Casino may regret barring Affleck, consultant says
The decision to bar movie star Ben Affleck from playing blackjack at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas could become a seminal moment for American casinos, a noted gambling consultant says.
While casinos have “backed off” card counters since the 1970s, the Affleck case “portends a different future for table games,” says Ken Adams, founder of Ken Adams Ltd. in Reno, Nev., and editor of three publications that report and comment on the gambling industry. Before starting his consulting firm in 1990, he worked 20 years in casino-hotels and developed systems that have become industry standards, including slot club and tournaments.
The Hard Rock banned Affleck from playing blackjack there for life after he was suspected of card-counting at a high-limit table, TMZ.com reported this month. The casino said he was free to play other games.
Affleck, now filming a Batman movie in Detroit, has not talked publicly about the incident, and his publicist did not respond to a request for comment.
Adams sees the barring as a potentially far-reaching incident because of its unintended message to a new generation of gamblers: You can't play unless you're going to lose.
“In essence, that's what they said,” Adams says in a phone interview. “You (players) have to walk in and submit to losing.”
That old-style casino approach of refusing to deal to a player who might legally gain a slight edge could turn off young adults who grew up with video games and the thrill of competing online against friends and strangers, he explains.
Card-counters mentally track the proportion of high cards and low cards as they are dealt at blackjack. When the remainder of the deck is rich in high cards, the player gains a slight advantage, and card-counters raise their bets. Skilled, well-funded individual players and card-counting teams have been able to make money since the 1960s, when the concept was detailed in “Beat the Dealer” by Edward O. Thorp. However, many wannabe counters have lost heavily because they don't have the discipline to play perfectly or can't endure the losses that are part of the game.
Although counting is legal, pros often resort to disguises and other subterfuge to avoid being caught. Few in the public identify with them, and barrings drew scant notice.
Affleck is different, Adams notes. He is a recognized star playing a game skillfully and being told he has to stop because the house might not win.
“There's a whole generation of people he represents, and they're being told ‘We don't want your play,' ” Adams says.
Odds-based games such as roulette and craps, where the house always has the advantage, don't interest the next generation of players the way they appeal to current gamblers, he says.
He notes that the average age at the final table of the World Series of Poker's Main Event has fallen steadily. It was under 30 last year.
“They wouldn't have been in the room years ago,” Adams says.
“Those same (younger) people want to play blackjack. You can't tell them they can't play.” Adams says.
The issue goes beyond blackjack.
“These people are really, really serious about their skill level. There isn't a slot machine anywhere in the world that appeals to them” as much as a fast-action video game.
Adams suggests one way to attract the next generation is providing new types of skill games in which players can win money from each other, and the house takes a percentage, similar to a rake in poker.
“It's a pivotal time,” he says. “People who grew up with cell phone in one hand and computer at home are entirely different in what they want and what interests them.
“You can't repackage what their grandfather had.”
Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.