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Video Blackjack

rigged blackjack software non random
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Beware of the Sega Robo-Dealers: Non-Random Video Blackjack

By Joel H. Friedman
(From Blackjack Forum Vol. XII #4, December 1992)
© 1992 Blackjack Forum

The March issue of Blackjack Forum (Volume XII #1) contained an interesting article by Allan Pell concerning a variety of robo-blackjack machines (i.e., computerized simulations of blackjack encased in slot machines). At the recent World Gaming Congress in Las Vegas, the Sega booth at the Expo had on display a version of their multiplayer blackjack machine very similar to the Sega BlackJack Super Magic Vision machine discussed by Pell. This machine has some “features” that I personally find very disturbing.

A quick glance at the rules of the game leads one to the conclusion that this is a game that is “too good to be true.” The handout sheet at the Sega booth describes a 2-deck game with shuffling after each round. Insurance, pair splitting and doubling down on 2-card hands are allowed. Pushes are returned to the player. Blackjacks pay two to one!! On top of this, there are significant bonus awards for special player hands:

  • 5 cards under 21 returns 3 units
  • 6 cards under 21 returns 10
  • 7 cards under 21 returns 20
  • 8 cards under 21 returns 50
  • Ace-jack suited returns 5 units
  • Ace-jack of spades 15
  • Three 7s returns 10 plus a free play
  • Three 7s of the same color returns 15 units plus a free play
  • 21 made with 6,7,8 returns 10 units if suited, 5 units if unsuited

Finally, there is a random jackpot for A,2,3,4,5,6, plus a payoff of 10, 20, or 50 units depending upon whether your cards are mixed colors, all of the same color, or all of the same suit. An honest blackjack game with these rules would result in a huge player advantage (>5%).

Video Blackjack with an Adjustable House Edge

So how can casinos make money with a game that has such favorable rules? The Sega handout lists as a feature of their machine, “Operator selected percentages from 84% to 99% in one percent increments.” In other words, it seems that the blackjack rules are fixed, but the house edge is adjustable.

When I questioned the Sega representatives about this, I was given the following information. The Sega blackjack machines do not meet the regulatory requirements of Nevada or New Jersey. This was attributed to their software, which was developed for Sega by an outside vendor. The Sega representatives did not seem to know why the software caused a problem. Their view was that their machine was designed for entertainment as opposed to serious gambling. Their customers (i.e. casinos) seemed very pleased with the fact that the hold on their machines varied only a little from the selected percentage.

So, those are the facts that I have about the Sega blackjack machines. We now enter the realm of speculation. My understanding is that Nevada and New Jersey regulations require that machine implementations of card games deal in a manner such that the next card to be dealt must be selected at random from the undealt cards, each of which is equally likely to be chosen. I suspect that the reason Sega blackjack machines don’t meet Nevada and New Jersey requirements is that this randomness requirement is being violated. A discussion with someone who had played a Sega blackjack machine in a foreign casino suggested that Sega blackjacks occur far less frequently than blackjacks in the normal game.

Non-Random Video Poker from the Same People Who Brought You Non-Random Video Blackjack

Some of the readers of Blackjack Forum may be video poker enthusiasts as well as blackjack players. Yes, there are also video poker machines out there in foreign casinos which do not meet the regulatory requirements of Nevada and New Jersey.

Sega indicated that their blackjack machines can be found on cruise ships as well as in casinos in Europe, Asia, and in the Caribbean. The presence of a Sega blackjack machine in a casino should be viewed as an indication that you are in a jurisdiction that permits machines that do not meet the regulatory standards of Nevada or New Jersey. If you see an interesting looking machine, I suggest that you proceed with extreme caution, or play solely for entertainment.

[Arnold Snyder comments: Joel Friedman’s alarming discovery that a video blackjack machine being marketed in the U.S. allows the casino operator to preset the payback percentage—without altering the rules or the declared payout schedule—was news to me. I did not know such machines were being sold in this country.

I was not, however, unaware of the existence of these machines. In fact, during the summer of 1991, Blackjack Forum contributing writer, Allan Pell, had supplied me with brochures from many of the Japanese distributors of both video blackjack and video poker machines, which described how the casino operator could internally change the hold percentage with no apparent alteration of rules or payout schedules.

Pell, at the time, was working in Japan in the electronics industry. He had access to these materials through his employers and clients.

The Oakland firestorm, regrettably, destroyed all of the literature he had collected and sent to me. Up until that time, we had been planning a joint project to research the disturbing possibility of these machines making it into U.S. casinos. Further stifling this venture, Pell decided he’d had enough of Japan, and relocated to California.

When I received Joel Friedman’s article about the Sega machines being hawked at the ’92 Gaming Congress, I faxed a copy to Pell for any additional comments he had to make, as the importance of this story to casino players demands that it be published at this time, without all of the details and documentation. Allan faxed me an article titled “Rip-Off Robo-Dealers” that you will find in this same issue of Blackjack Forum.]   ♠

For more information and stories about video blackjack and casino cheating at blackjack, see The Big Book of Blackjack by Arnold Snyder.

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Non-random (or crooked) software is a problem in both online casinos and video gambling parlors. Protect yourself by learning how to detect crooked software, and learn about the laws regarding non-random software in gambling games.