Ben Affleck, popular film director and movie actor, recently made headlines for another reason beside his acting or the fact he will soon be featured in the new Batman film. The reason the attention was on Affleck this time was for getting ejected from the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas for counting cards in a professional blackjack game.
In Nevada, card counting is considered to be legal, but casinos also reserve the right to bar those who are counting from their tables. In the gambling world, this is seen as the casino having it’s cake and eating it too. Although card counters do not appreciate being “backed off”, they realize this is part of professional gambling. In most cases, ejection from the game is handled in a polite and professional manner, such was the case in this incident with Ben Affleck, who was accompanied by his wife, Jennifer Garner. Affleck was also advised that he was welcome to play any other game in the casino.
This was a wise decision on the part of the Hard Rock since it is known to be a popular celebrity hangout spot and also because Affleck has a reputation in Vegas for being a high stakes gambler. Affleck’s history of winning big, as well as losing big in games such as poker, blackjack, and sports betting have kept the celebrity gossip industry busy for many years.
There are two aspects involved with card counting. The first is to keep a running count of the cards by assigning low cards from 2 through 6 with a value of plus-1. Number 10 and jacks, queens, and kings are assigned minus-1. Numbers seven, eight, and nine are assigned a zero, and the value of aces depends upon the individual counter’s system. The strategy behind this is to realize when the decks are rich in 10s, also known as being “hot”, as this increases the chances of a player getting a doubled hand or a blackjack.
The second element involved in card counting is all about betting strategy. The player will bet low when the deck is considered to be “cold” and increase the bet if the deck is “hot”. This is where the card counters usually get noticed by casino bosses or dealers because of their use of betting patterns. Professionals in Vegas feel that an extreme betting pattern is likely what caused Affleck to be figured out. According to Anthony Curtis, a professional player, blackjack counting is a game of science and art, where the science is in the ability to do it, and the art is about pulling it off without getting caught.
As a result of this incident with Ben Affleck, blackjack has once again entered the spotlight. Blackjack is one of few casino games that can actually be beaten by those who are skilled players. In recent years, due to the increasing popularity of poker, blackjack has taken a backseat even thought the professional blackjack field remains strong. Casinos have even taken measures to turn the odds in their own favor by slightly changing the rules or bringing technology such as continuous shuffle machines which cannot be beaten by counters into play.
Most of the changes in the game of blackjack haven’t affected the professional player as much as the recreational player. The most drastic change to the game has been replacing the traditional 3 to 2 payoff by the 6 to 5 payout. This one change alone give the house a 1.39% edge, which makes a huge impact. The 6 to 5 rule began with single-deck games and quickly spread to multi-deck games, and has resulted in reducing blackjack to something of an unsavory carnival game. Professionals don’t get taken in by this tactic, however, unsuspecting recreational players do.
Vegas is still trying to recover from the Great Recession, and while they now have a record breaking number of visitors, casino revenue has not yet recovered to what it was before the recession. Hotels in the area are still offering bargain rates in comparison to rates before the year 2008.
In reality, when a celebrity such as Ben Affleck makes the news due to card counting, it can only mean good things for Vegas casinos. Many people will get the idea that they too can learn to count cards and cash in on their talent. However, few really grasp the concept or become skilled enough to beat the system, meaning more profit for the casinos.