Card Counting in the News Again; Caesars Closes Harrahs, Tunica; 8 Insane Bets


counting cards
Hartley Henderson
Controversy About Card Counting Makes Headlines Again
By Hartley Henderson – Exclusive to


Las Vegas casinos consider Ben Affleck a bad actor (not literally although he did win the Razzie Award as worst actor for his roles in Daredevil and Gigli). What the casinos are concerned about and want Affleck banned for is card counting in blackjack. TMZ reported last week that Affleck won a fair amount of money playing blackjack at the Hard Rock Casino which prompted the casino manager to tell him to take his winnings and leave because they suspected him of card counting. It wasn’t the first time that Affleck, who is a fairly heavy gambler, has cleaned up at the casino. Last year he reportedly took over $800,000 from the same casino playing blackjack so the casino obviously decided they just couldn’t afford to keep paying him that type of cash and their solution was to ban him from the Hard Rock. Although there are hundreds of other casinos in Las Vegas, it is well known that when someone is suspected of card counting or cheating, all casinos in the city are notified by the casino about the banned player and it becomes nearly impossible for that person to ever get in another game at a different casino. The situation has raised the question again as to whether card counting is indeed cheating and whether the casinos really have the right to ban a player for getting that advantage.

For those unfamiliar with blackjack, players are dealt 2 cards face up and the dealer is dealt one card up and one card down. The player is then asked to hit or stick based on the cards that are showing. Players can stop at any time or continue to take cards. If the player’s score exceeds 21 they automatically lose. Once the player stops, his or her hand is played against the dealer’s hand and the hand that is closest to 21 wins. When played properly without card counting the advantage to the casino is about 0.5%, one of the lowest holds in the casino. When players count cards, however, the advantage switches to the player averaging around 1%. The most common method for counting is to assign a +1 whenever any card from 2 to 6 is played and a -1 whenever a 10, face card or ace is played. The other cards are assigned a zero. The logic is that when there are a lot of 10s and Aces in the deck player has a better chance of getting blackjack and a lesser chance of busting with 22 or worse. When there are a lot of low cards left, on the other hand, the player has a far greater chance of busting turning the advantage to the dealer. Consequently card counters adjust their bets accordingly and bet heavily when the card count is high and bet very small when the card count is low. There are far more sophisticated and successful ways to count cards as well but few have the ability to follow them.

Card counting gained a lot of notoriety in the late 1980s after Rain Man was aired in theaters. In the movie Dustin Hoffman playing an autistic savant, was able to count through a six deck shoe and allowed Tom Cruise to win a sufficient enough amount to be thrown out of the casino. The scene from the academy award winning movie actually led to a large increase in both blackjack play at casinos as well as the creation of many books teaching the art of card counting. The topic of card counting also gained notoriety after the movie 21 was released. In that movie a group of MIT students use card counting techniques to win big at the casino.

One of the biggest misconceptions in gambling is that card counting is illegal. In fact in no state is card counting against the law although using an electronic device to count cards or to help in any casino game is indeed a crime. At the same time, card counting is highly frowned upon by most casinos and if a player is caught or even suspected of counting cards they can and usually are barred from the casino for life. The one state where an exception to that rule is applied is in New Jersey. In 1982 Ken Uston, a famous card counter sued Resorts Casino in Atlantic City for barring him after he won a substantial amount. His lawyers argued that common law in New Jersey did not permit casinos from banning a person for winning. The courts agreed and ruled that gaming in New Jersey is state controlled and no one but the state may decide who may play the games. The courts did create a is a list of those who could be removed from the casinos which included convicted felons associated with gaming and organized crimes as well as blatant cheaters but card counting was deemed not to be cheating and consequently the courts ruled that card counters could not be banned for simply using their techniques.

As a result of this ruling Atlantic City casinos as well as those in other jurisdictions have taken a lot of counter measures to try and reverse the player advantage from card counting including cutting the shoes in half, cutting limits at tables, hiring dealers who speed up the play to distract the players and most recently cutting the payout on a blackjack from 3/2 odds to 6/5. While there are still a lot of casinos that still pay 3/2 on blackjack the majority of high limit blackjack tables now only pay 6/5 odds.

After hearing about Affleck’s ban from the casino I spoke to a friend who worked as a pit boss at an Ontario casino for a few years and asked about his view on card counting and barring players because they are believed to be doing just that.

“We were fortunate at our casino that table limits were never high enough to worry too much about card counters but for casinos in the United States I can understand their trepidation. Some table limits are as high as $50,000 and if someone is wagering that much on a hand, a 1% advantage could be quite costly to the casino over the long run. If 5 card counters bet a million dollars each in an evening playing blackjack that is a cost of $50,000 to the casino and I don’t care if you’re MGM, Caesars or some independent joint, no one can sustain that kind of loss for a full year. Nevertheless, for every successful card counter you have wannabe counters who can’t count for shit and make terrible decisions as a result. The casino makes a fortune off those players. And for every great blackjack player you have several morons who will hit an 18 vs. a 10, will split face cards or fives and will just make decisions that go completely against traditional play. In the end those players should more than make up the amounts lost to card counters.

So should players be barred for counting cards? I say no. In the casino you have to take the good with the bad and courts worldwide already decided that card counting isn’t cheating. Of course casinos are also cutting back on tables anyways to make room for slots and the majority of tables at casinos are now games like baccarat, pai gow and various novelty games which are completely luck and the casino knows how much it will make. Even in its heyday blackjack was never a big money maker for casinos and in this day and age where gaming space is at a premium it’s only logical that the low hold games like blackjack will start to decrease. Casinos should go after blatant cheaters like those who slide dice in craps and those who try and use computers at the tables and let the card counters be. Fortunately for casinos those who can successfully count cards are few and far between.”

Casinos are also a bit more worried about card counting today because technology now provides any Tom, Dick or Jane to learn how to count cards using their smartphone. In fact the iTunes store has no less than 10 card counting apps and a similar amount on Google Play. As a result of the release of these apps, The Nevada Gaming Control Board issued a warning in 2009 to casinos to be on the lookout for players using these apps while in the casino and apparently that warning was never lifted. Don’t forget, while card counting isn’t illegal, using a device to gain an advantage is indeed against the law.

As for the Affleck situation, casino bosses at the Hard Rock have denied that Affleck has been banned from the casino and in fact suggested that they welcome his presence:

“”Mr. Affleck, a valued guest of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, is not banned from our property and is welcome back any time,” a casino boss at the hotel said in a statement in the media after the story made headlines worldwide. Of course the casino boss never indicated if Affleck was still welcome at the blackjack tables or whether he would be relegated to slots and games like baccarat which are pure luck (unless of course you can edge sort like Phil Ivey).

My hunch is that Affleck will not be playing at the Hard Rock blackjack table any time soon, regardless of whether he is doing something ‘illegal’ or not.

Read insights from Hartley Henderson every week here at OSGA and check out Hartley’s RUMOR MILL!


harrahs tunica

Caesars elected to close Harrahs Casino in Tunica

by Phil Hevener

Where did the uniqueness go? Some casino and hotel bosses find themselves considering a law of the business jungle that has been well known to major retailers for years.

Under-performing stores run the risk of being turned into parking lots. Outdated casinos being replaced by something new are a familiar story in Las Vegas. But out there in all those regional markets – gaming’s rapid growth across different jurisdictions has drained myriad markets of discretionary spending power.

That’s why Caesars elected to close a Tunica casino and may be considering a similar move in Atlantic City where the Showboat’s days are said to be numbered and casinos such as Resorts are anything but healthy.

Changing market dynamics in the hotly competitive northeast have taken a toll. It’s difficult to imagine the big companies wanting to pour additional millions into Atlantic City when the opportunity to get a license in northern New Jersey may be just a couple of years away.

Thirty years ago casino executives were explaining their industry as a business that was “recession resistant.” I heard variations of that phrase repeatedly as a new to Las Vegas reporter working the casino beat for the Las Vegas Sun.

“The people who want to gamble will always have the money they need to do it,” an old time host on the Strip told me. Others generally agreed.

“There’s nothing like the gambling business,” the late Benny Binion, a cowboy gambler and marketing genius with a grade school education told me, wrapping his insight in a tone that suggested he was doing nothing more than stating the obvious.

But that was years ago when there were no legal gambling opportunities between Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

The uniqueness was eventually drained away as the legalization of crap tables and slot machines put legal gambling within easy reach of most Americans with an itch to give it a try.

The chance to gamble, that was enough all by itself in the beginning. But there always comes a time of reckoning when places that have not kept pace with the need to update their products began looking, well…familiar, a little too familiar.

The modern casino business is not a place for companies content to recline on their laurels. It’s true in Las Vegas and it is true in Macau where Steve Wynn continues focusing on his plans to keep his existing resort new and exciting once his Wynn Palace opens in a couple years.

You don’t have to look old just because you’re old. It’s a point Wynn was fond of making during the years when he was still spending most of his time in Las Vegas.

But some owners forget that.

From the look-but-don’t touch department: Nevada gaming licensees must avoid contact with the medical marijuana business. That was the essence of a “notice to licensees” that was posted last week by the State Gaming Control Board on its website.

The notice read in part, “the Board believes that any such investment or involvement by gaming licensees or applicants would tend to reflect discredit upon gaming in the state of Nevada.”

And as everyone knows, heaping discredit on the industry’s image is an absolute no-no. Nevada’s No. 1 industry is watched carefully by a global audience of watchers who would not hesitate to point out a complexion problem.

Which is why the reaction of a respected industry veteran got my attention last week as we fell into a conversation about the notice that was signed by Board member Terry Johnson.

“Maybe these guys (Board members) did not see the recent poll that said medical marijuana is more popular than online gaming,” he said. Not waiting for my response he continued, “sports betting is not very popular in Washington but I don’t see anyone in Washington suggesting we should shut it down.”

Legislative actions and social trends are not always in synch, I offered, but he shrugged that off, reminding me Internet poker and medical marijuana had both been approved by Nevada lawmakers.

Then he laughed and said, “Maybe the lawyers who had to sign off on this notice need to smoke some of the stuff they don’t want licensees touching. They’ve gotta relax a little.”

Talk about winning looks: Florida’s Seminoles are once again looking like winners. And, no, I’m not talking about the Florida State University football team.

The focus for the moment is on the monopoly the Seminoles have to operate full casinos at locales such as their two Hard Rock casinos.

Political insiders in the Sunshine State have been saying Gov. Rick Scott may be ready to give the tribe a five-year compact that would pay the state $2.5 billion over the life of the deal.

All it will cost the tribe is the mountain of campaign donations it has funneled toward assorted re-election campaigns over the last several years. Legislators still have to accept whatever deal Rick Scott has put together.

That’s a big “if” since pro-expansion forces such as Sheldon Adelson have also shipped a lot of money into Florida to buy influence wherever it can be bought.

The continued success of Florida casinos owned by the tribe is seen by some industry watchers as a key reason for the tribe to not follow through with rumors it might open a Hard Rock operation in Atlantic City.

“Why would they want to open their books to outside regulators in a way that they have never had to do?”

That was the thought offered by a veteran gaming regulator who thought the answer was more than obvious.

“They won’t do it,” he said.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at




 8 of the Craziest Bets Anywhere


Every once in a while, luck is smiling on gamblers and they win big. We have compiled a list of eight of the biggest winners in gambling history – in- and outside of the casino floor. But be warned – some of those gamblers took risks you should never take in casino or anywhere else in your life, because frankly, they are quite insane.

1. Mike Futter wins Grand National Bet

Mike Futter is a gambler at heart – he owns three bingo halls in Dublin and seven more in Northern Ireland, so he knows how gambling works. In 2003 he made a huge and risky bet on his own horse, called Monty’s Pass, at the 2003 Grand National Horse race . Long story short – he won. Futter and his Monty’s Pass’ four co-owners made several individual bets ranging from £5,000 at 33-1 and £10,000 at 20-1. They allegedly have won over a million Pounds.

2. Poker Legend Johnny Moss punches a Man

The legendary poker pro Johnny Moss does not look like a fighter, he really doesn’t. Nevertheless he once took a bet against a guy in bar who claimed never to have lost in a fight. Mosses friends got riled up and gave the poker pro odds of 15:1 if he could knock this guy out. Moss accepted and threw a punch – which was not the best idea he ever had, since the man really knew what he was doing in a fight. Moss won a trip to the hospital, but never regretted anything. “15 to 1 was too good to pass up,” he later said.

3. Ashley Revell Bets it all

Remember that we said there are some thing in here you should never try? This is one of those things. In 2004, Ashley Revell seemed to be unhappy with – well, with everything. So he sold it – his car, TV, even his clothes. Then he took every penny he owned out of the bank and his poker bankroll (yes, he was a poker player, too) totaling his money to a whopping $135,300. He then went to Vegas and bet it all on one roulette spin. There even is a video of this event, so we won’t spoil the ending for you.
4. The Ups and Downs of Gambling with you Social Security Check

The year was 1995 and the place is, of course, Las Vegas. A man whose name is sadly lost in time, had hit a rough patch – his wife had kicked him out and all he had left was a $400 social security check. So he does what a good Las Vegas citizen does – he went straight to the Treasure Island Casino and bet his check at Blackjack. Employers and other guests did not want to sit with him, because he was homeless for quite some time and frankly smelled a bit ripe. But luck does not care about odor – he won $1 million in a single streak. Unfortunately he didn’t stop at this point and gambled away all his money in less than three hours. He left the casino and was never seen again.

5. The Luck of the Greek

Archie Karas was a waiter from Greek who quite literally had no money. But that didn’t stop the enthusiastic poker player. He borrowed $10,000 from a (obviously very good) friend and headed to Las Vegas to play poker against the best at the famous Binion’s Horseshoe Casino. He obviously had some ancient Greek God on his side, because he went on and smacked down 15 of the world’s greatest poker players in a unrivalled head-to-head competition. But this was not enough for Karas, he set out to the craps tables and kept winning there until he had a whopping $17 million in his bankroll. Although he now faces fraud charges for his stunt, he still is one of the greatest gamblers the world has ever seen.

6. The lucky small Bets

In December 1989, a 40-year-old man from Newport, South Wales went into a bookie’s office and bet on several events. He only bet £30 on the following events occuring until the year 2000:
– Pop icon Cliff Richard will get knighted.
– The legendary British pop and rock band U2 stays together as a group.
– The TV show Eastenders will still be on the BBC.
– The TV soap Neighbours will still be on.
The man left and returned in January 2000, when he came to collect his prize – a whopping £194,400. His bets all won and paid out to the accumulative odds of 6,479/1. This just shows that you don’t have to be a casino pro or know any strategy in to – you just need to know your pop culture.

7. The Hermits’ Pride

The Hermits of Salisbury Plain were a famous group of gamblers and betters that literally made gambling history in the 1900s with their astonishing winning streaks. The group contained five professional gamblers, including now legendary City financier Percy Cunliffe and Irish stud-owner Wilfred Purefoy. The Hermits of Salisbury concentrated on horse racing and enjoyed a winning streak involving horses trained at Westcourt Manor’s Druid’s Lodge stables on Salisbury Plain . In 1903 alone the group netted about £250,000 – that would be £10 million in today’s money.

8. The Suitcase Man

Texan horse trader William Lee Bergstrom may be one of the most famous gamblers of all time. Also known under his nickname “Suitcase Man” he revolutionized gambling, because he got the casinos to accept outrageous sums for single bets. This is how he did it: In 1980 turned up at Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel in Las Vegas with two suitcases. The casino had advertised to match any bet as long as it was a punter’s first. Bergstrom opened his first suitcase – it contained $777,000. The second one was empty, he said he needed it for the money he planned on winning. The casino reluctantly matched his bet – a unprecedented event until that time – and Lee Bergstrom went on to the craps tables. He played, he won. Later he returned with a suitcase containing $1 million and lost. Just shows that you shouldn’t stress your luck.


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