Blackjack writer taps the humorous side of gambling
Blackjack player Glen Wiggy remembers the date of his first casino trip as a card-counter: Jan. 28, 2001, the night he reported for duty at Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque, N.M.
He knows how many times he's visited a casino since then: 978, as of an Oct. 22 phone interview.
And, he tallied the number of free bottles of water he took home from that New Mexico casino: 1,536 over about 10 months, until the casino brass barred him from being served unless the water was in a plastic cup.
Wiggy, whose parents grew up in the South Hills, chronicles his gambling exploits in “1536 Free Waters and Other Blackjack Endeavors: Finding Profit and Humor in Card-Counting.”
“My target audience is the people who go to a casino just to have fun,” says Wiggy, 46, of Monument, Colo., a 1988 Air Force Academy graduate who taught probability and statistics there in the 1990s. “The gambling purists call them crazy.”
Rather than add another math-heavy tome to the library of blackjack literature, Wiggy focuses on tales of his casino life.
His key lesson: Have a good time in a casino, but play smart.
“I originally started card-counting because I wanted to make a few dollars,” he says. “Then, I started noticing all these funny things. I would notice strange things other players did, the superstitions people have.
“It didn't turn out that winning and losing was the biggest thing. It was how much fun I was having.”
The book, written in first person, tells of victories, defeats and “dumb things” he did during 864 casino visits — and a few nongambling encounters — over 7 1⁄2 years:
• How he took home 64 cases of water from a casino, a few bottles at a time, because his wife didn't like the taste of water piped into their Albuquerque home.
• How he had tripled his money in one session, then foolishly lost it all in four hands by trying to win an extra $100 to have enough to buy an entertainment system advertised in a circular that had been left in the men's room. The loss was bad enough, but the card-counter with two math degrees used the idiotic Martingale system — doubling your bet after a loss — in the futile effort to raise the additional Benjamin.
• How a friendly pit boss agreed to stall a game while Wiggy searched the casino for someone to loan him money to split aces in a counter's dream deck. The story doesn't have a happy ending.
Wiggy, who describes himself as “one of those math guys,” says he keeps notes about each casino visit. He tracked wins, losses, tips, comps and a variety of casino characters and situations.
The book touches on basic strategy and elements of card-counting. But, as he researched how to put it all into print, he had an idea.
“I started thinking, ‘Forget the normal blackjack card-counting book. I want to write something funny.' ”
Wiggy grew up in a gambling family. His father, Thomas Walter Wielgoleski before officially changing his last name in 1955, grew up within walking distance of South Park Golf Course and, according to his son, was fond of almost any bet — especially when playing golf. His mother, Helen, played bingo and slots.
Glen Wiggy was raised in Oklahoma, where he learned to hustle on the golf course and play cards while in elementary school. However, he says he didn't get into card-counting until an Air Force cadet approached him after class in 1998. The student knew more than the teacher, but Wiggy began his own research.
When he was transferred to New Mexico and his family stayed in Colorado for a few months, Wiggy started counting in earnest.
A skilled counter can gain an advantage over the house by tracking how many high cards and low cards have been dealt. When the undealt cards are rich in faces and aces, the advantage swings to the player and the counter raises his bet.
Counting requires concentration but is not difficult. Each exposed face card and ace typically is counted as minus-1, while small cards are counted as plus-1 or zero. When the count reaches positive territory — that point varies by the system and number of decks in play — counters raise their bets.
Counting doesn't guarantee winning a particular hand or session, as Wiggy's anecdotes demonstrate. He advises blackjack players to learn and adhere to the widely available basic strategy of when to hit, stand and double down.
“The biggest lesson to learn is not to be superstitious,” Wiggy says.
“Even if you want to have fun or tell fun stories, you definitely don't want to give the casino more than the advantage they already have.”
About the author
Name: Glen Wiggy
Book: “1536 Free Waters and Other Blackjack Endeavors: Finding Profit and Humor in Card-Counting” (www.iuniverse.com, available in print or as ebook; iuniverse is a self-publishing firm)
Education: Bachelor's degree in math from U.S. Air Force Academy; master's degree in math from University of Arizona; MBA from Boston University
Profession: Retired after 20 years with the Air Force; civilian employee for U.S. Northern Command in Colorado
Gambling specialty: Blackjack
Quote: “Gamblers have to know that even though you're going to have fun, you're going to lose.”
Misplaced decimal proves costly
A misplaced decimal point led to a few Rivers Casino slot players getting inflated payouts early this year, gaming officials say.
The incident happened Feb. 29, when International Game Technology workers configured four penny progressive slots at the North Shore casino, according to Oct. 10 testimony before the Gaming Control Board. Four slot reel combinations that were supposed to pay progressive awards of 500 credits, or $5, were mistakenly set to pay $500.
Casino officials noticed a “repeated winning of high jackpot amounts” and shut down the games after four hours, testified Beth Manifesto of the state's Office of Enforcement Counsel. In that time, the machines paid out $21,514.50 on combinations that should have paid only $477, she said.
The board fined IGT $5,000 because the payout configuration differed from state-approved specifications. Also, Rivers paid an additional $11,570.63 in slot-revenue tax to cover what the state would have received if the payouts had followed specifications. Players “were not harmed” by the inflated payouts, Manifesto noted.
The statewide slot-payout rate since the fiscal year started in July is 89.94 percent; for each $100 bet, the machines return an average of $89.94. Western Pennsylvania rates:
Rivers: 89.97 percent
Meadows: 89.79 percent
Presque Isle in Erie: 89.93 percent
Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.