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Some blackjack players deserve ticket to Hall of Shame

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 9:14 p.m.

The blackjack dealer sounded incredulous.

“You want to double that?” he asked the player at third base, who had shoved out extra chips next to his Ace-5, even though the dealer's up-card was a King.

“I have a face card showing,” the dealer reminded him, allowing an extra couple of seconds for the man to reconsider what everyone else at the table knew was a bad bet.

The player indicated he really did want to double. To the surprise of no one except maybe him, he lost.

A few hands later, the same player doubled when he had hard 12 and the dealer's up-card was a seven. Again, the third baseman lost twice his original bet. He left the table broke and muttering, probably cursing his bad luck.

No matter where you play, you're bound to run into people whose decisions on hitting, standing, doubling or splitting make you shake your head. Some hit hard 17. Others stand with less than 10 because they're afraid of “taking the dealer's bust card.” A few play so poorly that they'd have a better chance of winning at the slot machines or the Big Wheel.

The first thing to remember about such players is that, in the long run, they have no effect on your bankroll. Overall, those bonehead plays cost them, not you.

Inspired by that third baseman's play — and by the recent vote on Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame ballot, which had more than its share of questionable candidates for the sport's ultimate honor — I offer examples of players eligible for the Blackjack Hall of Shame:

People who play above their bankroll: The dream of winning big, a desire for comps or a drive to impress others leads some players to the poor house. Many set themselves up for ruin by playing at too high a minimum for their limited bankroll. At a $25 table, four straight losses will wipe out a $100 buy-in; the same buy-in gives you 10 minimum bets at a $10 table, or 20 at a $5 table. Some players can't bring themselves to make the proper basic-strategy play because they bet beyond their comfort level and are afraid to double down with an 11 or hit their 15 against the dealer's eight. Bottom line: Don't play with money you can't afford to lose.

People who play 6-to-5 blackjack: Players don't have to worry about it yet in Pennsylvania, where the state mandates that player blackjacks be paid 3-to-2, or $15 for a $10 bet. Many casinos elsewhere deal the 6-to-5 abomination, in which a blackjack gets only $12 on a $10 bet. The casino's come-on often is that the 6-to-5 game is dealt from a single or double deck. Don't fall for it. If blackjacks don't pay 3-to-2, don't play.

People who pay more attention to the side bets than the blackjack: Side bets such as Lucky Ladies, In Between and 21+3 carry a higher house edge than the basic game. The payoffs are tempting. But if the casino didn't have a substantial edge, they wouldn't offer the bet. For your best shot at winning, stick to the regular game.

People who whine after getting a blackjack: So what if you just lowered your bet? You won. Be happy.

People who refuse to learn basic strategy: Unlike slots, roulette and craps, blackjack does not have to be a game of pure luck. With a little reading, memorization and practice, any blackjack player can learn how to reduce the house edge to 0.5 percent or less, depending on the rules. The game's more fun when you have an idea of what you're doing. Those who play by the seat of their pants are giving away money and probably not having a good time doing it.

Serious blackjack players have a name for folks who can't be bothered with even the basics of basic strategy: ploppies. Tales of their play are like a car wreck on the Parkway. Everyone gawks because it's so bad.

My wife tells of a player who stood with a grand total of two. He was dealt a pair of Aces, and the dealer showed a bust card. The dealer broke, and everyone at the double-deck table, where cards are dealt face-down, gaped as the player's Aces were exposed. The player's response: “Hey, I won.”

I saw another player stand on 4 — an Ace-Three, also against a bust card. He lost. To keep peace in the family, I won't identify him.

At a Mississippi casino, I saw a disheveled guy who looked like he couldn't afford a meal stagger up to a table and slap down a purple $500 chip. He bet it all on one hand and lost. Determined to get something for his escapade, he bellowed: “Can I get a comp?” The pit boss wrote him a ticket for a breakfast buffet.

The purple chip would have bought more than that.

Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or

PA ranks no. 2 for 2012 in revenue

Pennsylvania casinos generated more gambling revenue than New Jersey's, according to figures released this week by the Gaming Control Board.

Pennsylvania reported $3.16 billion in gross revenue — $2.47 billion from slots and $687 million from table games. New Jersey, which long had been the No. 2 gambling state behind Nevada, reported a gross of $3 billion.

Nevada hasn't reported its December figures, but for the 12-month period ending Nov. 30, it had more than $10.6 billion in gross gambling revenue.

Money trail

Slot players lost $43.79 million at Pennsylvania's 11 casinos during the week ending Jan. 13, the Gaming Control Board reports. That's up from $41.56 million in the comparable week last year, which was before Valley Forge resort casino opened.

The state gets 55 percent of that gross slot revenue, or what's left of players' wagers after jackpots are paid.

Statewide, the slot payout rate is 89.95 percent since the fiscal year started July 1. For every $100 bet, the machines return an average of $89.95. Highest payout rate: 90.63 percent at Parx in Philadelphia; lowest: 89.36 percent at Harrah's Philadelphia and Hollywood Penn National near Harrisburg.

Figures for Western Pennsylvania casinos:


Rivers; weekly slot revenue of $5.5 million, up from $4.8 million last year.


Meadows; weekly slot revenue of $4.43 million, up from $3.96 million last year.


Presque Isle in Erie; weekly slot revenue of $2.38 million, up from $2.36 million last year.

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