The phenomenal growth in the casino industry that occurred in Nevada through¬out the 1960s and ’70s as a direct result of the popularity of Ed Thorp’s Beat the Dealer, had the East Coast politicians and business leaders buzzing with plans to get casinos legalized in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere on the East Coast. So much gambling money was flying west to Vegas and Reno every day, a plan had to be hatched to keep those dollars closer to home.
In 1974, a referendum to legalize gambling in New Jersey failed, but a similar referendum that would limit the casinos to Atlantic City passed in 1976. Atlantic City had been chosen as the first East Coast gambling venue because the politicos felt, and rightly so, that the public would accept it. It was well located and had once been a popular vacation resort town, but had long since fallen on hard times. The once-famous boardwalk was in disrepair, and the surrounding residential neighborhoods had become slums of broken-windowed tenements. (more…)
In 1978, Resorts International opened in Atlantic City, the first legal East Coast casino in the twentieth century. Their four- and six-deck blackjack games offered a new form of surrender, dubbed by card counters as “early surrender,” since the casino allowed players to surrender half a bet even when the dealer showed an ace or 10 up, and before the dealer checked for a blackjack. This rule gave basic strategy players a small edge over the house right off the top, without any card counting whatsoever! And the advantage to card counters was even greater. From opening day, card counters had a field day at Resorts’ tables. Ironically, as word spread through the gambling community that card counters found the Resorts’ blackjack game to be the most lucrative game for players in the country, gamblers from all over the world—most of whom knew nothing about basic strategy or card counting—flocked to their tables. And, ironically, Resorts International was soon the most profitable casino in history, winning an average of $650,000 per day. (more…)
In 1977, Ken Uston’s first book, The Big Player, became a best seller for Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Co-authored with professional writer Roger Rapaport, this was the book that taught the public at large, and casino industry insiders, how Al Francesco’s blackjack teams got away with winning huge amounts of money in casinos all over the world.
Many of Uston’s teammates, however, and especially Al Francesco—the man who had invented the team concept and taught Uston how to play—felt betrayed. Al had been using his BP teams since 1971, racking up huge wins at all of the major casinos in Las Vegas and Reno, without any inkling of suspicion within the casino industry of what he had been doing. And for three and a half years, Al had been doing this with a twenty-one-man team that included three BPs and eighteen spotters. By playing in three different casinos, and continually rotating spotters and BPs in and out of all of them, Al felt that the casinos would never be able to make the play by putting together his spotters with his BPs. Al Francesco felt certain that the only way his BP strategy could ever be discovered would be by someone on his team spilling the beans. And he had two team policies that he required all team members to adhere to: complete honesty and absolute secrecy. (more…)
In the early 1970s, card counting became big business. One of the most creative and successful players from that time (or any time) was Al Francesco, who had been playing since 1963 and had traveled with Lawrence Revere for a while. As a poker player, Al knew that the best way for a player to make money was to disguise his strength from his opponents, but he couldn’t figure out a way that a card counter could do this at a blackjack table. Then, in 1971, it hit him. That year, Al started his first blackjack teams, using the Big Player (BP) approach. It was the method he’d been seeking for eight years. (more…)
Every card counter quickly learns about the dreaded Griffin books. Initially, it was just a single book. Now, in its fifth “volume,” the Griffin books are a virtual library of photos and information about professional casino gamblers. In fact, the mug books of card counters’ photos that are published by Griffn Investigations in Las Vegas have become so well known among professional blackjack players that they often don’t even use the proper name when referring to them. One counter might ask another, “Are you in the book?” And the other will immediately know what he’s talking about. (more…)
According to Richard Epstein (Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic, Academic Press, 1977), blackjack became popular during World War I, and was called “black-jack” from the practice of paying a bonus to a player who held an ace of spades with a jack of spades or clubs. John Scarne, (New Complete Guide to Gambling, 1961, Simon & Schuster), puts the year when this curious rule first appeared at 1912, when twenty-one tables appeared in horse-betting parlors in Evanston, Illinois. According to Scarne, by 1919a Chicago gambling equipment distributor was selling felt table layouts embla¬zoned with the announcement: “Blackjack Pays Odds of 3 to 2.” I believe Epstein’s information is taken from Scarne, and Scarne states that he discovered the origins of blackjack in America as a result of his private discussions with old-time gamblers, not from any published texts that can be looked up today. (more…)