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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, October 2002, #34



Bally Bloat

Over a year ago Park Place Entertainment bought the failing Claridge Hotel Casino with the idea of a makeover. It did make it over, but for blackjack players the makeover removed the best aspects of the Claridge game – good penetration and surrender. Fewer $5 games were to be seen as well.

But the Park Place folks have decided to abandon the idea of marketing Claridge as a separate entity and, instead, have opted to "close" Claridge and make it a part of Bally’s Park Place. Since there is already a million-dollar walkway between the two casinos, the logical move is to make everything all one complex. This is being done even as you read this. The Park Place folks are petitioning the Casino Control Commission for permission to create a "super" Bally’s that would include Claridge as well as its already popular Wild Wild West casino. If the Control Commission says yes (anyone want to bet it would ever say no?), then Bally’s will become the largest hotel-casino in Atlantic City with 1,753 rooms. Harrah’s has 1,630.

What does this new mega-complex mean for blackjack players? Probably not much. The Bally’s Park Place game has ranged from good to excellent in the years we’ve been reviewing it for Blackjack Insider, and the Wild West games, despite being all eight-deckers, have also been good. So we think you’ll see continuing good games – by Atlantic City standards keep in mind – but no extraordinary change. Don’t expect four-deck games, surrender, or phenomenal penetration. Maybe for comping purposes, the typical Bally’s player might find he is getting some "Claridge" comps for play that is somewhat less than usually required at Park Place – but that remains to be seen.

The Sad Sands

Quickly, Sands looks to be in its death throes. It is not making it as a "slot house" for one simple reason – its slots don’t pay back the most in town. In fact, the Sands slot paybacks are just average. If you are an exclusive slot club, shouldn’t you have the best slots in town? Maybe Park Place will take this baby over too.

Blackjack Switch

At Taj Mahal a new wrinkle on blackjack is being tried. It’s called "Blackjack Switch" and it goes like this: Every player plays two hands but has the option of "switching" the top two cards over. So if your first hand is 5/8 and your second hand is 3/5 (with the dealer showing, say, a 6), you’d switch the 8 and 5, giving you a 10 on the first hand (double down) and an 11 on the second hand (double down). The game is then played out just like a regular blackjack game.

The catch (come on, there’s always a catch on bastardized blackjack games) is that if you push the dealer with hands of 17, 18 or 19 – the dealer wins! And blackjack pays even money. We’ve contacted the creator of the game and next issue we’ll give you the "math" and the "basic strategy" for the game. Suffice it to say, just looking at the game and realizing the devastating impact of those even-money blackjacks, we’d say the house will enjoy a 1-3 percent edge on basic strategy players, depending on how they "switch."

With an increased house edge on double the money (remember everyone must play two hands), this game will be loved by casinos. It remains to be seen if the players flock to it. (We think they might, as the "switch" is a fun option.)

Here are out ratings for October, 2002.

Rating system:

***** = Excellent

**** = Very Good

*** = Good

** = Fair

* = Poor.

BALLY’S PARK PLACE: Penetration is good on the six-deck games in the high-roller pit with standard one to 1.5 cutoffs. The paranoia level is not great here and the pit is friendly. The rest of the casino is the standard AC eight-deck games with penetration that varies but is consistently more than 75-80 percent. Some tables have been changed to Let It Ride and Three Card Poker. You can resplit for a total of three hands, but aces can only be split once. You will be hard pressed to find many $10 games in August, much less $5 games. Weekends are $15 and up. Multiple Action and Spanish 21 are also available for minimums of $10. Always crowded. *** 1/2*

CAESARS: The six-deck games have penetration of 80 percent in high-roller room. Rest of tables are eight-deck with 75 percent penetration. The $10 tables are almost gone, at least for now, replaced by $15 and $25. Resplitting allowed but you can only split aces once. Bright, clean casino. Multiple Action and Spanish 21 available at $10 and up! ***

CLARIDGE: The blackjack is still good by AC standards. The high-roller action was six-deck games with $50 minimums most days, higher on weekends. Penetration varies but averages above 80 percent. You can resplit pairs up to four hands, including aces, in high-roller room but the rest of the casino, all eight-deckers, doesn’t allow resplitting. Multiple Action and Spanish 21 available for $10 and up. About to lose its identity in merger with Bally’s Park Place. *** 1/2*

HARRAH’S: No change from last report. The six-deck games are improving, but we only saw a couple of these on our last perusal. The rest were all eight-deck games. Penetration now ranges from 66 to 75 percent everywhere. Resplitting allowed except aces. No midshoe entry. Harrah’s Table Game Guarantee: if the minimums are raised during play, you still get to play your original minimum. **

HILTON: Has hit a plateau and the games have stablizied but not anywhere near as good as they were just a year ago. Hilton used to have one of the best games in AC but now it’s in the second tier. Generally has decent penetration -- in the neighborhood of 75 percent, sometimes more -- from the six-deckers in the high roller room to the eight-deckers on the regular floor. Resplitting allowed except aces. The Multiple Action and Spanish 21 also have okay penetration for $10. More paranoia being exhibited by the pit personnel. One "progressive player" – who played with no edge over the house --was reportedly short-shoed there during a lucky streak. ***

RESORTS: Resorts is doing everything right and you’ll find good penetration on eight-deck games, consistently in and above the 80 percent zone, dealer dependent, however. Most of the $5 games have become $10 games, even midweek, but this is still a bargain by AC standards. The six-deck games in the high-roller pits are good, coming in at 80-85 percent penetration. Resplitting is allowed at all tables. Casino also offers multiple-action blackjack and Spanish 21 at $10 minimums. Pits are friendly. ****

SANDS: They should start all over again, from scratch. No stars.

SHOWBOAT: No change from last issue. Showboat is a good casino for AC BJ players. It is also a bright and cheerful place to play. Six-deck games in the high roller room have standard penetration of 75-80 percent. No resplitting allowed. Eight-deck games have 75-80 percent penetration. Very few $10 tables in summer, mostly $15 and up. ***

TROPICANA: No change from last issue. Six-deck games in high-roller room are $100 minimums with 66 percent penetration. Rest of the casino is no better, except these are all eight-deckers. Another slot heaven or hell, depending on how you view the one-armed bandits.*

TRUMP MARINA: Marina was hopping this summer; attracting a younger crowd. Six-deck games in high roller room and eight-deck games on the main floor have penetration of 75 percent mark. They are aggressively marketing the place. Games are mostly $15/$25 and up, especially on weekends. ** ½*

TRUMP PLAZA: No change from last issue. Once one of the best games in town, now just average. Six-deck blackjack games in high limit area have 70 percent penetration, sometimes slightly higher. The casino has become top heavy with eight-deck games with penetration ranging from 70 percent to 75 percent on all, depending on the dealer. No midshoe entry on six-deck games but you can find $25 (a few) to $50 minimums on these. Allows resplits, except aces. Most eight-deck tables are $15 and higher. **

TRUMP TAJ MAHAL: Decent game with 70-80 percent penetration, dealer dependent. New "Blackjack Switch" game is being tested here. Actually saw several $5 minimum games in the morning. Will wonders never cease? Multiple Action, Double Exposure and Spanish 21 are still available at $10/$15 minimums and up. ** ½*

WILD, WILD WEST: No change from last issue. The closest thing to Vegas in Atlantic City! Consistent 75-80 percent penetration throughout the casino but all games are eight-deckers. Most tables were $10/$15. Resplits allowed, except aces. Great atmosphere for gambling. ***



Note: Alene Paone is the CEO of Paone Press, which sells gaming books and tapes at discount prices. She also writes for Her husband, Frank Scoblete, is the #1 best-selling gaming author in America and the author of Best Blackjack. Frank’s books and tapes have sold over a million copies. For a free brochure call: 1-800-944-0406 or write: Paone Press, Box 610, Lynbrook, NY 11563.


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