In recent years there has been a steady rise in the adoption of new table games. When a new game arrives, the staff is often unfamiliar with the rules, procedures, and basic methods of protection for that game. Thus, most casinos attempt to follow the rules and procedures as written without understanding the “whys” of the procedures. Over time, certain parts of that procedure may get sloppy. This can make the game vulnerable and may ultimately lead to a significant decrease in the game’s hold.
In this article we will examine one particular procedure for the table game “Let It Ride,” licensed by Shuffle Master Gaming. One of the most popular table games in recent years, it is considered safe from advantage players for two reasons. First, the house edge on this game is very large: with perfect player-strategy the house retains about 2.86% of the wagers left on the table. Second, there is no player strategy that can decrease the house edge below 2.86%. Therefore, techniques such as card counting offer no opportunities. The game’s danger lurks in sloppy adherence to suggested dealing procedure.
According to Roger Snow, Table Games Product Manager for Shuffle Master Gaming, the documentation that accompanies this game includes a statement on correct dealing procedure, instructing the dealer to “pick up the dealer cards from the platform, slide the top card on to the left rectangle, the next card on to the right rectangle, and burn the bottom card.”
The first common procedural error is hidden in the statement “pick up the dealer cards from the platform.” During this process, the sloppy dealer may expose some or all of the cards to the players. If all three cards are exposed, then the advantage player, knowing the hidden cards to come, can gain an edge of over 40% over the house. Very few dealers are this weak. However, there are many dealers who expose the bottom, or burn card, to the players as they remove their cards from the platform. On the surface there is no danger in exposing this card to the players because it will soon be burned. Hence this procedural defect is rarely noticed or corrected by supervisory personnel.
The second common procedural error is found in the statement “… and burn the bottom card.” The most common error at this point is for the dealer to slide all three cards onto the left hand rectangle, then the dealer burns the top card, and finally the dealer places the middle card on the right hand rectangle. Of course, it doesn’t matter which card the dealer burns if the player hasn’t seen any of the three cards. Because this defect alone does not make the game vulnerable, it is rarely noticed or corrected by supervisory personnel.
Let’s combine these two procedural errors to produce a dealer who both exposes the bottom card, and also burns the top card. The advantage player then knows one of the two hidden cards. If the card the advantage player knows is the first of the two cards to be revealed, then he can gain an 8.4% edge over the house. If the card the advantage player knows is the second of the two cards to be revealed, then he can gain a 24.4% edge over the house. These are enormous edges, many times that of even the most dedicated card counter, yet most casinos seem unaware of the danger this game poses.
Recently, I visited a number of casinos in and around Las Vegas, and observed the dealing procedures for Let It Ride at each casino. At about 25% of the games observed, the dealer exposed the bottom card as he removed the cards from the platform. Fortunately for these casinos, the dealer burned the correct card. One month later, I once again audited this game. This time I found a dealer at a major Strip property who exposed the bottom card and burned the top card, leading to a potential edge of 8.4% over the house for an advantage player.
The situation with Let It Ride is not isolated. As new table games are brought in to casinos, each comes with suggested procedures. Many subtleties of these procedures have serious consequences if they are not followed. Because of the influx of new table games into many casinos, both dealers and supervisory personnel are inundated by the procedures these games bring with them. Sloppiness follows, and with this sloppiness comes opportunities for the advantage player.
Based on my experience, fully one-third of all casinos have significant vulnerabilities in their table games due to lack of adherence to procedure. Many seemingly arbitrary procedures are vitally important for game protection. Unfortunately, most dealers and table game supervisors do not know which procedures are important and which are not. The person who knows best is the advantage player. Casinos should routinely audit their table games and take steps to insure that all procedures are followed to the letter.