smarter than you.’

This is personal. The fact that the player’s strategy may be technically ‘legal’ is not the issue. If you’re going to insult a public corporation, tradition in this state gives them the right to kick the shit out of you.”

How do the Nevada courts feel about all of this? One Clark County District Court judge feels the court system handles these beating complaints very fairly. “There may be nothing in the books per se about how to adjudicate such a case, but we have precedents to guide us. We would not accept it as reasonable, for instance, if a player who won a thousand dollars had his arm broken. A casino that took such an extreme measure against a player who won such a small amount could face a fine of up to $50 for every broken bone this player suffered.

The casino may even be required by the court to contribute to the player’s medical bills, assuming the player was not an associate of, say, the Greeks or the Hyland team. Before a casino can resort to any physical punishment of a player, that player should have beaten them for at least five digits. Once a player has won that much from a casino, then we will allow certain physical measures to be taken in order to protect the revenues of the state.”

There is, in fact, a very strict set of guidelines followed by the Nevada courts, based on both the dollar win of the advantage player and other extenuating circumstances. Here is a list of the “violations” and “recommended actions” currently allowed in Nevada. [Ed. Note: We obtained this list through confidential sources in the Nevada Justice Department.]

Violation: Player wins $1000-$5000 via skillful play.

Recommended Action: Player may be back-roomed, pushed around, kicked out of hotel, and relieved of his winnings.

Violation: Player wins $5000-$10,000 via skillful play.

Recommended Action: All of the above, plus: player may be bruised via manhandling, hand-cuffed, punched in face and/or stomach. Casino may also refuse to cash in player’s chips.

Violation: Player wins $10,000-$50,000 via skillful play.

Recommended Action: All of the above, plus: minor bone breakage (rib, finger, etc.), and/or dislocation of shoulder. Player may also be arrested and jailed on trumped up cheating charge.

Violation: Player wins $50,000-$100,000 via skillful play.

Recommended Action: All of the above, plus: multiple fractures of major bone groups (arms, legs, etc.). Casino may also discover back-room videotape to be missing or accidentally erased.

Violation: Player wins more than $100,000 via skillful play.

Recommended Action: All of the above, plus: damage to internal organs, ruptured spleen, etc.

Violation: Player returns to casino to play in disguise, or with phony ID, after trespass.

Recommended Action: All of the above, plus: holding in back room for 3 to 5 hours in handcuffs tightened to restrict blood circulation. Also recommended: kneeling on player’s back to cut air passage through windpipe, and similar forms of torture popularized in guerrilla warfare.

Violation: Player wins $1 million or more via skillful play.

Recommended Action: Sever player’s head.

There is currently a bill before the Nevada State Legislature that would make it legal for casinos in the state to publicly flog card counters and other advantage players who beat them at the tables. A spokesperson at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau says: “We think the general public would find this entertaining. A lot of citizens’ groups in this country have been pushing for laws that would enable the TV networks to televise executions. This would simply be a small step in that direction.”

Looking to the future, the Marketing Department at Caesars Palace has already commissioned Franco Dragone, the brilliant theatrical designer who created the sets for Celine Dion’s extravaganza in Caesars’ Coliseum, to design Roman-themed stocks and pillories for card counters, so that players who violate the state’s win restrictions can be tarred and feathered and publicly displayed in the gaming pits.

“It’s just a fun concept for everyone,” says Park Place Entertainment President Wally Barr. “But that’s just the beginning of what we’re planning for Caesars. People have been asking us for a year what that big construction mess is out front on the Strip. I am very proud to announce at this time that in keeping with Caesars’ Roman theme, we are building an exact replica of Mount Calvary, where we hope to stage crucifixions of winning players, every hour, on the hour, throughout the day. We expect our commemorative Golgotha gaming chips to be even more popular with collectors than our Celine Dion chips. We are finally going to give that volcano next door a run for the money.”

MGM/Mirage magnate, Kirk Kerkorian, insists that Caesars’ plans don’t scare him in the least. “When you’ve already got a volcano, you’ve got a lot of options,” he says. “We could tie card counters to the sides of it, and have them covered in molten lava. We could throw them into the volcano and mike their screams as they fry. We’ve got a lot of options.”

Not to be outdone, the Las Vegas Hilton is now in the process of reprogramming their new MindPlay tables to handle electronic alligator clips that can be attached to the blackjack players’ genitals. “We don’t think card counters should have to wait for countermeasures to be taken against them,” says one Hilton bigwig. “MindPlay gives us the opportunity to let counters know immediately that their skillful play is improper. This new MindPlay NutZapper® peripheral really is the future of gaming in Nevada.”

The Nevada Gaming Control Board has already approved the NutZapper® device for casino use. “It’s not much different from the comp system the casinos have been using for years—except that it works in reverse,” according to a memo sent by the Gaming Board to all Nevada casinos last month.

Many other Nevada casinos are planning similar countermeasures. According to Carl Icahn, his Stratosphere Casino will soon be redesigning their ho-hum Big Shot thrill ride to help with their card counter problems. “Our engineers have already determined that by loosening just a few screws, the Big Shot becomes the Big Splat,” says Icahn. “We’ll be getting rid of counters and providing wholesome family entertainment for our customers all at the same time.”

Likewise, the MGM Grand will soon be feeding the big cats in their Lion Habitat some creative new lunches. “It’s all about entertaining the kids,” says the animal trainer. “And it’s educational. Everyone loves to watch nature’s wild animals in action.”

The Atlantic City casinos are now clamoring for the same rights to take physical countermeasures as the Nevada casinos are afforded. In the wake of a lawsuit filed by Donald Trump, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission has already caved in on some points. Although the AC casinos will still not be allowed to bar counters from their tables, they will be allowed to poke out the eyes of counters who look at the cards being dealt. Trump is dissatisfied with this solution. “Even if they’re blind,” he points out, “some other player at the table might be telling them what cards have been dealt.”

Dr. Myron Mengele, head of the Psychology Department at the University of Nevada in Reno, applauds these types of physical countermeasures. “It is a well-known fact that when casino players see winners, they are encouraged to keep playing longer than they normally would in order to try to win themselves. So, card counters are directly responsible for encouraging many weak players to become compulsive gamblers. All of these winning card counters are causing an immense gambling addiction problem in this country. The counters must be stopped. When gamblers see these aberrant types of players beaten up, hospitalized, and jailed for the way they play, this encourages them to avoid engaging in any similar playing style. That helps not only the casino industry, but our society as a whole.”

Even the Office of Homeland Security has taken up the casinos’ cause. According to Director Tom Ridge, “We feel that this is a national security issue. To put it bluntly, we believe that beating casinos is a terrorist act. These so-called card counters are not just attacking our American corporations; they are attacking our American way of life. I’m quite certain that we will find that these so-called systems they use were actually developed in terrorist training camps.”

Attorneys for the card counters remain optimistic in the face of these developments. “We probably can’t stop the beatings or the maimings,” says Louie Neil, of the Las Vegas law firm Neil, Dounn, and Prei. “It’s hard to buck tradition in this state. We may not even be able to stop the beheadings. But even if we can’t stop the public crucifixions, we do feel that we will be able to force the casinos to cash in a counter’s chips before he is killed. Even if the casinos are allowed by the courts to keep all of the player’s winnings, we feel very strongly that his initial buy-in should be divvied up among his remaining family members. There are, after all, laws in this country protecting the rights of lawful heirs.”

Meanwhile, an international group of ex-card counters who have since gone over to the casino side, headed by Howard Grossman of Las Vegas and Michael Barnett of Sidney, Australia, are soliciting all former and current professional players to quit attempting to beat the casinos and join them in a class action lawsuit against Edward O. Thorp, author of the 1962 best seller, Beat the Dealer. Says Barnett, "The casinos are simply doing what all corporations have done since the beginning of time—protecting their assets. It’s troublemakers like Ed Thorp who have caused all of these problems for players. And since he personally has more money than all of the major casino corporations combined, we’re going after him."

Players who would like to join the suit can call Howard Grossman toll-free at: 1-800-GET-EDDY. ♠

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