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Best of Donald Catlin

Gaming Guru

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Mind Play? Maybe Not

4 December 2004

I generally stay at the Las Vegas Hilton when I'm in Las Vegas. It is by no means the best hotel in town nor is it the best place to play, but it is right next to the Las Vegas Convention Center and that is a big plus in my book. That is not to say that you can't find some good games at the Hilton. There is some good Video Poker available and if you're willing to play green chips there are some double deck, double after split, late surrender Blackjack games available. Unfortunately these games hit the soft seventeen but all in all they're okay. The penetration is terrible so card counting is not worth the effort. But one can always play the comp game. Or so I thought.

In June of this year I was at the Hilton to compete in their Million dollar Blackjack tournament. I don't want to get into that story in this article but suffice it to say that I essentially purchased a nice blue $1000 tee shirt. During this same time I observed that the casino was installing Mind Play on all of their regular Blackjack tables. This is a system that has tiny cameras installed in the chip rack and these cameras can read bar codes that are printed on the edges of the cards used in the game. The discard tray is also equipped with a scanning device that can read the order of a whole stack of cards. Before dealing begins the cards are placed in the discard tray and the entire deck is read. Simply put, this device tracks the game perfectly. The "eye in the sky" knows how much each player wagers, how each player plays the hand, and whether the player wins or loses. I'm sure that the device can count cards as well and could easily spot an advantage player but as I mentioned above this is probably not an issue at the Hilton. When each dealer arrives at the table they have to enter a code for themselves and the device tracks their play as well.

During the time that Mind Play was being installed, the Las Vegas Hilton (then owned by Park Place/Caesars) was being sold to the folks who own Resorts International in Atlantic City. So it appeared that the new owners of the Hilton were happy with Mind Play.

The hype for this system is, since it tracks the player's play exactly, the player will receive all of the comps he deserves. Yes, I guess that is true. Some of us, however, think it's fun if we receive more comps than we deserve. So no, I wasn't happy to see Mind Play. As it turns out there were some other folks who were not happy about it as well.

This fall I was in Las Vegas to attend the G2E convention and, as usual, I was at the Las Vegas Hilton. Guess what? Mind Play was gone. Earlier when I had asked casino personnel how they liked the system I got the official answer, namely, that it was okay and they really didn't know how it worked (there was probably some truth to that last part). Now that it was gone no one said that it was okay. First, the floor people suspected that it was a technique used to reduce their number, that is, to employ fewer of them. It is my own opinion that they are completely right about this and I thought so at the time it was installed. Second, dealers told me that their errors were always caught and were often brought to their attention. How would you like to deal cards under such conditions? Third, when the game was initialized by placing the deck in the discard tray, it usually took the machine only a couple of seconds to scan the deck and give the dealer the signal to go ahead and deal. However, several times I saw the scanner fail to properly scan the deck and the dealer had to stand there and coax the thing, by smoothing the deck, for 20 or 30 seconds. This was an annoyance to both dealers and players. Finally, and this was the complaint I heard most often, was that dealers, especially small dealers, had backaches. The reason is that the chip rack had to extend farther from the dealer so that there was space for the cameras; I estimate that the increase in distance was an inch to an inch and a half. That little extra stretch on an eight-hour shift was causing lots of backaches.

So, everyone is happy that things are back the way they were. I'm happy, the floor people are happy, and the dealers are happy. Come to think of it, things are not exactly back the way they were, they're better. Everyone I spoke with at the Hilton said that they were happy with the new management team and that business had picked up at the hotel. I sensed this as well. Replacing people with bean-counting technology might be okay in some endeavors but in the casino business it can be deadly. See you next month.

Donald Catlin

Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers
Donald Catlin
Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers