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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, May 2003, #40

BOOK REVIEW Ė THE CARD COUNTERíS GUIDE TO CASINO SURVEILLANCE

By LV Pro

The Card Counterís Guide to Casino Surveillance by DV Cellini (Huntington Press) has caused quite a stir in the blackjack world since its release late last year. Much has been made of the fact that information of this sort has never been made available to the public before. No less an authority than Arnold Snyder has hailed this volume as "the most important information for professional blackjack players to be published since the 1962 edition of Ed Thorpís "Beat the Dealer". It is being touted as the one book the casino industry absolutely hated to see published.

All hype aside, this reviewer tends to agree that the information contained in Celliniís book is new and unique. It definitely has value for the professional or black chip blackjack player who needs to disguise his skill from both the pit and the Eye in the Sky. The real value to the top BJ players is being able to recognize the way surveillance people think and react, what triggers scrutiny of oneís play and how to avoid it, and how to confuse the software into recording false results or at least fooling the people who interpret that data. In these areas the book gives invaluable insights. Such as this one from page 58:

"Finally, as promised earlier in this chapter, here's how you can camouflage your bets so that surveillance cannot run a Survey Voice analysis of your play session. It's easy. After every hand - win, lose or push - go from your cheques (on the table in front of you) to your wagering spot as if to add or remove from the original wager. This makes it almost impossible for surveillance to do a tape review on you after the fact. Remember that the casino cameras are in the ceiling looking down. It's very hard to distinguish your wager due to the lack of depth perception. It is very time consuming, and not always accurate or even possible, for the observer to see your bet size by watching the dealer's payouts on your wins or seeing how many chips he added into the float (chip rack) after your losses. By constantly going to and from your wager after every hand decision, the observer will be able to distinguish whether you've increased or reduced your wager with about 50% accuracy at best. This will lead to an "Inconclusive Evidence" report, and in turn will let you live to play again at that same casino. As it does not really appear to be unnatural (some gamblers - especially progressive system players - do reassess their bet every hand), I suggest that you make this move a habit. Besides, it drives the surveillance personnel nuts."

Like many current BJ players, I would have thought that it would be easy for a surveillance operator to switch to a different camera and view the bets from a side angle. However, this reviewer had the opportunity to discuss some points with the author. Cellini debunks these suppositions. His contention is that most BJ Survey Voice run-downs are done after the fact. This means that the operator must rely only upon the fixed overhead camera shot, unless they were lucky enough to find a Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) camera that was aimed at this certain table at that particular time. This isnít very likely. The "going to and from your wager" ploy might just work.

In our correspondence, Cellini debunks other myths as well. This reviewer was fortunate enough to have recently toured the surveillance room of a newly opened Strip resort. During the tour, our surveillance host told us that they could discern the stacked chips denominations by color as well as each chipís particular side markings. A green chip has a different side pattern than a black chip, which is different than a red chip, etc.

Cellini believes that "the color cameras that have the ability to distinguish the cheques by color have a tendency to "bleed". This allows all the colors to clash and make the chips unrecognizable unless you have an astute surveillance team that takes the time to size every bet by zooming a camera onto the playerís betting circle before and after each bet. If the Eye is scrutinizing a player with this degree of heat in real time, that player is under major suspicion and will be cooked quickly anyway. Another little fact casinos like to keep secret is that when youíre looking at those "perfect 600 lines of resolution" pictures on the monitor, theyíre being transmitted at 500 lines of resolution per inch, and then recorded at about 280 lines. Now add in the fact that the video tape used to record is not new and is subject to degradation after even 10 uses, and that most casinos push these tapes to over 52 passes before replacing them. So the video the surveillance operator views on the screen is degraded when they play the tape back. If you want proof of this, watch the Travel Channelís Vegas Week. Look at the tape quality on the "taped scams" they show. You will see black and white video that is bleached out, and in the case of color video youíll see every color of the spectrum bleeding over".

Another thing I believe is that dealers will usually stop to spread out a "barberpole" chip stack for the benefit of the Eye when making a payoff. This not only gives the camera a better look at the total bet amount you were trying to disguise, but it slows down the game as well Ė just what a card counter doesnít want. Cellini contends that this is an "urban legend". He states "due to union fear, the dealers are now running the floor with little or no recourse from the pit bosses. Walk through a few casinos and watch for yourself. If the surveillance department is lucky enough to have a dealer that follows all the policies and procedures, a barberpole spread will happen so fast that the operator in the Eye cannot "call the ball". Most dealers size winning bets with no break-down, or they will drop-cut a payout, leaving surveillance in the dark".

Have no illusions about this 88-page book. Not all of Celliniís observations are worth their weight in purple chips. Itís up to the reader to separate the wheat from the chaff, based upon his own experience and level of expertise. The author makes a few points that this reviewer finds hard to believe. Most flagrant is the authorís contention on page 59 that switching count systems in the middle of a shoe or session will confuse the BJ Survey Voice software.

As you may know, BJSV is a program into which the operator vocally recites every card value seen, and keys in the bet amounts made by the player to be reviewed. It can be used in real time while the player is at the blackjack table, or more commonly, the session tape is played back afterwards while the operator inputs card values and bet sizes for review of a suspected advantage player. The main result that it produces will show if the playerís bet amounts were correlated with the advantage a player may have at all given points through the deck(s) or shoe. Most of the popular count systems are similar in that they are able to identify when the playerís advantage occurs, and how much of an edge exists at the time. For example a 2% player advantage will be detected by the player and the software regardless which count system one is using. The player will put out his usual bet amount appropriate for that advantage. The playerís spread and top bet are noted. No matter which system is used, all count systems recommend bet amounts that are correlated to the advantage the player may have, not just the raw running or true count numbers that may differ for each system. It is the percent advantage correlated to the playerís relative bet amount that is measured by the BJSV program. This will always be similar, no matter what count system the player uses, or whether he switches counts in mid-shoe, or stays with the same system throughout.

Cellini contends the point he was trying to make is that by changing count systems and betting patterns (such as a win or lose progression), you will force the surveillance operators into thinking youíre a "systems" player. However, this reviewer still has doubts about the effort/reward ratio and effectiveness of this technique.

Hereís another excerpt from page 19:

"There are, however, a couple of ways to confuse this program (at least for a few visits to the casino using it). In fact, here is an easy method for confusing all computer-tracking software programs. Simply make one really stupid play, such as standing on your first two-card total of anything less than 12 against any dealer's up card, or double down on a two-card total of 12 or more vs. ANY dealer up card, etc. Yes, you read it right. Just one truly knuckle-headed play can reduce Survey Voice's overall analysis of your playing skill level to "moron." An educated surveillance observer can compensate for such plays if you hang around too long, as the longer you play, the more information this system can process and take into consideration."

Most savvy blackjack players already know that the threat of being discovered comes from the Eye above, not the pit. They also know that the skill evaluation of any player under suspicion of counting comes from the surveillance room and is relayed via phone to the pit. If the player can know the basic information the Eye uses for evaluation, he becomes better equipped to fool surveillance into believing he is no threat. This is the area in which the book has real value. With discipline and practice any motivated player can learn the mechanics of card counting rather easily. The hard part is projecting an act or persona that makes the pit and Eye comfortable with your play. This act allows you to play a winning game undetected and be welcomed back in order to keep playing, even at high stakes, a la Ian Andersen. If you are suspected, and have a "skills check" run by surveillance, the book is invaluable in showing techniques the player can employ to foil the evaluation.

One of the most valuable sections is the "21 Tells of a Card Counter" on page 51, a section that was singled out for publication in the Fall 2002 issue of Blackjack Forum. Many of these Ďtells" have to do with appearance and clothing, retrieving a big bet at the shuffle, ratholing chips, spreading to multiple hands only in plus counts, sitting out only on negative counts and the type of drinks ordered and whether you nurse a beer for a long time. Cellini contends that "beer drinkers donít nurse." One minor fact that struck me was tell #6: "Player orders bottled water, coffee or a soft drink. Surveillance can tell the difference between a mixed drink glass and a soft drink glass. Itís the type of straw or glassware the casino uses at the tables that gives the glassí contents away. This is an old casino secret."

Okay. That said, the main question remains: Is this book worth the hefty $99 price to the average card counter? As a serious recreational player who is presently moving up from red chip play to green, this reviewer must admit the book has opened my eyes to things every card counter should know about casino surveillance. Even though as an LVA member, I got the book at half-price, I consider the money well spent and would have spent the full $99 if I had to. This kind of information has never been made public before. To full time professionals or black spreading recreational counters the information in this book is invaluable and worth many times the actual retail price. If your top bet at a blackjack table is $100 or more, this book is worth way more than one top bet and will allow you to recoup the investment in longevity and EV rather quickly, while the information is yours to keep and know forever. If youíre strictly a red chip player whose top bet is less than $100, you can skip this purchase for now. Wait until youíre ready to increase stakes to low green before buying this book. And you better hope that by that time the surveillance departments have not also read the book and changed their methods accordingly.

LV Pro is a serious recreational player who started with basic strategy in 1996 and learned the Silver Fox count by the end of 1998. He has been counting since early 1999, starting with a $2K bankroll and slowly trying to build it to $10K. His trip reports to Las Vegas appear in the Blackjack Insider newsletter.

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