I tend not to talk much about work, for two reasons. First, it’s hard to relate to much of the anecdotes that I’d mention if you’re not surrounded by the casino atmosphere to the degree that I am. (And perhaps that’s for the best.) Second, they get a bit touchy about relaying work-related information to the outside world, so I don’t want to blab something that’s considered insider info. (Trust me, if I have to look for another job to sustain myself out here, I will not be a happy camper.) But the events that took place last night are worthy of mention, and I think are public domain enough to air out in public.
One of the banked games we have at the casino is a variant on Texas Hold’em called “Easy Poker”. Here’s a crash course on how it works: you start by placing a bet in the Ante spot. You then get two cards, at which point you can either bet a second time (the same amount as the Ante) or check the rest of the hand down. The flop is then dealt; you now have the option of placing a third bet (again equal to the Ante) or checking, provided you bet in the second spot above. The turn and river cards come next, each one with the opportunity to place another bet for your hand, each of these bets being double the Ante. After all five community cards are dealt, the dealer then deals out two separate hands for the bank and plays the best one. If you beat the bank, you’re paid even money on all bets you placed.
Clearly, the game has the most obvious house edge you’re likely to see in a casino game: you get one hand, we get two. On the other hand, players get to control how much they bet at each phase of the hand, and someone with even a semi-decent hand like K3 is likely to ride it the whole way if a King hits on the flop. The limit for the first bet is $100, but that can easily turn into $700 if they get a hand.
Now, I’m getting over the fact that each of the games we play, while all long-run money makers, have quite a bit of variance. My bank lost nearly $5000 in one day this month, but that can easily be chalked up to the pendulum swinging in the players’ direction that day. It’s hard to work a job such as this when you’re both highly competitive and have an inferiority complex, but even on my unluckiest days I shake it off rather quickly. What I cannot abide, however, is when people cheat.
Let me explain: the difference between us and Vegas is that in Vegas, the house has a stake in the action. In fact, that’s how their casino makes money. In California, the house has no stake in the action; they merely charge each player a dollar (or $2-3 for the banker) to play each hand. So while Vegas casinos treat players who defy the rules rather harshly, in California it’s hard to rouse a floorman into giving the table a mild scolding for breaking the rules.
The rules in Easy Poker are simple: you’re only entitled to see your two cards. You’re not allowed to show or tell people what you have, you’re not allowed to peek at another player’s cards, you’re not allowed to speak in a foreign language (since you could communicate the above information without the banker knowing what you’re saying), you’re not allowed to bet in spots that haven’t come up yet (indicating that you have a very strong hand), and you’re not allowed to root for specific cards to come on the board (since if that card does come, everyone will know that it made you a hand).
The reason is, any cards you can account for in another player’s hand is a card you know the bank can’t catch. If the board reads A K 9 6 2, and you have the King, you probably eschew betting because any Ace kills you – and with four chances to get it, the bank’s probability of getting a 3-outer is 31%. But if you know that the guy next to you has an Ace, the odds drop to 21%, which is small enough for most players to gamble. Likewise, if the board reads 7 K J Q A and you have A7, there’s no way you bet the river – even with your two pair – because any 10 fills a straight, and four 10s out gives the banker a 40% shot of catching it. But if you saw the guy next to you holding T3, you’re much more likely to chance it – especially since the 10 is pretty much the only way you can be beaten without the bank hands catching something far more unlikely such as JJ or AQ. Bets that result from improperly obtained information cause us to lose money in the long run.
Just to give you a sense of how bad things are in this game, I once went out there with a pen and paper, and tallied every time someone violated one of the above rules. In the three hours I was out there, I counted ninety-nine infractions. And that was a pretty slow day. There’s a group of about a dozen or so people who play the game almost exclusively; they practically break every rule on every damn hand.
Which brings me to last night. I was put on an Easy Poker table after lunch, and noticed that the person I was relieving lost $4800 out of her bank. Sure enough, there were four people there betting no less than $40 a spot, and sure enough, they were all engaging in various affronts of the rules. I think I dropped about $1200 in my first three hands alone, thanks in no small part to a $50/spot bettor with second pair following a $5/spot bettor with top pair into the hand street by street.
The first thing you’re supposed to do as a banker when you see these shenanigans going on is to alert the dealer. I did so, and the dealer did warn the players to stop sharing cards, but this tends to have the same success rate as using a piece of notebook paper to stop a cannonball. I then took a restroom break and informed my supervisor of what’s going on. He told me to keep an eye on things, and clandestinely alert him if the cheating continued. Of course, two hands later, the same shtick was taking place – in fact, so blatant was the sharing of info that people were actually asking each other – in English – what they each had. I get on the phone to my supe and ask for a “color change”.
Minutes later, a floorman appears to warn the players about sharing hand information. This, however, does nothing to dissuade the table from breaking the rules – the aforementioned $5 accomplice continues to present his cards to both his $50 neighbors right in front of the floorman. It’s at this point that I decide that matters need to be taken into my own hands. I call for time, and warn the table that the next time I see anyone flash, peek, advertise, or otherwise insinuate what they’re holding, I’m picking my bank up off the table and taking it back inside.
The shameless sanctimony that ensued could be cut with a spoon.
The floorman immediately countered with, “You can’t do that!” Oh? So I can sit here and watch as everyone playing practically turns everyone’s cards face up, then watch as you and the dealers do absolutely nothing to rectify the situation, but I can’t refuse to bank the game when it’s so obviously crooked? I realize that this isn’t my money – and you know what, that’s a damn good thing, because there’s absolutely no way I’d ever put any of my own money at risk if the enforcement of the rules in this game are so lackadaisical.
Fortunately, another banker was nearby, so I took my break at that point and informed the supervisor what had happened. He was not pleased at the fact that I threatened to pick up the bank (and I knew he probably wouldn’t be). All the same, I got the point across – so much so, that the supervisor actually sat at the table while I was on break, and informed me that if things continued to go unchanged, that he’d get the casino’s shift supervisor involved. (Such person actually does have authority to punish players for violating the rules.) When I returned, everyone was pretty much behaving (or had moved to a different table).
The good news is that the casino is planning on remodeling the smoking atrium by the end of June, making it into a high-stakes poker area instead of the California games that are currently there. At that time, rumor has it that they’ll be replacing Easy Poker with another hold’em variant, one that is far more difficult (or at least, far less profitable) to cheat at. I can only hope.