The Witch Hunt Conspiracy Theory: What Happens When You Bar a Card Counter?
By Arnold Snyder
(From Blackjack Forum Volume XXII #4, Winter 2002/03)
© 2002 Blackjack Forum
I am a conspiracy theory nut. I admit it. In fact, I’m proud to admit it. The history of man is littered with hare-brained conspiracies, but people just never see the lunacy that pervades their society. There is a known reason for this mass myopia: Humans, as a species, are slow learners.
Here’s how the Witch Hunt Conspiracy Theory goes:
If we want to soak the masses for bundles of money, we convince them that they have a mortal enemy that we must eliminate. Essentially, we scare the crap out of the rubes. We then begin to hunt down this evil entity mercilessly, knowing that a witch hunt inevitably creates more witches.
This is the central theorem of the Witch Hunt Conspiracy Theory. We do not need a real enemy, we simply start hunting down any minority group of the population that we insist is a mortal threat to us all. Those foolish enough to sympathize with the victims publicly are simply setting themselves up to be hunted. This increase in the witch population keeps us in business, and the rubes more scared than ever.
Since time began, this has been the way that every power freak has operated. From Attila the Hun to Saddam Hussein, from Prince Machiavelli to Hitler, from Nero to Stalin, the program is always the same.
Starting in the 1600s and continuing for a century or so sporadically, alleged “witches” were persecuted by the Church throughout Europe and America. They were hunted, captured, imprisoned, tortured and murdered, all in the name of saving mankind from their evil ways.
What is ironic about this era of history is that the witch hunters were the so-called “Christians,” a group whose existence came about as a result of the Romans trying to eliminate them some centuries before by feeding them to lions and otherwise slaughtering them in public. This Roman witch hunt, as expected, simply created more Christians. In fact, this Christian persecution went on so long and so viciously that Christians inevitably became the dominant group wherever they had once been hunted, with their worldwide headquarters located in… let me guess… Rome?
These days, nobody tortures Christians or witches, but the damage has been done. Christians today are infesting every corner of the world, and witches have their own web sites. Although we may still want to feed the Christians to wild animals, we don’t. We know they won’t go away, so we just turn the channel, ignore them, and let them live out their folly. Likewise, we allow the witches to set up their magical herb shops, sell each other crystal amulets, display “My Other Car is a Broom” bumper stickers, and dance under the full moon to their hearts’ content. Just leave us out of it.
In more recent times, we can look at the Communist witch hunt of the McCarthy era. Artists and intellectuals were hunted down simply for having contrary political opinions and exercising their right to free speech. What did these shameful inquisitions in the 50s lead to? Welcome to the 60s, the nationwide explosion of contrary political opinions and free speech, with lunatic fringe artists and writers the most prominent and revered members of society.
Then there’s the so-called “war on drugs.” This has been going on for what… forty years? Don’t get me started. As Bishop of the First Church of Blackjack, it’s not my job to cure the world of its ills, only to explain to you, my followers, how everything that happens in the universe relates to the simple card game that we regard as a Sacrament.
Which leads us to the “card counter problem.”
We might wonder if the casinos will ever realize that their barring experiment has failed? Won’t it ever dawn on them that they cannot get rid of professional players simply by barring them from the tables? Are there actually intelligent life forms within the casino industry who do not realize that their witch hunt for professional players only leads to more professional players?
Don’t kid yourselves, my people. As in every witch hunt throughout history, those at the top know that the witch hunt itself creates more witches. The Romans were trying to fill a Coliseum, for Christ’s sake (pun intended). They had a lot of tickets to sell, and they needed a never-ending supply of lion food.
It is the persecution of the professional players that is directly responsible for the gambling craze that has swept the nation, and the world. The casinos have a lot of seats to fill and they know they can only draw the big crowds if they persecute the “witches” that are infiltrating their gaming pits. The minuscule handful of actual pros, who are labeled a threat to the industry’s very existence, are in fact the reason the industry exists at all.
Because of the forty-year witch hunt for card counters, there are more pro gamblers today than ever before in the history of gambling. Witch hunts NEVER eliminate witches; they ALWAYS multiply the witch population.
Let’s say I’m a professional keno player. I know this sounds crazy but at one time the term “professional blackjack player” sounded just as crazy. So let’s just presume I’ve come up with the secret of chaos theory that makes the keno numbers predictable.
As a normally greedy person in this society, I’m content to win what I consider a livable wage for my efforts, say half-a-million a year. I’m smart and I don’t want anyone else to think my keno wins are based on anything other than luck. So, I spread my keno wins around to different casinos and I keep my secret to myself, just trying to stay under the radar.
I’m going on this way for a few years, pleased with my easy life, until some casino surveillance agents get together and compare notes, and realize I’m beating them all.
Now, if the casinos wanted to keep the keno status quo, what’s the smartest action they could take to keep their losses at this game minimized?
If they acted with intelligence, they would keep it under their hats, tell no one, and just keep watching me to see if they could figure out what I was doing. Perhaps they could figure out a way to change the game so I couldn’t beat it anymore.
What is absolutely the worst action they could take?
Why is that a stupid reaction?
Consider… as long as I am making a good living at this occupation, it is in my best interest to keep my secret to myself. If everybody starts beating keno, the game will cease to be profitable for the casinos and they will eliminate it, or change it, possibly in some fundamental way that negates my edge. There goes my free lunch. It’s also in my best interest to keep my own wins controlled to what I actually want for myself, so as to keep suspicions down and the game profitable for the casinos for years to come.
But what happens when I’m barred?
Here I have the secret to beating keno, and I have just been told I can no longer play keno. My name and photo have been posted in every casino in the world that offers keno. I get trespassed every time I try to enter a joint. Soon, my disguises and fake IDs wear thin. I am hunted, persecuted; I have become a keno witch.
Do you think I will just go back to pushing a pencil at the bank for chicken feed? Or is there some possibility that I might decide to train others to play keno for me? Of course, this team of keno players I put together will have to paid, and they will have to be paid very well so that they don’t decide to strike out on their own, or sell my secret to others.
They will also have to start taking enough money out of the casinos that I can still make my half-mill per year, as a percentage over and above what they take. As they are also picked off by the casinos and barred, which is inevitable, like me they also will not want to go back to their dead-end jobs when they are no longer allowed in the keno lounges.
What was at one time a half-million-dollar per year cost for the entire casino industry worldwide, becomes a multi-multi-million-dollar problem that every casino must now cope with by hiring chaos theory experts.
These experts will be designing expensive computer analysis programs to recognize the signs of a professional player’s keno card. Keno runners will be studying mug books before they make their rounds. And Olaf Vancura will be simultaneously hawking his Keno KO book and furiously trying to invent a ping-pong ball for Mikohn Gaming that violates the laws of physics.
If only the casinos would have just let me alone with my system, just watched me, never spread the word that keno was vulnerable to intelligent strategic attack, the cost to the industry would have been minimized to my play, and controlled to a known quantity. So, why wouldn’t they do this?
Are you forgetting a crucial element of the central witch hunt theorem? Those at the top know. Your average surveillance or pit critter may think he’s “protecting” the game by chasing out a counter. This is what he’s hired to do. He’s not hired to think about the effects of a witch hunt; he’s simply hired to hunt witches. But the actual purpose of his job is to create more witches.
Before the card counter hunts began forty years ago, professional gamblers were a more discreet bunch than they are today. None of them told their secrets. Occasionally, a gambler would take some neophyte under his wing to act as a partner, and he’d show him the ropes, a few of the moves, perhaps introduce him to a few other players, but this was a small circle of friends who had a common interest in keeping their methods to themselves.
In the old days, pros did play against each other on occasion—may the best con win. After the game, the loser would bow to the winner as a professional courtesy, and they would each go their respective ways. Often, this was how a lesser pro would learn new tricks. Pros often carried guns and knives to defend themselves, but this was not so much a defense against other pros as against the robbers who hung around the big games looking for an easy score, or the rubes who might turn into sore losers and try to take some drastic action.
But every big gambling team in the modern (post Thorp) history of blackjack—from the old Uston teams, to the Hyland group, to MIT, to CORE, to the Greeks, et al.—was started by pros who had been personally hounded away from the tables, and had to train groups of players to do what they had been doing so they wouldn’t have to go back to the nine-to-five gig.
By employing the witch hunt mechanism, casinos turned professional gambling into big business. They built their games around many of the same cons that gamblers have always depended upon, and their theory of beating their opponents is virtually identical. They build in an “edge” that makes the games appear fair in any short run, but always delivers the money to them in the long run.
As businesses, casinos compete against each other for customers (marks), but they don’t actually play against each other at their tables. There are tales about how some of the early legends (real gamblers) of the Nevada casino industry—Benny Binion, Bill Harrah, Harold Smith, etc.—would occasionally wander into a competing casino and try to take a bundle out at the crap table or blackjack table, but this was never the normal way for casinos to compete, and it’s not happening at all today. Kirk Kerkorian does not try to beat Donald Trump by showing up at the Taj Mahal to play high stakes baccarat. (Okay, so there’s Kerry Packer—but he’s so rich he can afford to be the exception that proves the rule.)
Casinos are not, in fact, professional gamblers. They do not gamble. They are in the business of taking money from those who want to be gamblers. They know they can’t beat the real pros, but by persecuting the pros, they create more pros, and a huge population of wannabe pros and pro sympathizers.
Of course, those at the top must always remember what happened in Rome. The persecution went on so long and so hard that the Christian population reached critical mass; there came a time when there were more Christians than Romans. Once a witch population exceeds the population of the dominant group, the witch population takes over, and they begin to create, and hunt, witches of their own.
What will happen when the professional gambler population reaches critical mass? When the First Church of Blackjack is the ruling body of this industry? Hang in there, gang. Our day will come. We’ll all live to see the Trumps and the Icahns and the Kerkorians on their knees. Gaming Control will answer to us for their sins. And despite being a Bishop, I’m just not feeling very merciful. ♠
For information on how casinos detect card counters, see The Card Counter's Guide to Casino Surveillance by D.V. Cellini, an Arnold Snyder Professional Gambling Report.
For more by Arnold Snyder on the ongoing battle between casinos and professional gamblers, see The Big Book of Blackjack.
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