Category: Reno

Oh happy gambling films, where art thou?

The schedule for the Portland International Film Festival was recently announced. It’s an annual event to which Portlandia cineastes look forward with great anticipation. This year’s PIFF looks to be another winner; the team that puts this event together does a wonderful job of cherry-picking the most intriguing obscure pictures from all over the world.

One particular film fits within the central topic of this blog. It’s called “The Gambler,” and here is how it’s described in the PIFF schedule:

“A celebrated paramedic, Vincentas, has a dangerous addiction: gambling. Desperate to hit it big and pay off his mounting debts, he’s quick to place a bet on just about anything. In over his head, he ups the ante by betting on the odds of his own patients’ survival. This twisted game, played with his fellow paramedics, soon becomes a major enterprise after the hospital’s doctors and nurses want in on the action, and Vincentas finds himself becoming a big-time bookie. Jonynas’ gimlet-eyed black comedy is this year’s Lithuanian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. “

A Lithuanian dark comedy? About a gambling paramedic? Betting on the survival of patients? YES! Can’t wait. Not kidding.

The synopsis of this movie brings up an interesting question: Why are gambling films, generally speaking, so damn grim? As a case in point, take a look at “Hard Eight,” the first full-length film from Paul Thomas Anderson, a terrific director who went on to make “Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights, “There Must Be Blood,” “The Master,” and the current “Inherent Vice.”

Many directors cut their teeth on low-budget horror films; Anderson chose a different kind of horror, the kind where your immortal soul has been replaced by the voracious desire to earn casino comps.

Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
“Mr. Reilly Goes To Reno” aka “Hard Eight”
The cast of this movie, released in 1996, is stacked with A-caliber talent just waiting for their trip to the big leagues.

John C. Reilly plays John, a broke, down-on-his-luck, kinda dimwitted neophyte gambler who, by the time the movie begins, has lost all his money. Philip Baker Hall is Sydney, a seasoned pro who, for a reason not revealed until the third act, takes John under his wing and shows him how to play the house for freebies.

Gwyneth Paltrow appears as a prostitute who hooks up with John. Samuel L. Jackson plays a vicious baddie who meets with a sad end. And there’s unintended poignancy when Philip Seymour Hoffman shows up in a cameo role as a craps player.

It’s all about The Education of a Gambler until about halfway through, when the film takes a hard right and turns into a crime drama. And not the “Oceans Eleven” kind of crime drama. Despite justice prevailing and the bad getting their due (more or less) no one in “Hard Eight” is very happy.

If you took a swig of Early Times every time someone in this film cracks a smile, you’d be stone-cold sober by the time the final credits roll.

BTW, IMDB has a list called “100 Best Gambling and Poker Movies” which is a nice resource, although I’d quibble with some of the inclusions. “The Sting”? “Cool Hand Luke”? “Atlantic City”?

 

Casino Buffet

Grinding it out

Keep your eyes peeled for a serious new gambling film, “Mississippi Grind,” which made its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn star, with Mendelsohn giving what’s being described by critics as a breakthrough performance.

"Ben Mendelsohn (8019231435)" by Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia - Ben MendelsohnUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ben_Mendelsohn_(8019231435).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ben_Mendelsohn_(8019231435).jpg
Mendelsohn in “Mississippi”: His breakout role?

Here’s the plot summary as it appears on IMDB and Metacritic:

“Down on his luck and facing financial hardship, Gerry teams up with younger charismatic poker player, Curtis, in an attempt to change his luck. The two set off on a road trip through the South with visions of winning back what’s been lost.”

Well, at least they’re not betting on the survivability of EMT patients, so perhaps this one has an uplifting, inspirational ending, like “Rocky.” But in a card room.

 

Christmas in May

And June. And July.

Yes, poker mavens, the World Series of Poker has announced its upcoming schedule. It seems that the tournament director(s) and marketing department have not been slumbering since the Main Event wound up in November.

They’re launching a bunch of changes—such as giving players more bang for their buck in the form of larger starting stacks—and some new events, the most staggering of which would seem to be a tournament the WSOP is calling “The Colossus”: a buy-in of $565 and a prize pool of $5,000,000!

 

Chaos at Full Tilt

Many players were burned when Full Tilt was hammered by the Feds in 2011. In the months following, details emerged about the operation’s unsavory financial practices. And now this: Unsavory and stupid.

"Erick Lindgren 2007" by Photos by flipchip / LasVegasVegas.com - http://www.lasvegasvegas.com/pokerblog/archives/006040.php. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erick_Lindgren_2007.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Erick_Lindgren_2007.jpg
Recipient of an cool extra $2,000,000

In April 2011, Full Tilt agreed to lend poker star Erick Lindgren $2,000,000. So they deposited the money into Lindgren’s account…TWICE! Lindgren kept the extra $2million—a questionable decision—and now the current owners of Full Tilt are suing him to get it back.

Kind of hard to pick a dog in this fight, wouldn’t you say?

 

 

 

It’s Always Sunny in the State of Nevada

Or, “Crime and No Punishment”

Several weeks ago, I began to solicit stories from entertainment-industry professionals about their experiences working in casino productions, either in front of the curtain or behind. In response to one of these requests, I ended up on the phone in a scary phone conversation with a seasoned show-biz performer. He requested anonymity—you’ll see why in a few paragraphs—so we’ll call him Ishmael. No, that won’t work. How about Gary?

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Gary had the good fortune to land a series of gigs as a singer/dancer in Las Vegas musicals and revues. The incident he shares with us went down in the late 1970s in the showroom of a ritzy Strip hotel-casino, long since demolished.

By Joe Gauder [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Vegas Vic. Might he be related to our old pal, Wendover Will?
The Mob pretty much ran Vegas in those days, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the “Artistic Director” of this particular production had a cozy relationship with criminal elements. Let’s call this fellow Zeke. According to Gary, Zeke was pretty much regarded as an awful human being. In fact, Gary calls him the scummiest person he’s ever had the displeasure of meeting.

Zeke had, as they say, an eye for the ladies, which was bad news for the female dancers in this particular musical revue. You see, there was a clear expectation that these young women would, upon request, have drinks and/or dinner with Zeke or one his pals. Gary was clear that sexual favors were not part of this unspoken arrangement. Nevertheless, it put these gals in an uncomfortable situation: Lucrative employment in a glitzy Vegas show in exchange for a date, when “requested,” by a Mob associate.

Then came the day when a close female friend of Gary’s was thrust into that awful position. She was distraught, Gary was incensed. Then show time came and with it a dance number featuring Gary. As he looked into the audience, there was Zeke, who was a frequent attendee.

Gary spotted Zeke and—no mistake, no hiding his rage—he glared hatefully right at him. (Gary admitted, by the way, that his behavior was highly unprofessional. But I’d say, if it were a contest of unprofessionalism, Zeke was the winner, hands-down.)

The dance number ended and Gary exited the stage. Waiting for him were three men: two security guards and a menacing guy who was known to be a Mob hitman.

Hitman to Gary: “You’ve got ten minutes to pack your stuff and get out of here.”

Gary took this in. That meant ten minutes to go up to his dressing room, get out of costume and make-up, then gather and pack up all his belongings.

Gary to Hitman: “What if I can’t make it out in exactly ten minutes?”

Hitman: “I’ll break your fuckin’ head, that’s what.”

Ten minutes later, Gary was gone. Back at his apartment, he locked the door and drew the shades. Within days he had found work far from Vegas, and he didn’t feel safe returning until more than a year had passed.

The Taste of Blood at Eldorado

In a recent post, I wrote about getting the boot from the blackjack tables at the Eldorado in Reno. It shook me up at the time, but in retrospect perhaps they were treating me with kid gloves.

A.k.a, Carte de JeuOver at the bj21.com message boards, reader Harold Harvey warned me about going back to test the waters at the Eldorado, calling my attention to a recent news item: “The Reno Police are still investigating the death of a patron forcibly ejected by Eldorado security personnel a few months ago.“

“They are certainly not always as pleasant as they were to you,” wrote another bj21 denizen, LVBear584.

Here’s what they’re talking about.

On December 15, 2013, a 23-year-old guy named Victor Victoria-Acevedo was out drinking with a couple of buddies, when they approached the entrance of the BuBinga lounge at the Eldorado. They were carded by security at the door and turned away.

Things quickly turned ugly. Evidently, the security guards mistook Victoria-Acevedo for his brother, who’d been in an altercation with BuBinga security the week prior.

As they made their way to the casino exit, the trio was followed, then confronted by six security guards. An account of the incident in the Reno Gazette-Journal quoted one member of the trio, Carlos Robles, as saying “They were picking (Victoria-Acevedo) up and slamming him on the ground.”

The guards handcuffed Victoria-Acevedo and Robles, then led them to the security room. “He wasn’t acting right,” Robles told television channel KTVN. “He was mumbling. He was bleeding from the mouth.”

Reno police arrived on the scene, took a look at Victoria-Acevedo and thought maybe he was drunk or on drugs. They delivered him to a local hospital. A short time later he was dead.

Not exactly a publicity coup for the Eldorado, you might think. And you’d be right. But get this: Victor Victoria-Acevedo died in December. No charges have been filed against the Eldorado guards and the story has conveniently disappeared from news coverage.

The Reno Shuffle, part two

This edition of Stone-Cold Nuts is sponsored by…

Blackjack pour Hommes

Unlock the savory aroma deep within you. Release your inner hobo… with Blackjack by Pigalle.

Blackjack combines the scents of cheap bourbon and cigarette smoke with ripe overtones of old socks and flop sweat.

It’s delicious, too! Buy it in the one-liter size and try it over ice.

You’re a man. And sometimes a man needs to smell. Really smell. And nothing else smells like Blackjack pour Hommes.

A happy idiot

One of the cleverest marketing tools employed by casinos is the “player’s card.” Boiled down to its basics: You spend a lot of time at the casino and in turn they toss you a bone in the form of a free or discounted meal or hotel room.

The casinos assume, of course, that the more time you spend on the casino floor, the more money you’ll lose. Everyone who’s a member of one of these “clubs” understands this, and understands that each of the so-called rewards extended to you is really just a ploy to lure you back so you’ll lose some more money. This doesn’t stop you from illogically feeling that you’re special or that you’re getting something that’s truly free.

My Eldorado card, in mothballs for 10 years
All that glitters…

Thus, I was idiotically pleased when I received an offer from the Eldorado in the summer of 2004 for a $19-per-night room. They liked me! They really liked me! Also the timing was perfect: Marital woes were taking a toll and I needed to get out of town in a big way. This would be a way for me to take some time for mental hygiene and to put my card-counting skills to the test.

So it was that on my first night in Reno, I found myself downstairs at the Eldorado casino sharing a blackjack table with five other players. Everyone was laughing, joking, having a swell time: They were winning. The star of the table was a serviceman on furlough from Iraq. “Affable” doesn’t begin to describe him. “Roaring drunk” is closer.

In spite of his inebriated state (or perhaps because of it), he was killing the house. An abysmal player, he was making one boneheaded decision after another (hitting his 12 versus the dealer’s up-card of 6, for example) but he simply could not lose. Everyone loved it. Cheering! High fives! Who didn’t like to see a member of our armed forces win? Hell, he deserved it, no matter that he was among the most clueless blackjack players on Planet Earth.

But I appreciated this guy in uniform for another, totally selfish reason: He was providing me with cover. All attention was on him and his growing pile of chips. Perfect!

Since the spotlight was on G.I. Joe, it seemed obvious that I’d be able to count cards and vary my bets however I wished without attracting attention. The casino be damned! I could do whatever I pleased. In Greek tragedy this kind of attitude is known as hubris; the hero displeases the gods which leads to his downfall. The gods in this case were the security cameras positioned in the ceiling above the gaming tables. And I displeased them because they caught my stupid blunder.

To understand this blunder, you’ll need a little background on card counting. (Pardon me while I get a bit technical for a couple of paragraphs.)

By FASTILY (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The scene of the crime

It’s good to be high

Card counting is based on a simple precept: When the deck contains a high proportion of aces and cards valued at 10, the odds shift away from the casino and towards you. So when the count is high, you raise your bet. The higher the count gets, the more you “spread” your bet.

Eldorado playing cardConversely, when the count is low—meaning that there are a lot of low-value cards still to be dealt—you lower your bet. There are a bunch of fine points and nuances that I’ll skip, but here’s something out of Card Counting 101: When there’s a “push”—a tie between the dealer and the player—you never ever alter your bet; you simply let it ride. Altering your bet in this situation signals that you know that the “count” has changed; it’s akin to wearing a dunce cap with the words “I AM A CARD COUNTER” emblazoned across the front.

I was about to put on the cap.

 

Exit stage left

In front of me were six red chips—thirty dollars. The table was littered with a bunch of face cards and aces, bringing the count into negative territory. I was holding two face cards and the dealer had two face cards: a push, so my chips remained in front of me. The G.I. had pulled down a blackjack and was busy giving his neighbors a high-five, making a big commotion, giving me the bright idea that I could pull back three of my chips, a move that I just knew would go unnoticed.

Ten minutes later, I was bored. Despite all the help I was getting from the U.S. armed forces, I was up a mere $34. Time to seek my fortune elsewhere. I scooped up my chips and turned to leave the table.

“Mr. Baldwin?”

It was a bland-faced guy in a beige suit, open collar.

Me: “Uh, yeah?”

Him: “We’d prefer it if you not play blackjack at our casino.”

I didn’t quite believe what I was hearing. “Excuse me?”

He said, “Feel free to enjoy any of our other games,” and made a gesture that in the movies says One day, son, all this will be yours.

Me: “What? Why?”

The word “nonplussed” was coined for this exact kind of situation.

Him: “We don’t like your style of play.” Now looking out across the casino, he spread his arms grandly, Moses parting the Red Sea. “But you are certainly free to enjoy any of our other fine games.”

Me: “Come on. Are you kidding? I’m only up thirty-four bucks.”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. We don’t appreciate your style of play.”

I wanted to say, What about that drunk soldier? What about HIS style of play? Do you see how much he’s got? Do something about him, why don’t you? But that would’ve been a betrayal. After all, I’d used him for cover and I’d blown it.

This brief episode was conducted so quietly, so politely that it attracted no attention whatsoever.

I wandered into the banks of slot machines. My mouth hung open. I was in shock (nonplussed, I tell you! nonplussed!) at this absurdity.

Let’s get this straight: They invited me to this hotel, more or less comp my room, and then—in effect—toss me out of their casino?

Then a worse thought occurred to me. As a professional courtesy, casinos were known to fax photos of card counters to other area casinos. And that would put me out of action for the remainder of my trip.

I had to find out.A king of clubs

Ten minutes later I’d crossed the Truckee River—where it’s reputed that the newly divorced would toss their wedding rings—and was playing blackjack at the Siena. I did not slouch or turn away from the security cameras. I wanted to know where I stood; I wanted them to get a good look at me. An hour later it was apparent that I had not made it onto the Most Wanted List. It was also apparent that card counting does not constitute the road to riches.

I skulked back to my hotel room $200 poorer.

So what did we learn today? Well, that card counting is not a foolproof recipe for success. And that military personnel may be useful in providing cover on the battlefield, but at the blackjack table? Not so much.

 

 

 

And now a word from the gene pool…

Depending on your state of mind, it’s either grimly fascinating or highly amusing to observe the train wreck known as the problem gambler.

He’s that sartorially challenged guy in baggy shorts and hyperactive tattoos who never seems to leave the poker room.

Or the successful downtown lawyer with a wife and daughter who simply cannot feed twenties into the video slot machine fast enough.

Or the beefy former frat fellow who apparently has never made the acquaintance of a blackjack basic-strategy chart and who approaches the game like an all-night kegger: Bring on the booze, and be gone, judgment and restraint! I’ve got money to lose, and plenty of it!

Yes, when it comes to problem gamblers, it’s easy to be glib and judgmental (guilty!) until it comes to a member of your family (also, unfortunately, guilty). I’m talking about my brother Bruce and I’m talking about my second-to-last visit to Reno in the summer of 2002.

The Reno shuffle, part one

If you read the Reno Gazette-Journal’s website (and why wouldn’t you?) you’ll see prominently featured on its home page an ongoing series called “Reno Rebirth.” The premise of this series, as I understand it, is that once upon a time Reno was great; then it sucked; now let’s all join together and help make it not suck again.

Let’s wish them luck. According to dispatches from the front, downtown Reno is looking pretty bedraggled these days, more than a little worn around the edges.

Another King of ClubsIt wasn’t exactly Shangri La during the summer of 2002, but you could travel there from Portland with little trouble or expense, the casinos were crowded, and the table conditions were good.

We landed in Reno mid afternoon and the sun had the brightness of a nuclear explosion, producing the kind of heat that alters your vision, the squinting kind of heat you might experience if you lathered a tube of Ben Gay over your cranium then for good measure applied some directly to your eyeballs. I guess what I’m saying here is that it was kind of hot.

This was a trip I made in the company of Evil George Taylor and we’d booked a couple of rooms at the Eldorado, which put us right in the center of downtown. One of the good things about Reno is that all the casinos are near each other. Even the outlying ones, the Peppermill and the Atlantis, are a short drive from center city. We’d take the rental car, park, then flee inside, like refugees from an advancing army, to the air conditioning inside.

The trip, my last one before I taught myself to count cards, was not a successful one. I simply couldn’t sustain more than one prolonged winning session.

The low point, gambling-wise, was a session in which I played against a dealer with jet-black hair whose name tag read “Fausto.” Fausto, as in that guy who sold his soul to Mephistopheles. I later learned that Fausto is actually an Italian word meaning “lucky.” But from my position across the table from him that summer evening, he seemed like Satan.

I was thinking, I’m playing cards with the devil!

Then as my miserable luck continued I thought, I am losing to the devil! 1

The smart thing would’ve been to move to another table, but the place was teeming with players and I couldn’t find an open spot at a non-demonic table. So I let the devil beat me. But at least I escaped with my soul. I hadn’t bargained it away for unlimited luck at the blackjack table. Although if the proposition had been raised…

Clearly, it was time for a break and I needed to go upstairs to return a phone call. It was a call that I was dreading.

Betting on a pulse

People who hate casinos hate them for any number of reasons.

  • Casinos are sinful, gaudy, smoke-filled holding pens designed exclusively to separate you from your money.
  • Casinos promote crimes such as prostitution and drug dealing.
  • Casinos prey on the elderly, luring them with free transportation and buffet discounts.
  • Casino floors are populated by sad-sack losers.

My brother Bruce hated casinos for another reason: He simply because he could not step foot into them. The sensory overload was too much, causing him to shake almost to the point of convulsion. This was ironic since my brother was a rabid, enthusiastic, lifelong gambler.

Ironic, too, was the fact that I heard he was dying in my Eldorado hotel room during a break between blackjack sessions.Yet another King of Clubs

Bruce perfectly fit the profile of a problem gambler. His days revolved around a handful of rituals: drinking a half case of Budweiser; smoking a pack of non-filtered Camels; delivering racing programs for the local greyhound track; spending his salary at the very same track or another gambling facility; then going to a bar in West Palm Beach known as El Cid.

Bruce liked to bet on two- and four-legged creatures. The ponies. And the greyhounds. And jai alai. And football games. Anything with a pulse. Unfortunately, this predilection had cost him his wife and daughter, along with at least one job.

So, now we get to the serious question of genetics, of nature versus nurture. Is this kind of behavior built-in or inculcated? There’s a strong case for the latter: When I was seventeen, Bruce introduced me to harness racing at Roosevelt Raceway and taught me how to handicap the trotters. I’m guessing he saw this as a rite of passage, because his father did the same for him at the same age, causing — as I understood it — some consternation on the part of my mother.

But then there’s this: Bruce was actually my half-brother; we had different fathers. Both his father and mine were problem gamblers.

Where does that leave yours truly? I’m not answering, because I truly don’t know. I’ve not lost anything of significance in my gambling career. I’m a responsible guy. But why is it that the first time I sat down at a blackjack table, I felt like I was going home, that I’d landed exactly where I was supposed to be?

A keepsake for cash

Several days after returning from Reno, I was on a plane to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to help my sister tie up loose ends for Bruce. There was all that unpleasant death-related stuff to deal with, including returning his portable oxygen tank, which on its top side showed burn marks from his unfiltered Camels.

He’d squirreled away enough money to pay his funeral expenses and to leave $500 to me, which was a surprise. I thought it appropriate to put the bulk of that money into my gambling fund.

But I did take $50 of my inheritance and spent it on an item that I carry with me every time I go the casino or card room, every time I play poker or blackjack: It’s a brass, hinged money clip with an Indian-head nickel on top. It does a pretty good job, this money clip, of holding my money together, at least until my winnings swell the wad beyond its grasp, or until the house edge has whittled my bankroll down to a shadow of its former self.

 

Courtesy of Bruce
Courtesy of Bruce

 

 

 

  1. I later used this incident as inspiration for a ten-minute stage comedy called “A Little Risk,” which I’ve posted for your reading pleasure.

Adventures in card counting, part two

Why Reno?

The Biggest Little City... says who?
Abandon hope, all ye who enter… unless you count cards.

It’s one of the most perplexing existential questions of our time.

Let’s paraphrase it: why go to Reno?

Let’s personalize it: why did I go to Reno no less than four times in a five-year period?

When I first visited the city in 2001, it was in the middle of a civic downturn: grungy streets, boarded-up casinos in the center of downtown, free-range hookers working the casino floors, a general feeling of metropolitan malaise.

Reno is clearly not Las Vegas, where artifice is elevated to the level of art. In Las Vegas you’ve got your fake Venice, your fake Paris and your fake New York. You’ve got a fake sphinx and a fake pyramid. The Strip offers some piece of monumental fakery to dazzle you on every square city block. Vegas is (METAPHOR ALERT!) a piece of environmental theatre, a site-specific stage play complete with dazzling costumes and gaudy backdrops.

Which brings us to Reno: Fakery with less enthusiasm. Fakery on Quaaludes. The non-union, low-budget, road-show version of the extravaganza known as Las Vegas.

But somehow I enjoyed myself enough to return three more times, twice in the company of Evil George Taylor.

I know. Four trips to Reno seems a bit insane. So, again: why Reno?

It’s all about the table

The answer can be found in an unassailable truth about blackjack. To wit, all blackjack games are not created equal. It’s one of the first things you learn about the game.

For comparison, look at Texas Hold’em: the same rules apply, generally speaking, whether you’re playing at Foxwoods in Connecticut or at Chinook Winds in Oregon. But in blackjack the rules can vary not only from casino to casino, but from table to table within a casino.

There are lots of little tweaks that can raise or lower your chances of winning, but one of the most significant is the number of decks in play. The fewer the decks, the better your chances of winning. You’d be wise to stay clear of Atlantic City, for example, because, well… first of all because it’s Atlantic City. It’s a scary little place, a film-noirish slum without the film-noirish charm. My advice: stay near the boardwalk and pack a weapon if you wander away from the cluster of casinos on Pacific Avenue.

Safety concerns aside, a good reason to avoid AC is that they deal blackjack from a shoe containing eight decks, a version of the game that gives an enormous advantage to the house.

Six-deck shoes are marginally better. They seem to be the industry norm and are just about inescapable. But Reno… ahhh, Reno. That’s where you’ll find an abundance of two-deck and one-deck blackjack tables, tables that can offer you the best chances of winning, tables that can shave down the house advantage to almost zero.

The location of these tables, while not exactly a state secret, takes a bit of investigating to uncover. After I fell under blackjack’s spell in the spring of 2000, I scoured the web in search of playing strategies and came across Stanford Wong’s BJ21.com. That’s where I found Current Blackjack News, a monthly publication, which (as far as I can tell) is the most comprehensive source of playing conditions in the US and Canada.

The bible of blackjack
Everything you wanted to know about blackjack tables but were afraid to ask

Hey, what are the table conditions at the Isle of Capri Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana?

I’m glad you asked. According to a recent issue of CBJN, they’ve got a two-decker with very liberal rules that shave the house advantage down to a miniscule .19%.

I’m packing my bags right now.

Getting knocked out

So, “discovering” Current Blackjack News was just what a semi-obsessed player needed. So were the rock-bottom package deals to Reno from Southwest Airlines. I mean, $149 for three days/two nights at the Atlantis? I’d be losing money if I didn’t go.

I flew into Reno armed with a version of the strategy called progressive betting. It’s simple: Raise your bet every time you win. Return to your initial bet size each time you lose.

This is a strategy that makes for blackjack sessions that are alternately thrilling and harrowing. In one long afternoon session at the Eldorado (SPOILER ALERT! This casino becomes a villain in a future post) I simply couldn’t lose and ended up about $700, a fair amount when you’re betting in increments of five dollars.

But these types of sessions were few and far between. The fun evaporates when the odds correct themselves and your precious chips are being sucked into the fiery maw of Mount Doom. I wasn’t really winning, but I really wasn’t losing. At first I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of the casino, but soon the pattern of winning, then giving it back, winning then giving it back became monotonous. It was time to step up my game. Amazon had a book that told me just what I had to do. It was a slim volume with big print, “Knock-Out Blackjack: The Easiest Card-Counting System Ever Devised.”

“Easiest.” I liked the sound of that.

Unfortunately, after I mastered the “K-O System” I also discovered how easy it was to get kicked out of a casino.