Angry players take fun out of playing blackjack
By Mark Gruetze
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
The shell-shocked blackjack player in the middle seat was at a loss for words.
He'd just won a $75 bet, possibly his largest of the session, but three other players acted as if he had wiped his nose with an American flag on the Fourth of July at the veterans' lodge. They yelled at him and angrily slapped the table as the dealer collected their losing bets.
The chagrined player's sin? He took a hit when the others thought he should have stayed. The complainers, who had a magnificent ability to play the cards flawlessly after they'd been exposed, loudly pointed out that if he had stayed, the dealer would have busted and everybody would have won. Their rants continued for several hands.
The whiners sucked all the enjoyment out of a nice win for that player. They also ruined what could have been a fun time for anyone else there.
I watched in amazement as anger overtook that table during an early-morning session in Tunica, Miss., one of my favorite gambling vacation spots. Hearing people comment about others' play is not new, unfortunately, but The Lady in Red, Mr. Smug and The Mad Third Baseman took it to new heights — or depths.
“He won't show me his cards, so I can tell him how to play!” The Lady in Red wailed. Yelled Mr. Smug, who claimed to be a professional blackjack player, although pros usually avoid drawing attention to themselves: “I don't know about you, fella, but we're trying to make money here!” The Mad Third Baseman, whose mood never lightened despite multiple blackjacks and fortunate draws, glowered as he growled about how the hand should have been played.
Let's review a few blackjack truths:
• Following basic strategy about when to hit or stand gives you an almost 50-50 chance of winning. It's the smart way to play.
• Not everyone follows basic strategy, including the target of the trio's scorn — and, at times, the three whiners.
• What other players do at the table has no effect on your outcome in the long run.
Sure, someone is bound to make what you consider a bad play and take a card that would have busted the dealer. But, for every time that happens, some other “bad” play takes a card that would have made the dealer's hand. Most players overlook those instances.
Some players love to reconstruct each round of cards: If she had stayed, he would have taken this card and then the dealer would have had that card. That what-if thinking takes the fun out of the game.
No one knows what card will come out of the deck next. Skilled counters might have an inkling about whether a face card or small card is more likely to appear. Basic-strategy players follow the odds on hitting or standing but know they're not guaranteed a win on a particular hand. Folks who play on gut feelings have the least idea of all.
Likewise, nobody knows the value of a dealer's down card until it's turned over. If the dealer's up-card is a five, players may decline a hit so the dealer will have to take the face card that's presumably next to be dealt. But if the dealer's down card turns out to be a four, five or six, everyone hopes for a small card to come off the deck first.
At a blackjack table, you control the size of your bet and whether you hit or stand. That's all. It doesn't pay to fret about what other people do.
If the person at third base has an 11, do you complain if he doubles down and takes the face card that would have busted the dealer? What if he splits a pair of threes against a dealer's six, draws face cards on each and the dealer makes his hand — was the split a good play or a bad one?
What if a real pro, an honest-to-goodness card counter who recognizes the rare instances when splitting face cards is the mathematically correct move, decides to do just that when you have a big bet out? Is that a stupid play?
What if someone figured she knew how to play your cards better than you? Would you object to being mocked for your decisions?
If someone makes a play you think is dumb, keep it to yourself. Play your cards and let others enjoy the game.
Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meadows fined for procedure on craps bets
The Meadows Casino in Washington County was fined $30,000 for not following state procedures for collecting commission on some craps bets.
The Gaming Control Board issued the fine March 13. Casinos may collect a 5 percent commission, known as vigorish or vig, on “winning” buy and lay bets. A board spokesman said Meadows dealers, instead, were told to collect it when a player made the wager.
Three other casinos were fined. Sands Bethlehem was fined twice — $68,000 for six cases of allowing underage people to gamble or enter the casino floor between August and November, and $7,500 for doing business with a prohibited vendor. Harrah's Philadelphia also was fined twice — $34,500 for not making 18 slot machines operational as scheduled, and $12,000 for allowing a 19-year-old to gamble in August. Valley Forge Casino Resort was fined $5,000 for allowing a man on the state's self-exclusion list to gamble 38 times between April and October.
Even though Pennsylvania casinos had a lower gambling win last month than in February 2012, they outdid their New Jersey counterparts.
The Gaming Control Board reported this week that the state's 11 casinos won $55.35 million last month on table games, down 2.1 percent from last year. Combined with a $195.95 million slot machine win, total gambling revenue for the month was $251.3 million.
New Jersey, long the country's No. 2 state for gambling revenue, had a casino win of $212.3 million — $145.3 million from slots and $67 million from table games.
Pennsylvania casinos have a slot payout rate of 89.93 percent since the fiscal year started July 1. For every $100 bet, the machines return an average of $89.93. Highest payout rate: 90.61 percent at Parx in Philadelphia; lowest: 89.36 percent at Harrah's Philadelphia. Rates for Western Pennsylvania casinos:
89.95%: Rivers; slot revenue of $6.19 million for the week ended March 17, up from $5.45 million last year.
89.82%: Meadows; weekly slot revenue of $4.78 million, down from $4.82 million last year.
89.96%: Presque Isle in Erie; weekly slot revenue of $2.67 million, down from $3.19 million last year.
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