Down for the count!

Mar 5, 2002 10:19 AM

Card counters have gotten more sophisticated. So have casinos.

A computerized surveillance system at six major Las Vegas resorts is clamping down on blackjack players who employ a variety of camouflaging techniques ”” legal and illegal ”” to win at the tables.

The system, marketed by Casino Software & Systems Inc., is in place at the Mirage, Treasure Island, Golden Nugget, MGM Grand, New York-New York and Rio casinos.

Using computer analysis of videotape footage, Blackjack Survey Voice (BJSV) identifies card counters, shuffle trackers and hole-card players. Legitimate players whose winning percentage rises too high are politely told their game is “too strong” and are escorted from the tables.

“Does the player pose a threat to the casino? Our system cuts through the camouflage,’’ says Oliver Schubert, president of the Las Vegas-based company. “We calibrate the costs to the player and the casino.’’

Among the calculations, BJSV can project how much a player will lose, or win, over time. It can also determine if a dealer is revealing hole cards and detect even the slightest usual betting patterns.

Pit bosses and other floor personnel have kept an eye peeled for such behavior since the first casino dealt its first hand. But Schubert says sophisticated computer programs have turned an art into science. And this is helping resorts improve their bottom lines.

“You analyze one big player and you’ll make your investment back,’’ he says.

In addition to zeroing in on card counters, BJSV is used to rate players. Here, too, the computerized profile is proving more effective than the whims of a pit boss.

“Pit bosses tend to be more generous. They base their decisions on rough estimates, some of which may be made after just five or 10 minutes. But the data doesn’t lie. There are no personal relationships with the computer,’’ Schubert explains.

The Rio has been especially aggressive in utilizing BJSV in rating players. “It tells you what each player is worth to you,’’ one exec told GamingToday.

BJSV has been tested rigorously in the past year with the advent of the “Ultimate Gambit’’ strategy of misdirection card counting. Such camouflaging, which is essentially making mistakes on purpose, has consistently been defeated by Schubert’s program.

Arnold Snyder of Blackjack Forum reported, “I believe that it would be impossible to camouflage a traditional card counting betting strategy from BJSV. This is because it can translate the betting history of any player.’’ He calls it “the most sophisticated of software packages.”

Snyder also finds that BJSV’s analysis brings new precision to the rating system. Examining an analysis of a sample player, he noted that the house had only a 0.08 percent long-run advantage.

“Even the dumbest pit boss can understand this report. This black chip player may pose no real threat to the house, but he may find it difficult to get his share of comps after the pit reads (the report),’’ Snyder stated.

Though there are many properties that still do not aggressively pursue card counters, and continue to rate players the old-fashioned way, the Rio and most of the MGM-Mirage resorts here are betting on BJSV. So far, they say their bet is paying off.