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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, December 2002, #36



Sands Shifting

The Sands of Atlantic City, which went to an almost all-slot-machine casino last June, is about to shift gears once again. Why? Because the "experiment" has been a complete and utter failure, much worse than the public record indicates.

From a superior inside source, we’ve learned that by January or February of 2003, after the sacking of several high-level decision makers (who may already be sacked by the time you read this), the Sands is going to rearrange its floor yet again; attempt to re-establish itself as a place with a superior table-game selection, and begin to market itself as a full-gaming-experience casino once again. My source told me: "Look at where the chip cage is. Now we have a couple of windows. Everything else is coin. But the slot hold isn’t great enough to warrant what we did. The casino has become a kind of depressing place. The table game players just go over to Bally’s (which now has four casinos as a part of its fully connected empire: Claridge, Park Place, Wild Wild West, and Caesars.) It’s hurt us."

What also hurt the Sands was something no Sands executive seemed to understand. If you are going to be a "slot place" then you better have the loosest machines in town – by a large margin. But Sands machines were not returning any more than any other Atlantic City machines. So what’s the incentive to leave, say, the Claridge and walk across the street to Sands? Nothing.

Will this latest incarnation of the Sands work? We’re betting against it. With the impending opening of Borgata, the hour-glass may be running out for the Sands.

Blackjack Switch

Our last report mentioned the new game, Blackjack Switch, which was being tested at the Taj Mahal. In this game, you play two hands and get the opportunity to "switch" the second cards on each hand if you so wish.

We got in touch with the game’s developer, Geoff Hall, and asked him to give us the percentages and the basic strategy of the game. Turns out there are actually three versions of the game being marketed. Here’s Geoff’s response to us:

Hi Frank and AP:

The house edge, for perfect 'switching' and 'play', depends on the slight variations that the casinos install, as a dealer hitting 'soft 17' has a more adverse effect on the player than in regular Blackjack.


The three possibilities below are followed, in brackets, by the casino that will be installing that version.  I would like to see more and more casinos installing version 'A' although, initially, versions 'B' and 'C' will be more common, due to casinos wanting a reasonable 'edge' on the game.


All variations include the following standard rules:

  Full Switching allowed

All doubles and splitting allowed

Blackjacks pay 1/1

Dealer will 'push' on a total of 22 



Dealer Hits 'Soft 17'

Player 'Blackjacks' will beat a dealer 22

House Edge 0.16%



Dealer Hits 'Soft 17'

Dealer 22 'pushes' everything

House Edge 0.71%   (The 4 Queens, Las Vegas)



Dealer Stands 'Soft 17'

Dealer 22 'pushes' everything

House Edge 0.32%   (Belterra, Indiana ~ The Taj Mahal, Atlantic City)

Next report: We’ll have the basic strategy for Blackjack Switch!


Here are our AC blackjack ratings for December, 2002.

Rating system:

***** = Excellent

**** = Very Good

*** = Good

** = Fair

* = Poor.

BALLY’S PARK PLACE: Penetration has deteriorated on the six-deck games in the high-roller pit with standard 1.5 cutoffs. The rest of the casino is the standard AC eight-deck games with penetration that varies but is consistently more than 75 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, much less $5 games. Weekends are $15 and up. Multiple Action and Spanish 21 are also available for minimums of $10. Always crowded. ***

CAESARS: The six-deck games have penetration of 75 percent in high-roller room. The rest of the tables are eight-deck with 75 percent penetration. More $10 tables now available. Resplitting allowed but you can only split aces once. Bright, clean casino. Multiple Action and Spanish 21 available at $10 and up! ***

CLARIDGE: No change from last report. 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. In the process of losing its identity as it merges with Bally’s Park Place. *** 1/2*

HARRAH’S: 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 percent to 70 in 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: No change from last issue. Has hit a plateau and the games have stabilized 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: They are cutting back on the tables and adding more slot machines. Why are so many people drawn to those damn machines? Otherwise Resorts is still 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: Okay, let’s see what happens when Sands re-invents itself again. There was improvement in penetration when we were there. All eight-deckers, however. *

SHOWBOAT: Showboat is still an okay 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 percent. No resplitting allowed. Eight-deck games have 75 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: No change from last issue. 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. ***

TRUMP PLAZA: Six-deck blackjack games in high limit area have 70-75 percent penetration, sometimes slightly higher. The eight-deck games have 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 $10 and higher. **

TRUMP TAJ MAHAL: Decent game with 70-80 percent penetration, dealer dependent. New "Blackjack Switch" game was tested here. Several $5 minimum games in the morning on weekdays. 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. *** ½*



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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