I’ve been writing about gambling long enough that I’ve spent plenty of time in all kinds of casinos, from the poshest spots on the Strip to the biggest dumps in downtown Las Vegas. People ask me where I like to gamble and they think I’m going to mention some ritzy joint that gets written up in all the travel magazines.
They’re usually disappointed when I tell them that my blackjack spot of choice is a notorious dump that is closer to former crack dens than to the high roller suites where butlers make sure your martinis are perfectly chilled. I like to card count, I like to play for low stakes and I like to take on games that are single or double deck with blackjacks that pay 3-2.
That brings me to a spot we’ll call EZ BJ. My reason for discretion: I’ve been booted off of all too many tables there, and I’d rather not vex the casino’s management by calling the place out.
One night, when I was nipping down there from the Wynn, a Vegas taxi driver said it all when he muttered, “You’re going from the best place in Vegas to the worst place.”
I didn’t care, even though the person I was with wondered where the hell we were off to. Said person was unimpressed watching me spreading from $10 to $100, my eyes ricocheting around as I kept track of the count and remembered deviations (plays like the one that has you doubling down with 9 vs 7 if the count is +3 or better). I won a sum that covered the roundtrip cab fare, but not much more.
I wouldn’t have dared to win a lot. One thing I learned about EZ BJ is that the measly sum of $200 in winnings is enough for them to bounce me from the table.
And the back-off routine there is far from consistent. There are scripted ways that better heeled casinos have of telling you that you can’t play blackjack anymore and when you ask why not, they invariably respond, “Corporate decision.” It’s pretty much unassailable.
One time, I was told to stop playing and I asked the ditzy blonde why I was being sent to the rail. She smiled and cooed, “Just cuz…” Another time, a pit-boss who wanted me gone from EZ BJ began with a jocular preamble.
“How are you enjoying the party?” he asked me, seemingly apropos of nothing.
“What party?” I replied, sensing that the clock was ticking down.
“The one you’re throwing — on us,” he said. “You’re done playing blackjack here.”
I was and I wasn’t. I packed up that day, cashed in my chips and retreated to the sun-blasted sidewalk. Next trip, though, I was back at the EZ BJ table, trying to turn red chips into green ones and rat-holing the occasional black that came my way.
If it’s not obvious at this point, let me make clear that I am not card counting at blackjack to get rich. I’m doing it to make lunch money, have fun and not drop a bundle when I get unlucky (trust
me, that will happen).
Weirdly enough, my introduction to card counting was at considerably higher stakes than those that EZ BJ will tolerate. Right from the start, I played for as much as two hands of $1,500 each. A bit on that in Part 2.