A few days ago I returned from the World Game Protection Conference (WGPC). It was a memorable 3 days. Shortly after arriving in Vegas, I received some disappointing news from Willy Allison, President of World Game Protection. Allison had been informed that Dave Irvine and I would not be allowed on any of the tours of the Caesars surveillance room being offered to WGPC attendees. Granted, I wouldn’t have learned anything I hadn’t already seen on numerous television shows. Still, it would have been a cool experience for a former advantage player. Apparently, some old sentiments die hard.
The conference’s program kicked off with the Game Protection Master Classes. Four 3-hour classes were offered:
Table Game Cheating: Sal Piacente
Advantage Play: Bill Zender
Poker Cheating: George Joseph
Slot Cheating: Darrin Hoke
I would have loved to have sat in on the cheating classes since I’m not an expert in this area, but given that the Master Classes ran simultaneously I chose Advantage Play, which was taught by Bill Zender. Zender, who was once a card counter himself and a agent for the Nevada Gaming Control Board has more than 30 years of experience in the gaming industry. He is also the former vice president and director of operations at the Aladdin Hotel & Casino. I’ve enjoyed several of his books, Advantage Play for the Casino Executive and his most recent book, Casino-ology.
Zender started with card counting and one of his major points of emphasis was how the gaming industry has an over-inflated perception of the threat card counters pose. Zender presented the expected win and player advantage figures for different blackjack games based on the number of decks, casino rules, and player bet spread. Zender put the expected win of card counters in context relative to the dynamics of time and motion which significantly impact a casino’s bottom line. Casinos can raise their table game revenues by maximizing the number of rounds dealt per hour. It’s a very practical and effective approach. More opportunitities for players to bet per hour translates into greater revenue and profit for casinos.
Ironically, the measures employed against card counters such as shallow penetration and no mid-shoe entry are costing casinos revenue. When dealers are shuffling, casinos aren’t making money. When players have to wait until a new shoe to play, casinos aren’t making money. Practicing measures twenty-four seven, 365 days a year which target a minuscule percentage of players is counterproductive. Darrin Hoke, the Director of Surveillance at L’Auberge du Lac casino in Lake Charles, LA told me that over the last 4 years, the number of card counters he has backed off is .00006% of the total gamblers that have played at his casino during that period. That works out to less than 1 in a million gamblers. The fact is very few gamblers even attempt to learn how to play perfect basic strategy, much less card counting. Of those that do, most aren’t very good because they don’t have the skill, discipline and knowledge of money management to beat the house.
The class had comprehensive coverage of advantage play, also hitting on shuffle tracking, ace sequencing, card steering, hole card play, and biased roulette wheels. Having some experience with shuffle tracking, ace sequencing and card steering, I found the sections on hole carding and biased roulette wheels particularly interesting. Unlike card counting, the feasibility of these approaches is extremely dealer and casino dependent. The opportunities to employ these methods are uncommon and for the most part require a very high degree of skill. I have been asked many times about advanced play techniques and I plan to cover these approaches in more detail in the near future. Zender certainly did not disappoint in delivering a very informative class on advantage play.
The conference welcome reception was held in the evening, and the highlight of the night was the WGPC Challenge, a card counting competition for the casino surveillance community. The challenge was to see who could accurately count down a deck in the fastest time. In the final, Bobby Dauzat from Paragon Casino in Louisiana, claimed victory with a winning time of just under 15 seconds. I was impressed by the enthusiasm and focus of the competitors. It was apparent they took a lot of pride in their card counting skills. Dave and I filled big shoes when we presented Dauzat with the trophy. Last year, Ed Thorp, the father of card counting himself, presented the trophy. It was a fitting end to the first day of the conference.