Inside the Cat and Mouse Game,
By Bill Zender
Or Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Casino Management, But Were Afraid to Ask
(From Blackjack Forum Vol. XII #4, December 1992)
© 1992 Blackjack Forum
[Editor's note: Bill Zender, author of Casino-ology 2: New Strategies for Managing Games
, former Nevada Gaming Control agent, and former casino manager of the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, was the subject of a “Sermon” in the September 1992 issue of Blackjack Forum. I speculated on exactly what Zender was trying to do with the Aladdin by offering what had to be the best blackjack games in Nevada.
After Zender took over the casino, the Aladdin’s blackjack tables rose to the top rating of best games for card counters. In the meantime, as I pointed out in my Sermon, Bill Zender had a pit crew working for him that also must have been the most knowledgeable in Nevada (if not in the world).
Zender, a long time Blackjack Forum subscriber, responded to my Sermon by submitting an article for publication, explaining his casino operations in detail. I never thought there would be a day when the feature article in Blackjack Forum would be written by a Las Vegas casino manager, but the longer I live, the weirder life gets. So, gang, for what it’s worth, the enemy(?) speaks… —A.S.]
Understand the Casino Management Side of the Game of Twenty-One
It is important that both the players and the casino executives understand both sides of the cat and mouse game. First, a player must study and work hard to achieve a slight edge. Many a novice card counter has gone broke because he was ill prepared or misinformed. Second, he must have the proper finances to withstand negative fluctuations. A knowledgeable player without a bankroll is no player at all.
The casino executive has the same situation working against him whether he likes it or not. It he does not understand the mathematics of the game, he will never be able to maximize its profit potential. If he doesn’t protect his bankroll, he won’t be running the casino very long. These two ideas bring us to the most important issue in the pit today—getting the most out of the game of twenty-one without giving away more money in the process.
For several years now, I have preached in seminars that increasing the decisions on the twenty-one tables will increase the casino’s revenue. By shuffling less and spending less time conducting tasks that aren’t revenue producing, such as not looking at the hole card or using an “all day” shuffle, theoretically the casino will earn more money. But by making the game more profitable, the casino also makes this game of twenty-one more advantageous to the knowledgeable player. So, the big question now for the modern day casino executives becomes, “Do I fine tune my twenty-one games to get the most out of them, or do I run scared that someone will beat me out of my bankroll?”
At the Aladdin, we have decided that we can have the best of both worlds. We can offer fast and loose games that will maximize our profit potential and, it is my belief, we can identify and eliminate any knowledgeable player who can put a dent in our precious hold percentage. Now there’s some bold take from an executive at a casino that isn’t a Griffin store!
About the Casino Management Team
I don’t want to sound to over confident but our pit management team at the Aladdin might be the most game protection oriented staff in Las Vegas. Below is a list of the management team and a brief explanation of their twenty-one experience.
Mike Phillips, Shift Manager
Mike has played both the count and hole card, on and off, for several years. He has been involved with Steve Forte in producing several game protection videotapes and has been involved in game protection seminars for major casinos in Nevada and at the Community College in Las Vegas.
Robert Del Rossi, Shift Manager
Robert managed a surveillance room in Atlantic City and has taught numerous classes on card counting and game protection. After moving to Las Vegas, Robert supplemented his income by playing twenty-one. He has held several pit positions prior to the Aladdin, including positions as pit and shift manager.
Bill Burt, Shift Manager
Bill has played twenty-one professionally for more than 15 years. He has held positions in surveillance and in the pit and has instructed classes in game protection and procedure at the Community College in Las Vegas for the past several years.
Joe Baseel, Relief Shift Manager
Joe has held numerous managerial positions in casinos throughout the United States and Canada. Baseel has lectured to many law enforcement and regulatory agencies regarding game protection. Joe is a pioneer in game protection videos with a tape he produced with Rouge et Noir in the early 80s. Baseel has played both poker and twenty-one professionally.
Wayne Miracle, Shift Manager
Although Wayne hasn’t played twenty-one professionally, he is an avid student of card counting and other twenty-one advantage techniques. Wayne has held the position as pit manager at Caesars Palace for several years and has opened several gaming properties in Deadwood, South Dakota. Miracle is also a graduate of my college course on card counting.
George Lewis, Director of Surveillance
Previous to the Aladdin, George was a gaming consultant and a “face chaser” with Griffin Investigations. George knows more players by sight than anyone else I know. Lewis has lectured on game protection and the twenty-one computer throughout the United States and Canada.
Darrell Whaley, Pit Manager
Darrell has taught “Card Counting for the Casino Executive” at the Community College in Las Vegas and has held shift and casino manager positions in Las Vegas. Whaley has also been a consultant with gaming properties in Colorado.
Lenny Dawson, Floor Supervisor
Lenny has played twenty-one professionally for several years. When he was employed at Bally’s Las Vegas, Lenny was one of a dozen executives who finished their five month card counting program.
For a casino executive like myself, it is a terrific feeling to know that I will always have someone in the pit or in the eye who can correctly make a decision on a customer’s play. One of the biggest problems in the casino industry today, regarding card counting, is the chance that a non-educated player who is winning could get backed off and labeled a counter.
Several years ago, when I was at the Maxim Hotel and Casino, we allowed a “labeled” card counter to play our double-deck games. After reviewing several different plays over a three day period, we determined that this guy had no idea how to count cards, play hole cards, shuffle track or any other legal or illegal technique. The casino eventually beat him for a substantial amount of money.
Another advantage to having a talented team is that they can watch a big player and then give me an idea of what kind of player he or she may be. This ability comes in handy for comp evaluations, special event invitations, and when my boss wants to know why a certain player is winning. And to top it off, they all read Blackjack Forum and have done so for years.
Observations from the Pit
I was amazed at the number of copies of Card Counting For The Casino Executive I have sold through Arnold Snyder and Blackjack Forum. Why would so many players want to buy my book, which is written for the casino executive? Arnold feels that players want to know what they are up against when they walk through the air doors. Arnold commented, “Most players want to know what goes on in the pit so they can plan out their attack.” I guess I have had a slight advantage as a player. I have spent plenty of time in the pit searching for knowledgeable players and I have taken that experience for granted.
Well, I guess that by now Blackjack Forum readers know that I am somewhat of a “renegade” who goes against tradition. It’s time that you all gained some insight into how the Aladdin runs their pit and what steps we take to analyze our customers’ play.
All of our pits’ teams “key in” on several aspects of a customer’s play. We look for bet spreads, play deviation, insurance plays, surrender plays and table hopping. For example, in a shoe game, if we see a player moving his wager up and down and it doesn’t appear to be a hunch or money management system, especially in the middle or late in the shoe, we will take the time to compare his betting levels to the count.
This is also done when we observe key strategy plays. For example, let’s say we notice that a player just stood on a 16 while looking at the dealer’s 10 up card, and the player wagered other than his minimal bet. We will watch for any additional deviations from basic strategy and compare them to his bet size. A typical pattern might be for a player to hit his 13 looking at the dealer up card of 3 with a minimal bet placed, while several plays later he is observed surrendering a 14 against a 10 with a big bet wagered.
Some of the biggest indicators we look for are players making proper surrender decisions, hitting stiffs against stiffs while maintaining a minimal wager, insuring any hand after placing a bigger wager, and aggressively doubling down (or splitting 10’s) under the same conditions. A majority of the players we have “snapped to” (observed and backed off) have been discovered because of insurance and surrender plays.
Another situation we look for are players coming into a shoe wagering $25 or $100 checks towards the end of a shoe. This will usually attract more attention since most of us have played the team concept before and know how advantageous it can be. Over half of the players we have backed off since June have either been involved with a team or have been individuals who were back counting, or “wonging in.”
Another area we investigate is hole carding. If we spot a player making a series of bad plays, we first evaluate the possibility that he or she may be getting hole card information before categorizing them as novice players. Since we have both shoe and hand held games, we are aware that we can be “spooked,” “first based” or “front loaded.”
Because the Aladdin looks under both the tens and aces, we also take into consideration the possibility that a player could be reading “dealer warps.” The dealers are all instructed on the proper method of looking at their hole card, but as in all repetitive jobs, sometimes an employee will get lazy. For the most part, our pit supervisors stay on the dealers about procedures and we haven’t noticed much “warp” play.
If we feel that there is a chance that a player may have an advantage over the house, he or she is then watched and the play is analyzed. Sometimes it takes several decks or several hours before we can make the correct decision. But sometimes it is impossible to get the time to watch someone’s play from the floor. That’s where the eye in the sky comes in.
Observations from Casino Surveillance
Another positive aspect of the Aladdin is that we have one of the best surveillance systems and staffs in the industry. The previous owner that bankrupted the Aladdin did one thing right when he spent a million dollars on a top-of-the-line surveillance system. At present, every live game in the casino has at least one camera dedicated to each game on a continual bases, which is also being recorded 24 hours a day. The casino is also honeycombed with additional cameras that cover the slots, cage and general casino area. These tapes are changed about every 6 to 8 hours and they are stored in a tape library for at least one week and sometimes longer if necessary.
If the pit feels that someone’s play might be suspect, they call the eye and the tape will be reviewed. I have made decisions on players hours after, and in one case days after, they had left the casino. I’ve talked to a few players upon their next arrival and told them we did not want their play. They had never realized we had found their play suspect.
Another capability of the eye is the ability to take excellent photographs directly from the videotape. The video copy processor can reproduce images from any videotape that include the time and date the information is recorded on the videotape. These photos can be kept in a file in the eye or placed in the pit for further reference.
George Lewis, Director of Surveillance, maintains his own library of tapes that include everything from minor procedure violations by the staff to detailed cheating incidents. Lewis also maintains an extensive file of information and photos of both cheaters and knowledgeable players he has collected over the years. “And it’s getting bigger every day,” states George in his Boston accent.
George is also a member of the Surveillance Information Network (known to its members as SIN), which is an organization of surveillance directors in southern Nevada. George, who is a past president of SIN, restarted the organization in June when this team came to the Aladdin. “We needed some type of avenue to pass information and photographs back and forth amonst properties, and this organization is the best way to do it,” said George.
Game Protection at the Aladdin
The defense of the Aladdin not only partly relies on George’s Surveillance Information Network but also on George’s contact with the Gaming Control Board and his past employer, Bob Griffin. On numerous occasions, Lewis has passed along information regarding scams or plays made at other casinos. Armed with this information, the pit may ready themselves for any similar problems.
But George is not the only one who receives and passes information. Several casino executives and gaming consultants have contacted me and my shift managers with inquiries about certain players. It seems that other casinos in Las Vegas give credence to our opinions.
One area that I have stressed throughout my career in gaming is training. Many casino supervisors go through their entire life in gaming without being instructed in methods that are used to beat the casinos. It is amazing the percentage of casino executives who don’t know basic strategy! Every one of the floor supervisors at the Aladdin are required to take classes in basic strategy and card counting techniques and must pass an examination. They will also be given classes on a regular basis regarding advanced twenty-one techniques, including the twenty-one computer.
As you now can see, it’s fair for me to boast that our ability to protect the Aladdin’s bankroll from both cheaters and knowledgeable twenty-one players is legitimate. Because of the abilities of the team both in the pit and in the eye, I am able to sleep really well at night.
Remember the Aladdin
To me, the game of twenty-one is just that, a game. Most of the excitement created by casino twenty-one can be attributed to the possibility that smart players can make it a cat and mouse game.
The knowledgeable players come to the casino and try to earn money and get out before they are discovered. The casino executive then tries to identify and back them off before they play too long. I’m one casino executive who does not take getting beaten by a professional player personally. However, before you head to the Aladdin to play these “juicy” games with their great rules and terrific penetration, I want to warn you about the several possibilities:
Possibility #1: It is likely that you will eventually be discovered.
Possibility #2: It is likely your play will be taped.
Possibility #3: It is likely that we will get a good photo of you.
Possibility #4: It is likely that other casinos will find out about your playing abilities.
So good luck if you play at the Aladdin. You may need it. ♠
For more information on casino surveillance, management, and procedures, and the ways professional gamblers overcome them, see the Professional Gambling Library
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