How to Kill a Casino Promotion
FROM ET FAN:
What Went Wrong at the Morongo Casino Promotion?By L.J. Winsome
(From Blackjack Forum XVI #4, Winter 1996)
© Blackjack Forum 1996
Friday the 13th of September was touted as "Your Lucky Day at Casino Morongo," but instead, the payday turned into an expensive fiasco true to the date. The casino promotion — which portended to offer over $900,000 in excess player pool funds to punters by paying any "natural 13" like a blackjack at 1 1/2 times a bet — was canceled at the last minute.
Although, Casino Morongo undoubtedly pulled some kind of bait-and-switch on the players, it's arguable that the card counters had no one to blame but themselves.
Let's face it, counting cards is the easy part. It's things like game selection, ability to read heat, and a great act that make for longevity, and therefore, give someone the chance to put those counting skills to use. That and bankroll, of course. Another requisite skill, and possibly one of the most important, is discretion, and after the example set at the Morongo casino promotion by the army of professional card counters that showed up to cash in, it appears to be a lesson that needs to be relearned.
The reason every card counter on U.S. soil (including one from Hawaii) showed up at at Morongo casino promotion was Stanford Wong, and and one of his Current Blackjack News "Special Editions," which are more commonly called "Wong Alerts." These go out over the Internet and telephone/fax lines, and inform professionals who subscribe to this service of promotions across the country and optimal strategies for playing them. I have been to numerous promotions over the past two years, all of which I have learned about by these "Wong Alerts."
It costs $295 a year for the fax service, but it used to be worth it, as these promotions injected much appreciated infusions of cash into my bankroll. Also, casino promotions are a lot less work than card counting. During casino promotions all one has to do is sit there and bet the maximum. But there may be a downside to these alerts: too many people are now showing up. In this case, the "Wong Alert" literally killed the promotion before it started. Here's how the alert looked when it came over the wire:
After reading that, what card counter in his right mind wouldn't run, not walk, to the nearest airport and catch the first plane to L.A.?
The Morongo Promotion: Like a Card Counter's Convention
Jerry, one of the floormen working at the casino in the afternoon prior to the promotion witnessed the counters competing for seats in a manner he initially compared to circling sharks and as the day progressed likened to circling vultures. I don't think Casino Morongo has ever seen so many arguments over seats at which it cost $1.00 to play a hand.
Many people who got up to use the restroom lost their seats, if they didn't return in five minutes. All that morning bosses and dealers were forced to arbitrate these disputes, and the atmosphere intensified as the day progressed. By 10:30 a.m., it was impossible to get a seat
Many of the larger blackjack teams had arrived the night before and taken their places at the $500 maximum table estimating their e.v. at around $4,000 per hour.
That night, when one professional blackjack player asked for clarification from a pitboss on exactly which two cards constituted a "natural 13," he was told it was "...any first two cards, including A-2."
When he asked if the promotion would apply at the $500 tables, however, he was told "no." With that word, the entire table got up and returned to their hotel rooms in preparation for the next day's festivities. They would return the next day, of course. At the $100 maximum tables the hourly e.v. was about $800, still well worth the competition for a seat.
In any other casino, no professional card counter who was a member of a blackjack team would openly communicate or distribute bankroll with colleagues under the watchful stare of the eye-in-the-sky, but that's the sort of thing that went on at Casino Morongo. It was reported by a floorman that they had videotape of professionals passing large sums of money at the tables, openly communicating with their partners and, worst of all, trying to buy the locals out of their seats.
Morongo, with typical casino conspiracy mentality, reported that from the perspective of surveillance, it looked like one giant team had descended on the casino and was operating some kind of scam. That would scare the daylights out of any casino, particularly one unaccustomed to card-counters, and in this case, it scared the promotion out of Morongo.
One card counter, whom I later learned was organizing one of the much-feared big-betting teams, described feeling like he was at a giant convention of counters.
"The atmosphere is just so relaxed," he said.
I met him hovering behind my table, which was filled with Vietnamese regulars hitting hard 17 against a 10 in order to get the two-of-clubs marked with a PAYDAY (another, less profitable, Morongo promotion gimmick). I was the only professional at this table with a seat. The regulars kept promising to leave at 5:00 pm, when the payday promotion ended, and an hour before the anxiously awaited promotion on "natural 13," but this did not deter any number of counters from coming up and offering to buy the locals out of their seats beforehand.
At 3:00 pm a pitboss circled the casino announcing that a "natural 13" was made up of only a 10, J, Q, or K and a 3. This lessened the worth of the promotion, but the expected value was still about $400 per hour and there was no heat to contend with. Everybody stayed in their seats, but the continuing devaluation of the promotion was disappointing.
Then, at 5:00, one hour before the party was due to begin, the casino manager, with two beefy security guards in tow, went around announcing the cancellation of the Lucky 13 promotion altogether. The counters were furious, some of them quite vocally.
The trouble is that Casino Morongo, like any other casino on the planet, exists to make money. They are not there to put money into the pockets of card counters who will then disappear and use the winnings to extract even more money from other casinos. Casino Morongo wants it's regulars to win the player pool, not the professionals, because they want that money to be returned to them in the form of the ante that gets dropped down the slot with each hand that's played.
The money that would have been given away during the casino promotion comes from the blackjack winnings, not the $1-per-hand drop. That's why these promotions exist in the first place; the casino will occasionally and publicly give up some of the money they earn from their advantage on the game. Nobody knows how much money they really earn with both the normal house advantage and the phenomenal earn of the drop — Indian casinos are accountable to no one, audited by no regulatory body — so, the casino promotions lend an aura of honesty to the otherwise questionable policy of hitting the average player from both sides.
If, however, the casino can earn the money back in the weeks and months that follow the promotion, from unwitting regulars, that's fine with them. They're not going anywhere.
Casino Morongo pulled some kind of stunt when they canceled the Friday the 13th promotion. I couldn't help wondering, when I heard the news, if the whole thing had been a setup. If so, it was brilliant. Fake a promotion so that all the card counters come in, then make them play for seven hours before the promotion — to guarantee a seat during the big payoff hours — and charge them a dollar a hand while they're doing it. Brilliant and unethical, if that's the case.
What has to be remembered is that Casino Morongo is a casino, not a fun place to hang out with your friends and socialize. In a way, we card counters swallowed the same lies that all the regular losers usually fall for: lose money but have a good time while you're doing it.
We let our guards down, and we ended up paying for it. That's the trouble with this business, mistakes cost us immediately and dearly, and performance is all.
Come the next casino promotion I hope we'll have learned our lesson; we'll be our usual discreet and stealthy selves, and we'll remember that a casino, by any other name, is still our enemy.♠
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||How to Kill a Blackjack Casino Promotion
This Blackjack Forum article discusses a casino promotion gone wrong at Casino Morongo. Hordes of card counters descended on the casino promotion after word of it was posted on a blackjack web site.