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Dealing Cards in Blackjack

Dear Mark,
I read with interest your article today. We vacationed for many years at the Lake on the N. Shore, and I shall never forget my first encounter at the Cal Neva Hotel & Resort. We sat down to play blackjack. When the dealer's shift was finished, she picked up her cards and the new dealer came with his cards. The new dealer never spread the cards, just shuffled and dealt to the players. I immediately called the pit boss, who stated that that was the way they did it at the Cal Neva.

Having been the owner of an exclusive private games club (legal) in NYC for many years, whereby the honestly and the integrity of all games played in our club were scrutinized at all times, I was quite horrified. As you know players are quite paranoid, and how good could this be for the gaming world?

I returned home and immediately called the gaming commission in Las Vegas. Would you believe I was told that this was legal and the Cal Neva could have their dealers use their own cards? I never played in their casinos again.
- Louise G.

Ah, Louise, you've touched a nerve. Your query clearly refers to a recent column wherein I mentioned having worked in a casino where dealers took their cards off the game when going on a break, and incoming dealers brought in their own cards. When pushed off the game, I would place the cards in a slot that had a corresponding table number so a pit boss could inventory them for a quick count and examine their overall quality. If you sense an air of defensiveness in what follows, I apologize.

That club I cited certainly was the Cal Neva, but the one in Reno, not the similarly named casino of different ownership at Lake Tahoe (I was also employed there at one time, but not dealing cards. I worked in the sportsbook, keno, soft count and the cage). If my dazed and battered memory serves me right, the procedure at the Club Cal Neva in Reno was that I spread em' when I reentered the game -- club policy if I recall -- although I can't say with 100% certainty that I displayed the cards for public inspection every single time. Also, I vaguely remember that when I was moved to a different table, the deck went with me, and if the cards were already shuffled and ready to be dealt, I just pitched them. In any case, it would be silly to equate a possible oversight on the dealer's part with deliberate hanky panky.

In a sense, I'm glad you brought this up; it ushers in a moment of higher education, Louise. There are a few damn good reasons why casinos are not in the cheating business. For openers, as distinct from private clubs, most casinos are publicly traded companies on the NYSE, not interested in exposing their gaming license to loss through any inkling of cheating. The gaming industry is probably the most regulated business in America, with oodles of rules that would close a casino down for defrauding, or appearing to defraud, the public.

The second reason, Louise, is that casinos reap their profits by paying winning players less than the true odds would indicate. Meaning, every game offered to the player is mathematically fixed in the casino's favor. If every single wager placed in the casino is based on that principle, why, Louise, would they ever bother to swindle you?

As a third and final point, Louise, in 18 years of casino employment, working in seven different casinos, I have never been asked to do even the slightest thing that borders on the unethical. Sure, I have been asked to deal more hands per hour, but that's to get the slightly lopsided arithmetic to work a little faster in the casino's favor, but never, never to cheat Louise out of her hard-earned money.

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