Casinos have been switching the number of playing spots on their blackjack tables in an attempt to lower the potential profits of any players who may be card counting. In this Blackjack Forum article, Arnold Snyder examines the effectiveness of this card counting countermeasure, and shows that casinos are hurting their own blackjack profits instead.
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Casino Countermeasures at Blackjack: Disappearing Spots

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Disappearing Spots at Blackjack Tables

By Arnold Snyder
(From Card Player, December 14, 1990)
© 1990 Arnold Snyder

A reader wrote to ask me why a popular Nevada casino had six playing spots on its blackjack tables instead of the traditional seven. There are two good reasons for this break with tradition that weíve been observing in the past few years ó fear and ignorance.

The six-spot blackjack table is another one of those foolish countermeasures that wastes playing time, reduces action, and costs the casino money. This is what it boils down to in theory: A casino wants to offer single-deck games because they attract players. Unfortunately, one-deckers also attract card counters, who strike fear into the hearts of casino managers.

What most upsets the pit personnel about one-deck blackjack games is that a card counter might beat these games with a flat bet. Generally, casinos identify card counters by watching for their betting spread. If a player continually ups his bet only after a lot of low cards come out of the deck, heís told to take a hike. But what if the player is flat betting and winning? Is he a counter or just a lucky punter?

Some years ago, a mathematically inclined gaming equipment supplier realized that if a blackjack table had only six spots instead of seven, then the house would be dealing out 5% fewer cards in a typical full-table, two-rounds-and-shuffle one-deck game. This diminished penetration would cost any card counter at the table a few tenths of a percent in potential advantage. A few tenths of a percent represents a significant reduction in profit potential.

Reducing Spots at Blackjack Tables as a Casino Countermeasure

To illustrate this point, Iíve run two separate computer simulations of 20+ million hands each. Both simulate single-deck games with Vegas Strip rules and full tables. The only difference between these simulations is that in one the blackjack table had seven spots, while in the other, the table had six. All of the players are counting cards using the Zen Count (from Blackbelt in Blackjack), and flat-betting one unit on each hand. There are two rounds between shuffles.

So with a full table of flat-betting card counters, the house loses at a rate of about 0.3 percent less with six players at the table than with seven. The third-base player (Player 7 in the 7-spot game, but Player 6 in the 6-spot game), who gets to see the most cards before making his strategy decisions, is taxed one-half percent by the elimination of just one playing spot. Hey, this six-spot table isnít such a bad idea for casinos after all, is it? I suppose this is what the gaming table supplier argued when he was hustling these new layouts.

Cost to the Casinos of Reducing Spots at the Table

But, letís consider a few side effects of this brilliant new table design. Letís say a casino has 20 blackjack tables and they switch from seven spots to six spots. At peak business hours, they can now accommodate only 120 customers, instead of the previous 140. Same amount of floor space, same number of tables, pit bosses, dealers, but theyíve lost 20 customers. This effect asserts itself around the clock, even when the house isnít full ó it now requires seven dealers to accommodate 42 customers instead of the previous six. They have effectively cut their operational efficiency by more than 14 percent.

On top of this, every dealer in the house will be dealing a slower game. Why? Because heíll be spending a greater proportion of his time shuffling. Regardless of whether heís dealing to six or seven spots, the dealer takes the same amount of time to shuffle the cards. The only difference is that with seven spots, there are 14 player hands between shuffles; with six spots, only 12 hands. Thatís 14 percent less action between shuffles.

By installing six-spot tables, a casino is electing to serve significantly fewer customers, with significantly more employees, at a significantly slower rate. Still, you might argue that this drastic reduction in operational efficiency will save money because there are so many card counters these days.

Thatís baloney. If you stick a card counter in that cherished third base seat at every table in the house and assume that the other players at the table are your ďaverageĒ gamblers who lose at the rate of 1.5 percent, the house would still be realizing more profits with seven spots than with six.

You have to bear in mind that although the six spot table reduces the card countersí potential gains by a few tenths of a percent, it does not have any effect on the non-counters. The house will not win a few tenths of a percent more from each of the non-counters. This countermeasure, which only affects the few card counters that may be playing in the casino at any given time, is heavily taxing the casinoís efficiency at generating action with every other blackjack customer who plays there—around the clock, 365 days a year.

The six-spot blackjack table is one of the most costly countermeasures a casino can impose. If you get your kicks from laughing at ignorant house policies, look for casinos that put six-spot tables on multiple-deck games. [Since this article was written, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas has taken top stupidity honors!] Since shoe games are dealt to a cut card, and not any specified number of rounds, the number of spots at the table has no effect whatsoever on card counters. Casinos with multiple-deck six-spot tables are simply engaging in financial masochism.

And there are the casinos with single-deck, seven-spot tables whose dealers only deal one round between shuffles These casinos ought to conduct a survey with a stopwatch and calculator to estimate how much action is lost per table per hour because the dealers are spending twice as much time per player hand shuffling the cards. They should then figure out how many card counters would have to be feasting on those tables, if two rounds were dealt, before the house approached a break-even point from their loss of action with one round between shuffles. Unfortunately, casinos never conduct time and motion studies.

Send the meaning of life (and fast, before I conclude that my nightmare vision of reality is true) to: The Bishop c/o Blackjack Forum.   ♠

[Arnold Snyder is the author of Blackbelt in Blackjack, which contains additional information on casino countermeasures and how professional gamblers overcome them. For further information, see also The Card Counter's Guide to Casino Surveillance by D.V. Cellini, an Arnold Snyder Professional Gambling Report.]

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