Gambling at a Casino? What Are The Odds of Winning Money?

publication date: May 13, 2011

Big news out of Atlantic City casinos: apparently regulators at the Garden State's Casino Control Commission are on alert for a suspected cheater. The crime: Someone or some group of people won enough money playing blackjack at two different casinos so that casino did something that never should happen - that one casino lost money for the month on blackjack while another casino barely eked out a miniscule profit.

If you've ever gone to a casino or would consider going, don't miss this news story! Here are the highlights from the N.J.-based Star-Ledger newspaper article:

In a normal month, casinos rake in about 10 percent to 15 percent of the chips players buy at a blackjack table, experts say.

But last month, the take at two Atlantic City casinos flew in the face of conventional wisdom that "the house always wins."

The Tropicana lost more than $1.86 million at its blackjack tables, while the Borgata narrowly avoided a loss, collecting less than $1 million on nearly $75 million in chips purchased, just over a 1 percent take. Most of the other casinos in Atlantic City did much better at the blackjack tables in April, led by Caesars, which made $7.6 million.


Daniel Heneghan, a spokesman for the state Casino Control Commission, said the proportion of the Tropicana's loss was unprecedented in the state since the inception of casino gambling in 1978.

"It's extraordinarily unusual for a casino to lose money at the game of blackjack in a particular month," said Heneghan, who has worked for the commission for 15 years.

Outgoing Tropicana CEO Mark Giannantonio told the Press of Atlantic City his casino lost almost $6 million to one man, whom he would not identify. Representatives from the two casinos did not respond to calls from The Star-Ledger.

"A casino can have a losing day, but it's maybe once or twice a year. Anything that is longstanding where the (winning) percentage goes down for a month, or two months straight, and I'm looking at other things," said Jim Wortman, director of gaming education and research at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston.

Wortman, who worked for more than a decade at Atlantic City casinos and once trained dealers at the Tropicana, said the numbers should make casino managers suspicious.

"I just want to make sure the guy who made $6 million is that good, and not that he's cheating or our dealers are that bad," Wortman said. "Generally, I would have more eyes on this guy than if he's sitting there naked."

...Other experts said that since casinos aim to bring in high rollers, the occasional loss is to be expected.

"When you attempt to target the high end player market, volatility will be part of it," said Michael Pollock, publisher of the Gaming Industry Observer. "It's not unprecedented that one player could have such an impact."

Winning blackjack players have caught the public attention before; a team of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studied the game and systematically beat casinos was profiled in the book "Bringing Down the House" and the movie "21," starring Kevin Spacey.

"It's one of the games you can defeat by strategy," Wortman said. "The strategy there is not anything new. It's called card counting."

In card counting, a player tracks which cards have been played and bets when favorable cards are due. Sometimes, a player is assisted by several "spotters" nearby who look on and signal them.

Well, we may never know how the Tropicana Casino did the unthinkable and actually lost money for the month of April, 2011 at blackjack. Of course, the overall casino made big money for the month as usual because the games of chance in casinos are guaranteed to make casinos money.

What continues to amaze me about casinos is that state governments don't tell people the truth about them despite their sanctioning their existence. Perhaps they don't tell casino patrons that they will lose money because casinos bring in big tax revenue to states. More and more states are heading down this path despite the proven deleterious other affects that casinos have on local communities.

We put warnings on tobacco products. So, before entering a casino, customers should have to read and sign off on a disclosure like the following: 

WARNING: You are nearly certain to lose money gambling in this casino. In fact, the more time you spend gambling, the more likely you are to go home poorer. We suggest only gambling with as much money as you can comfortably (and happily) afford to lose because odds are high that's what you will do. Please also be aware that gambling can be highly addictive and contribute to ruined families and personal lives.



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Eric Tyson is the only best-selling personal finance author who has an extensive background as an hourly-based financial advisor and who does not accept speaking fees, endorsement deals or fees of any type from companies in the financial services industry or product or service providers recommended in his articles, books and his publications.