'21' could pay big for blackjack

March 11, 2008 6:00 PM
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By David Stratton | Later this month, a new movie called "21" opens in theaters and there are some in the casino business who think it could give the game of blackjack a shot in the arm.

The movie is based on the best-selling book, "Bringing Down the House," which chronicles how a group of six MIT students took Vegas casinos for millions of dollars by card counting at the blackjack tables.

The book’s main character is Kevin Lewis, an MIT graduate who was invited to join the MIT Blackjack Team in 1993. The team was financed by a colorful character named Micky Rosa, who had organized a number of other teams to play the Las Vegas Strip.

Even though the team was a consistent winner, personality conflicts and card counting deterrent measures at the casinos eventually ended the incarnation of the MIT Blackjack Team.

One of the actual players on the team, Jason Fisher, is in real life, Mike Aponte. After his professional card counting career, Mike went on to win the 2004 World Series of Blackjack, and started a company called the Blackjack Institute which offers instructional products and services.

In the movie version, the quirky math professor, Micky Rosa, is played by Kevin Spacey, who uses his math genius to crack the win barrier, which is coupled with an intricate system of signals between MIT team members (do not try this in the casinos!).

Although technically card counting isn’t illegal, casinos can ban players whom they feel are counting cards (even if they’re not!).

Most card counting systems rely on keeping track of how many 10-valued cards remain in the deck. By having a fair certainty that there are a majority of 10s and face cards remaining, a player can better-judge how to play their hand.

With the movie obviously geared toward a younger audience, some casino operators in Las Vegas said they thought its somewhat glamorous theme might induce young travelers to try their luck at the 21 tables.

Blackjack has traditionally been Vegas’ top table game, although its popularity has diminished in recent years. Over the past few months, the money won on blackjack has been less than in years past and, oddly enough, last year more money was made on penny slots than at the blackjack tables.

Some Internet casino operators have stated they think the movie "21" could induce online players to give online blackjack a try.

"We have already witnessed how poker television shows have fueled the online poker craze, let’s see if the same can happen with online blackjack and if this film ‘21’ is the initiator," said the operator of an online gaming site.

The operator added that many online poker rooms and the players themselves point to a single event that helped the phenomenon: a no-name Chris Moneymaker winning the World Series of Poker on television, for instance.

"Now online poker is the most popular game as part of a billion dollar industry," he said. "Maybe blackjack will be the next game to gain superstar status."