Film Depicts Card Counters; Casinos Wary Of That Edge

Jim Sturgess in Sony Pictures' 21 - 2008
Jim Sturgess in Sony Pictures' 21 - 2008

GULFPORT (WLOX) -- The new motion picture "21" has shined a spotlight on casinos everywhere. The film depicts a group of college students from MIT learning how to count cards, and beat the house at blackjack tables.

The practice of card counting is legal. But, south Mississippi casinos take extraordinary steps to keep card counters away from their tables.

James Larkin is a casino pit boss, who also trains dealers at the Crescent School of Gaming in Gulfport. He knows that at blackjack tables, "The casino has the edge." He also understands why some gamblers learn now to count cards. "The advantaged player evens the odds," he said.

And how does somebody become an advantaged player? For sophisticated blackjack players, you learn a card counting system, where low cards get one rating, and high cards get a different rating.

Michelle Harris is a veteran blackjack dealer. She knows the card counting practice was created for players "to win. To win. To take the advantage away from the casino. And that's why casinos don't like it."

Harris knows basic card counting techniques. She calls them "immoral." But she won't share her knowledge with the Crescent School of Gaming students she teaches, even though it could give the future dealers an idea of what to look for at a blackjack table.

"In a sense, I work for the casinos," the training school employee said.

And the casinos don't like to lose. So they take a variety of precautions to protect their edge at a table.

Robbin Morris is a casino shift manager. Card counting isn't prevalent at her property, because the maximum bet is lower than at other south Mississippi casinos. However, when she does suspect card counters are at her table, she watches every move they make.

"That's my basic job. If I suspect somebody is counting, I count down the deck with them," she said.

That's one approach to stop card counting. The more sophisticated approach is with a casino's computer technology. Surveillance cameras monitor tables. And new software tracks every bet a player makes. So, unusual betting patterns, like a player betting $5 on one hand, $5 the next hand, $5 the next hand, and then $100 on the hand after that can tip off the house to a potential card counter.

"And when we do find that information out, we're going to ask him to leave, politely," said Larkin.

According to Mississippi Gaming Commission regulations, casinos do have a right to ask suspected card counters to leave their resorts. Which is why Robbin Morris issued this warning to blackjack players.

"Just because somebody is counting cards doesn't mean they're going to win."