Attention from casino personnel when you are card counting may or may not be a sign of casino heat or discomfort. This article discusses signs of problem casino heat for blackjack players who are card counting, and tells card counters how to respond to heat and casino countermeasures.
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Card Counting and Casino Heat: When to Get Worried

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How Hot Is It?

By Arnold Snyder
(From Casino Player, November 1996)
© 1996 Arnold Snyder

Question from a Card Counter:  How does a card counter know when heís getting heat? I play at moderate to high stakes ($25 -$500), but Iíve only been doing this for a short time ó a few weekend trips so far.

I get very nervous whenever the pit boss seems to be looking at me, or even in the direction of my table. I do try to be friendly toward the bosses and floormen, and I believe I act like nothing is bothering me, but I often have the urge to bolt out of there as soon as any conversation with pit personnel is over.

I feel like they are also just acting nonchalant when theyíre actually scrutinizing my play. A few times I have left tables for no other reason than the floorman came over and watched my table for a while, scribbling notes. I feel like heís recording what Iím doing and that Iíd better leave before his notes get too detailed.

Iíve walked out on a number of pretty decent games, and it irritates me whenever I feel I must do this when the count is high. I havenít had any trouble so far, but am I being too cautious? It sure would be nice to relax a bit more and hang in there when Iíve got an otherwise profitable situation.

Answer:  My guess is that you probably are being overly cautious, but I canít tell you this for sure. You might loosen up a bit next weekend, and get barred. As I have never observed your casino play, I really canít judge if your style of betting is too obvious, or even if your demeanor is too suspicious. Perhaps you are being precisely as cautious as you must be, at the level you are playing, given your limited experience at the tables.

Any player who is betting in the range that you are may expect to draw pit attention. You should also assume that your play is being monitored by the eye in the sky. Once your bets are going into the $100+ range, you are a serious concern to the pit. Their major concern with big players, however, is that they keep them as customers. They do not automatically assume such players are card counters. Most players are not.

A floorman scribbling notes while looking at your table is generally of no significance as far as heat goes. One of the floormanís jobs is to estimate the average bet size of the big players, and he will walk from table to table recording this information at regular intervals in order to calculate an average. The casinos use this information primarily to ďrateĒ players for comps.

At your level of play, Iím sure you are being asked continually if youíd like a VIP card, which would require you to furnish your name and address, and which also allows the casino to rate your play any time you show your card when youíre playing. This rating system is how the casino determines the value of the comps to award you.

Likewise, a pit boss or floorman coming over to your table to talk with you is entirely normal. Any player betting black action should expect this. After all, you are a major customer to them, so they will try to be friendly and personable. This is normal.

Letís Define Various Types of Real Casino Heat

Heat is when a pit boss or floorman literally, and obviously ó within your line of vision ó starts glaring at you. This type of heat generally means that you are under suspicion, and they are attempting to see if this direct surveillance unnerves you, flusters you, or causes you to leave.

The worst reaction to this type of heat, as you might assume, is to act nervous, and the most obvious sign that you are nervous would be your failure to look back at them, i.e., pretend you donít notice them glaring. If you casually and naturally leave the table, without showing any other sign of nervousness, this may get you off the hook.

The best reaction, however, is to look back at them, and if the glare continues, to strike up a conversation, ask for something, be friendly ó ask for information about the showroom, or a dinner comp, whatever. If a boss who has been glaring at you reaches for his phone, or is talking on the phone, you should assume that you are, or have been, or will soon be, under eye-in-the-sky surveillance. Not a good sign, but also not fatal.

Heat is when a pit boss or floorman instructs the dealer to shuffle up on you, or to center-cut the next shoe. If this is the first time this has happened, you might continue playing, even through a few of these shallowly-dealt shoes, as the pit may simply be testing you to see if this appears to bother you.

This, however, is a countermeasure that literally kills your chances of profiting from that shoe, and it also sends a fairly strong message that your play is not trusted. This is a sign that the boss has already made a decision about you. The wisest decision may be to leave casually, and simply avoid playing whenever this boss is in the pit.

Heat is when a non-player (and sometimes more than one non-player), who are wearing suits and ties, appear to take a strong interest in your play from behind you, but who also manage to get into your line of sight just enough for you to know that you are under rather intense surveillance. This is a stronger variation of the pit boss glare.

If this type of surveillance is strong enough you should stop using whatever technique you are using to gain an edge. You may elect to continue playing, at least for a while, strictly for camo, but don't show them any more of your real game. When you leave, always leave as casually as you can.

Heat is when you are personally told that your play is being restricted in any way ó possibly your betting spread, or the maximum amount you may bet. If this type of countermeasure follows you around from table to table, you may assume that the jig is up. You have likely been identified as a counter.

But again, the situations you describe are fairly normal, and none indicate heat in and of themselves. ♠

For more on casino heat and how to prevent it, see D.V. Cellini's The Card Counter's Guide to Casino Surveillance. For information on how professional players avoid detection by surveillance, see Arnold Snyder's Blackbelt in Blackjack.

more information on casino surveillance, heat, and card counting camouflage, see the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library.

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