Table matters!

Jan 3, 2006 2:23 AM

Unlike slot players who have embraced the new, high-tech machines, table game players have cast a jaundiced eye at the new automated blackjack tables.

In fact, the tables have been so poorly received that a couple of Nevada casinos — the Flamingo and Hilton in Las Vegas — have actually removed them from the casino floor.

The major concern with players is that the tables could be giving the casinos an unfair advantage.

Manufacturers respond that the tables are designed to improve player rating accuracy, casino security and dealer performance.

They accomplish this by electronically tracking every card played and bet made. The latter, casino managers say, is key to rating and evaluating players in order to determine their proper level of comps.

But it’s the tracking of cards dealt that has players concerned.

"What you have is an electronic card counting system for the house," says one long-time blackjack player. "When the computer determines the deck begins to favor the players, the dealer can ”˜kill the shoe’ early thus increasing the house edge."

"Killing the shoe" simply means shuffling before the deck has been dealt down to the plastic card. But shuffling early isn’t really anything new.

"Dealers, especially when they think they’re playing against an advantage player — someone who might be counting cards — will often shuffle early," says one high-stakes blackjack player at Caesars Palace. "Personally, I hate it when they shuffle early and usually walk away from the table. But that’s all you can do — walk away from the table."

One player did more than walk away. A Los Angeles attorney filed a lawsuit against a Nevada casino, state regulators and the table’s manufacturer in an effort to ban what he calls a computerized card counting system.

Although details are sketchy, GamingToday has learned that the lawsuit against the Nevada Gaming Commission was dismissed, and the suit against the Eldorado Casino in Reno and Bally’s, the table’s manufacturer, was settled when the Gaming Commission got the parties to agree to changes in how the system operates; specifically, the table must play a minimum of eight hands before information about the value of the deck’s remaining cards can be revealed to the dealer.

Most insiders believe a casino has the right to reshuffle the deck as often as it wants to. "What’s the difference if it’s an electronic scanner in the table or a floor supervisor keeping track of the deck?" says a table game supervisor in Las Vegas. "In fact, casino surveillance already has software in place that will analyze the count."

Legal experts agree that reshuffling the deck is certainly a casino’s prerogative, and that keeping count of cards isn’t a violation of gaming regulations.

But the use of an electronic device, such as a computer-tracking program, could open questionable areas.

"If gaming regulations say that using a mechanical device is illegal for a player to count cards or otherwise predict the outcome of a game, why should it be legal for the casino?" said a Las Vegas attorney specializing in gaming law.

Because there are so few tables in the state (they are currently at the Crystal Bay Club in Lake Tahoe and Eldorado in Reno), it has been difficult to find players who have an opinion.

One player, Al Rogers of Las Vegas, said he has played "many hours against it without any hassles," but that most players — and casino staff — have no use for automated tables.

"Dealers hate it, pit staff hates it, and most players hate it," Rogers said. "The game is slowed down, resulting in fewer hands for the house ”¦ which probably outweighs the gain from reduced comps.

"The loss to the house of players going elsewhere because of all the bad publicity for the casino using it is incalculable."