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Tighter blackjack rules would hurt players' bankroll

About Mark Gruetze
Picture Mark Gruetze 412-320-7838
Administrative Editor
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Mark Gruetze has been a recreational gambler for more than 30 years, focusing on blackjack, video poker and poker. He is administrative editor of the Tribune-Review.

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By Mark Gruetze

Published: Friday, Feb. 4, 2011

Casual gamblers who think they wouldn't be hurt much if the state tightens its blackjack rules should think again.

If the state allows two changes the industry previously requested, all blackjack players -- from beginners to highly skilled -- would pay. The cost to a $10 bettor who plays twice a month could total hundreds of dollars a year.

In coming months, the Gaming Control Board will review rules for all table games. The temporary rules approved for the opening of table games last year will expire in 2012, and permanent rules must be approved.

The industry is likely to ask to change two basic rules. One is that blackjacks -- an Ace and a face card on the player's first two cards -- must be paid at 3-to-2 ($15 for a $10 bet). Last year, the board wisely rejected a request to allow 6-to-5 payouts ($12 for a $10 bet). The other player-friendly rule likely to be attacked is that the dealer must stand on soft 17 (Ace-Six).

Many other jurisdictions allow the chintzy 6-to-5 payout and let the dealer hit soft 17.

Pennsylvania should refuse both bastardizations of its good rules.

Blackjack player Chuck Israel of North Huntingdon doesn't need convincing. He is among those who have written the Gaming Control Board in favor of keeping the current rules.

"I am a blue-collar person that has been playing blackjack for over 40 years for entertainment, not to become a high roller," he wrote. "When the rules are mucked up, I and many others just don't play.

"I love to play blackjack," he continued. "It's great fun, but only when you have a reasonably good chance of winning some of the time."

I asked three nationally known experts about the effect of the potential rule changes. Here's what they said:

ANTHONY CURTIS , publisher of LasVegasAdvisor.com and former professional blackjack player: Would customers care if a $9 movie ticket suddenly became $17• That extra $8 is about what it costs a $10 bettor to play an hour and a half (the time spent to see a movie) of 6-to-5 blackjack as opposed to 3-to-2. Over time, empirical results will eventually cause players to realize they can't afford to play as often, or maybe at all.

HENRY TAMBURIN , author of "Blackjack: Take the Money and Run" and editor of Blackjack Insider newsletter (Columnist disclosure: I write for his newsletter): Most players mistakenly believe it is no big deal if the dealer stands or hits on soft 17. It is a big deal. When the dealer is allowed to hit soft 17, over the course of a year, a typical $10-per-hand bettor, playing two four-hour sessions per month, will be donating nearly $200 to the casino's bottom line -- or about $500 if you are a $25 bettor. Allowing casinos to pay players 6-to-5 for an untied blackjack hand has to be one of the worst rules for players ever invented. It will cost a typical $10 bettor about $48 for every four-hour playing session. This is an atrocity. The 6-to-5 payoff will ultimately ruin the game if it continues to be implemented in place of the traditional 3-to-2 payoff.

MICHAEL SHACKLEFORD , operator of WizardOfOdds.com : I predict that within two years, the casinos will pressure Pennsylvania government to allow games that pay 6-to-5 on a blackjack. It will not be difficult for the casinos to make a persuasive case about the millions of additional revenue this rule change will bring in. However, what the casinos and state budgets gain, blackjack players will lose. I just want to warn players that what happened in Atlantic City will likely happen in Pennsylvania. For decades, 100 percent of blackjack tables in Atlantic City had the liberal rules you see now in Pennsylvania. Now the 6-to-5 and hit soft 17 games are slowly gaining more tables. Six-to-5 blackjack is a sucker game. I leave it up to the people of Pennsylvania to decide if it should even be legal.

Save 3-to-2 in Pennsylvania

Join the Player's Advantage campaign to keep Pennsylvania's player-friendly blackjack rules.

To speak out against allowing 6-to-5 payouts for naturals and against allowing the dealer to hit soft 17, send comments to:

Susan A. Yocum, Assistant Chief Counsel, Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board P.O. Box 69060, Harrisburg, PA 17101-8323. E-mail: syocum@state.pa.us .

WSOP tourney

The Meadows' next tournament offering a seat at the World Series of Poker Main Event will be at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 13 with a $125 buy-in. The starting time was changed to the afternoon.The casino's "Big Poker Weekend" Feb. 18-21 will include a camp with Victor Ramdin, who has cashed 11 times at the WSOP. He will lead three instructional sessions on Feb. 18 and play in a bounty event that night.

Money trail

Slot revenue in Pennsylvania's 10 casinos in January was down by 3.73 percent from January 2010. Gaming Control Board officials blamed bad weather, especially in Eastern Pennsylvania. Gross revenue totaled $177.3 million last month, compared with $184.2 million in January 2010, when only nine casinos were open. The state gets 55 percent of the slot machine gross. The statewide payout rate for the first seven months of the fiscal year was 90.33 percent. For every $100 bet, the machines paid out an average of $90.33.

Gross revenue for January at Western Pennsylvania casinos:

• $20.2 million: Rivers, on bets totaling $248.8 million. Rivers' gross was up 12.5 percent from January 2010, the only casino in the state to post an appreciable gain. Payout rate since July: 90.23 percent.

• $18.1 million: The Meadows, on bets totaling $231.6 million. Meadows' gross was down 8.63 percent from January 2010. Payout rate since July: 90.26 percent.

• $11.5 million: Presque Isle in Erie, on bets totaling $149.8 million. Its gross was up about $1,000 from January 2010. Payout rate since July: 90.32 percent.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

What's the difference between a chip and a cheque?

Technically, a chip has no designated monetary value while a cheque does, said Mike Chapman, table games shift manager at Rivers. The betting discs at a roulette table are chips. The ones used at blackjack, craps and other table games -- red for $5, green for $25, black for $100 -- are cheques. For most gamblers, the terms are interchangeable.

 

 
 


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