DETROIT FREE PRESS
Casino Q&A: MARK PILARSKI
How casinos beat the card counters
August 9, 2007
QUESTION:My brother-in-law is a self-proclaimed expert card counter, although I can't see anything from the car he drives to the clothes he wears that proves he has had any success at it. He's even thinking of doing it full time. He figures that since the counter always has an edge against the house, he'll never lose. If that is true, then how come my brother-in-law still drives a beat-up Ford? -- Sandy J.
ANSWER:Most card counters I know think they are the brightest color in the Crayon box. They all believe their crackerjack skills can beat the house at will. In reality, I've found many more mediocre counters than good ones.
Here's how the casino prevents keys to the front door from changing hands to these geniuses:
First, you've got your pit bosses hassling counters by putting more decks in the game, burying more cards on the shuffle, stopping mid-entry shoe betting, having the dealer shuffle halfway through the deck and -- when all else fails -- telling you to take a hike.
That fourth countermeasure -- premature shuffling -- alone usually destroys the advantageous situation counters typically enjoy. The successful card counters --and there are some -- combat early shuffling by camouflaging their play and try to remain undetected by pit personnel. Otherwise, countermeasure five comes into play. Counters will be asked to depart.
If your brother-in-law can somehow remedy all the above, plus play proficiently, then yes, he theoretically can turn the tables in his favor with an ever-so-slight mathematical edge over the casino.
Ah, but there's still one more enormous edge the casino has over a card counter. It's their virtually endless bankroll. The casino can sustain short-term losses that card counters cannot.
So is anyone truly making money on card counting? Sure. A very small, select group that has created a cottage industry of seminars, tapes, books and newsletters on counting. But for most counting experts, writing about playing is more lucrative than playing itself.
Final thought: Tell your brother-in-law not to quit his day job.
MARK PILARSKI survived 18 years in the casino trenches. He's a university lecturer, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals and is the creator of the audiocassette series on casino gambling "Hooked on Winning." E-mail him questions at firstname.lastname@example.org; for more Q&A, see www.freep.com/pilarski.