Non-Random Shuffles:
Are They Legal?

If you have read my previous editorial objecting to casinos barring players and utilizing preferential shuffles, this piece may at first surprise you. However, hear me out. I believe that when I have finished pitching my case you may actually come to see the logic of my "argument", even if you DON'T like it.

You may recall in the previous editorial that I objected to barring of players and preferential shuffling because the procedures in effect attempt to alter the rules of the game after they have (by default) been agreed to by casino and player. I contend, that once the rules and playing arrangements have been established, they cannot suddenly be changed, at least not without proper notice to the players; as when a floor supervisor announces that the table minimum or maximum is to be changed, in say, an hour.

The casinos essentially argue that because the players can CHANGE their method of play at will, that they should be allowed to changes the RULES at will. This is ABSURD. Unfortunately, because of their power, they have essentially won all cases asking for this situation to be remedied; except of course in New Jersey, where barring is disallowed (although early shuffling is not).

Not long after casino action appeared in Atlantic City, casinos began to study ways to alter the odds in Blackjack to be even MORE favorable than what would be found with SEEMINGLY similar game parameters in Nevada. The first step was of course to switch from four deck games to six, and then eventually to eight. Today's Atlantic City games are predominantly 8-deck with a handful of high-limit 6-deck games and a 4-deck offering in the Claridge's $100 game.

In the early days of Atlantic City, because of the card-counter scare, the 4-deck games were offered at LOWER limit tables; whereas now, the reverse is true. This tells me that the casinos are no longer afraid of being HIT by card-counters in high-limit games as they were 18 years ago. What has changed to remove casino management's fears? Let's look at the history of this.

In January of 1979, Atlantic City was a card-counter's Candy Store. The Casino Control Commission mandated that the casino (Resorts International) cut off NO MORE that 1/3 of the cards in their 4 deck shoe game. That coupled with Early Surrender and the assumption that players could NOT be barred made Blackjack in Atlantic City briefly the BEST Blackjack game in the world, with the only possible competition coming from a Single-Deck game in Macao; a location not viable for play by the average gambler.

As the month ROARed on, card-counter teams had literally taken over the high-stakes tables at Resorts, winning a considerable chunk of change. When it was discovered that there was no law PROHIBITING the casino from barring players, they did just that. Most of the known team players became persona-non-grata over night.

Well known blackjack team player Ken Uston, initiated a series of lawsuits against Resorts International which would eventually take 3 years to play themselves out. While these cases wound their way through the New Jersey legal system, a number of events occurred.

Beginning in Dec of 1979, the Casino control Commission approved an "experiment", whereby card-counters be allowed to play and the casino be allowed to cut off 50% of the cards, along with placing an increasing restriction on player betting spreads. While card-count teams again flocked to A.C., very few actually made any money during this experiment. Most professional players had left town a few days into the Experiment.

Nevertheless, the casino hold HAD dropped; a fact casinos erroneously placed on card-count winnings, rather than the actually 13% drop in action caused by the requirement to shuffle the cards more frequently thanks to the shallow penetration. Time spent shuffling cards is known as "down-time"; time spent by the dealer, with no bets being made by the players. Resorts and Caesars (now open during this period), made false reports to the Commission and eventually prevailed in having the experiment aborted early, returning them to the right to bar alleged professional players.

In 1981 while Uston's lawsuits were still in various stages of litigation, the then 3 open casinos persuaded the Commission to quietly abolish the Early Surrender rule. Being ever-alert, Ken Uston once again came to the challenge and formed the CHIPS (Committee to Have the Industry Preserve Surrender) Committee which, thru Uston, which charged that the Commission erred when it abolished surrender in violation of New Jersey's Administrative Procedure's act which mandates that hearings must first be held and the public be given 30 days to petition against such law changes (Early Surrender was actually statute mandated).

Uston's filing resulted in Early Surrender being reinstated for 6 days, until casino lawyers descended on the governor, persuading him that a "state-emergency" would exist if Surrender were allowed to remain. He signed the order rescinding Surrender, saying much later that he probably would not have signed it had he studied the matter more closely. (Great ass-cover, Gov. Byrne - Ed.)

Uston won his barring case in an appellate court. Resort's appealed to the State Supreme Court and lost. As of Sept. 15, 1982, New Jersey Casinos can no longer bar players for being skilled. However, the Commission allowed the casinos a few concessions in exchange; such as the right to shuffle mid-shoe and the right to restrict mid-shoe entry. Also, suspected team players can have their COMBINED bets restricted to the table maximum.

Ironically, the ONLY time I have ever been barred from play was at Caesars Boardwalk Regency, on my birthday, Sept. 14, 1982, the day before the no-barring law went into effect in New Jersey. I had extended a business in the Boston area to hit Atlantic City for my birthday. Because I was then unaware of the pending law-change, after being asked to leave a second pit, I called the trip off and drove to New York City to conclude my partying. Little did I know that less than 8 hours later I would have been allowed to play again.

Knowing that they would probably eventually lose the right to bar players, as early as 1981, Atlantic City casinos began to hire consultants to study the game, looking for ways they could "legally" increase their hold. One firm retained was Econ Inc. who produced the HIGHLY questionable evaluation of Surrender in Blackjack. Their report was LOADED with conclusions for which there was no supporting evidence or data.

Other studies were done which resulted in modified wash procedures (such as the infamous 2-deck "crimp wash") that generate significantly clumped cards, which obliterate a card-counter's advantage for the first few shoes after a new table is opened. Next they began to experiment shuffle procedure changes and even a dual-shoe 12-deck game known as Blackjack II. Blackjack II is no longer with us, however the shuffle and wash procedures (in their various incarnations) still remain.

Ken Uston was the first person to publicly write about clump-cards produced by inadequate wash and shuffle procedures. (The data can be found elsewhere on this website.) Jerry Patterson briefly commented on this in his book Break the Dealer (co-Authored with Eddie Olsen):

Instructor/card-counter Allan Pell recently informed me that several years ago (1992?) that a Japanese newspaper ran an in-depth article on research then being done for Trump Plaza in Atlantic City to devise shuffle procedures to non-randomize the cards, increasing their Blackjack table hold. (I am looking to locate a copy of this article - I'll keep you posted.) Reports I received recently, as well as my own playing experience at Trump Plaza indicates that they succeeded at this. Luckily, I am normally able to beat their game.

So you see, the question is no longer WHETHER casinos are manipulating the shuffle and wash procedures in the multi-deck shoe games - we know that they are. The question is whether or not this manipulation is legal. As I said in the beginning, my response to this question may surprise you.

I personally and professionally feel that casinos have the right to manipulate shuffles and washes virtually anyway they chose, as long as they use COMPLETE decks, and offer the cards for a cut afterwards. I don't have a problem with the various shuffle/wash procedures found in today's games. The reason is that these procedures are easily programmed into computers (if like me, you know how), and available for study.

Because shuffle changes can cause logistical nightmares for casino staff, in most casinos we don't see it happening too often. A few casinos utilize one procedure for PEAK periods and another for off-PEAK periods. However, MOST do not. This leaves them WIDE-open for shuffle study. It is this kind of study that unearthed the possibility of Clump-tracking and Shuffle-tracking.

Of course if WE can study a casino's shuffles, so can they. I am reminded of the introduction of the Bahamas V-Shuffle to Atlantic City (around 1993). For a time, this shuffle seemed to obliterate Clump-trackers, as well as card-counters. In 1993, the majority of A.C.'s Boardwalk casinos were utilizing it. For a long time, professional players were seriously afraid that the V-Shuffle was going to end their careers.

Then, a serious flaw was discovered with the V-Shuffle: when the player number drops below five, the dealer break-ratio often increases considerably (with the correct player approach). Atlantic City thrives on keeping tables full (closing down tables if necessary to accomplish this end). Unfortunately, during show times (and other lull-periods) and in the wee-hours of the morning, it is virtually impossible to keep tables anywhere near full. With small player numbers, the house is MOST vulnerable with the V-Shuffle. That is why today only three casinos in A.C. use the V-Shuffle (The Claridge, Sands and Showboat).

Anyone who insists that the card-flow produced in today's shoe games are random either has NOT studied the subject thoroughly, or else is a casino contractor or employee. Even in the Shuffle-tracker's heyday (1979 - 1982), it would have been impossible to track the cards if they were "randomly" shuffled "properly". Even the ShuffleMaster machines (contrary to their promo) do not produce random cards much of the time. You can study this fact with the ShuffleMaster Simulations designed into Boris' Casino Blackjack Simulation Software.

That shuffles were modified to thwart Shuffle-trackers, tells us that casinos are aware that the KIND of shuffle DOES make a difference in the KIND of game generated. It is for this reason that plugging the shoe was introduced, along the Zone and Stutter shuffles; even though I have been told by more than one Blackjack Professional that they are still trackable. However, when the house utilizes some form of a double shuffle, such as a Stutter, followed by a Straight-Thru (as found in Bally's, Caesars, Treasure Island, Desert Inn and Mirage in Las Vegas), I cannot imagine that Shuffle-tracking would in anyway be viable in such a game.

Remember that card-shuffling is synonymous with down time; time that a given table is not seeing any action (and therefore not earning it's percentage). There are OTHER ways to knock out Shuffle-trackers without resorting to a double-shuffle. That the double-shuffle approach is so prevalent tells us there is more to it than meets the eye. If you accurately study the shuffles used in most of today's Blackjack games (from 2 to 8 decks) you will quickly discover that most shuffles were not chosen by accident; that in fact, specific shuffles have a SPECIFIC impact on the kind of games produced.

I recently received a report that the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City uses a Stutter Shuffle mid-week, switching to the V-Shuffle during weekends and peak periods. Those who say that all shuffles are the same are hard-pressed to explain the reasoning behind the need for a shuffle change depending upon the PEAK-period aspects of the game; especially when the PEAK-period shuffles are often more involved, increasing the down time.

In summary, let me remind you that the world of card washing and shuffling is as much a science as it is an art. As Frank Scobolette pointed out in a recent article, the casinos are in the MATH business, not the gambling business. While it may not be possible to EXACTLY measure the EXACT effects of a SPECIFIC shuffle, we CAN measure the resultant table hold. Table hold statistics, legitimately taken, don't lie.

I remember when the Flamingo Hilton in Reno introduced a new card game known as 9-9. It took me under a half hour to find the chink in the armor of this game and exploit it. Evidently I wasn't the FIRST to have made that discovery. When the game's trial period was over so was the game. A couple of years later I said to a Flamingo floorman, "whatever happened to that 99 game you used to have here? It was a GREAT game!"; to which he grumbled, "Yeah, and we've learned a LOT since then!".

We all are looking for those holy grail situations like 9-9. Most of the time the casinos have all the angles covered. That is as it Should be. However, once in awhile, like with the V-Shuffle, we can find a hole and exploit it. This is as IT Should Be. Casinos are in the mathematical-business. We professional players are in the business of cashing in on what they offer.

Let the casinos manipulate the shuffles all they want. Players who are not willing to upgrade their skills will scream that this manipulation is unfair. Too Bad! That is just loser mentality speaking. The Winner's mentality is to examine EACH game offering carefully. If the game has a window of opportunity, study that window carefully and develop a winning strategy to take advantage of it. If the game is a sucker opportunity, then don't play it. No one FORCES you to play a losing game, but you.

The game of Blackjack is constantly under scrutiny. Thanks to that scrutiny we have game variations such as Double Exposure, Spanish 21 and Multi-Action Blackjack; not to mention the dozens of side-bet offerings (Over/Under, Super 7's, Royal Match, etc.). Overall, I am pleased with the state of Blackjack offerings today. There are plenty of opportunities to turn the tables on the casinos - it JUST depends on how you approach it. I trust that you are winning your share.