ATLANTIC CITY BLACKJACK REPORT─SEPTEMBER 2013
by Frank and Alene Scoblete
Alene Scoblete is the CEO of Paone Press, which sells gaming books and tapes at discount prices. She also writes for www.scoblete.com. Her husband, Frank Scoblete, is the #1 best-selling gaming author in America. Frank’s books and tapes have sold over a million copies. For a free brochure call: 1-800-944-0406 or write: Frank Scoblete Enterprises, Box 446, Malverne, NY 11565. Frank’s websites arewww.goldentouchblackjack.com, www.goldentouchcraps.com and www.scoblete.com.
Death Be Not Proud
I’ve lost two friends – two friends who were terrific gambling writers and players. I wish to honor them in this column.
Bill "Ace-10″ Burton and I were friends for over 21 years. I knew him before he became a well-known gambling columnist for many publications and for his books, his latest being the Texas Hold’em and Omaha Hi-Lo chapters in Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo and Pai Gow Poker.
Walter Thomason was a maverick among blackjack writers. He believed firmly in his progressive betting methods and his book 21st Century Blackjack espoused progressive betting as the one way to beat the game of blackjack. While progressive betting might be fun, and while it might give you very big wins on certain nights, it does not change the game of blackjack to favor the player. However, no one could tell Walter that. Some of the biggest brains in the blackjack world have gone head-to-head with Thomason, explaining why his concepts are wrong but Walter would have none of it.
Walter was married to best-selling romance and mystery writer Cynthia Thomason and they did book signings and talks titled "For Love or Money," where Cynthia talks about romance and Walter talks about romancing the casinos’ money. Walter was an excellent speaker and was a guest speaker at several Gamblers Jamborees.
Walter and I played at Treasure Island (Las Vegas) quite a lot in the 1990’s. The Beautiful A.P., Walter, and I had many great times but I must say as a card counter, my favorite time with Walter was playing in the high-roller room, with him at one table and me at another. You see Walter’s progressive betting method would often draw the suits from "upstairs" to see what he was doing. Walter loved this as it gave him a chance to teach them his wonderful progressive betting ways – which cannot give him an edge but which interested the casino bosses nevertheless since Walter had been on a ferocious run during that time.
Walter would expound on the theory behind his betting method and the bosses would nod knowingly whether they understood what he was saying or not. Walter would talk their ears off.
I have to say his greatest night and one of my most enjoyable nights came about three hours before he had to leave for his home in Florida. He was packed and ready to go but he wanted to play another round before he left. He came down to the high-roller room with his carry-on luggage, plopped himself at a table directly across from where I was playing and began his session.
And the gods came down from Mt. Olympus because Mr. Thomason seemingly could not lose a hand. I believe he started with a single $100 bet and slowly that bet increased and increased; then it went to two bets, which increased and increased; and then it went to three bets that increased and increased. At some point in time, he was playing every spot at the table with rapidly increasing bets on most hands. That was the Superbowl of progressive betting.
Walter loved every minute of it. He lectured them on what he was doing; he explained in intricate detail why he bet this amount or that amount on this or that hand; when he would spread out his bets to cover other spots. Even other players paused in their games to watch Walter’s amazing streak.
"I got to get going," he would say and then keep playing.
"I got to get going," he would say again and then keep playing.
"I got to get going," he would say and then continue playing.
"Hey, Walter," I said. "You got to get going. You’re going to miss your plane."
Reluctantly, Walter colored up and carried his truckload of chips to the cage, cashed out, and took the limo to the airport. I always enjoyed getting together with him. He had a sparkling personality.
Bill Burton and Walter Thomason were originals.
Let me allow Shakespeare to explain my feelings: "[My] cause of sorrow must not be measured by [their] worth for then it has no end."
(Editor’s Note: I was with Walter and Frank once at Treasure Island and I watched in amazement as Walter taught the dealer his progressive betting method while he was playing to the point that the dealer would place the correct number of chips on each spot based on Walter’s progression and whether the previous hand won or lost. Walter just sat there and made playing decisions on each hand while the dealer made the "correct" bets for him on each spot. I’ve never seen anything like that before or after. As Frank said, Walter was quite a character.)
Oh Boy, Oh Boy, Oh Boy
by Frank Scoblete
I lost touch with the Atlantic City casino world this summer because I have been doing a lot of non-casino traveling – going to baseball games in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia, then spending a week in my lovely Cape May, and finally the monster trip to Japan for 16 days. (You can read about my great trip to Japan athttp://frankscoblete.com/travel/things-go-wrong-things-go-right-in-japan/ ).
Thankfully, my many readers have filled me in on their observations about the casinos and the state of Atlantic City this summer.
Therefore, instead of me trying to cobble together an article, I’ve decided to let my readers speak. Some of my new ratings are based on readers’ reports.
Our Readers Report
If you wish to contribute your reports or observations, I need to receive them by the 18th of the month for the next month. Write to:email@example.com
We have many readers who send us their reports on various aspects of Atlantic City and we do have some that give us reports just about every month – so we have decided to give them the fame and glory (as opposed to "fortune and glory") of their own columns
You will note that our correspondents tend to have somewhat different views. Always it is up to you to decide which games you want to play by scouting them for yourselves.
Readers: If you write me a letter that I publish I will send you a free copy of my new book The Virgin Kiss. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Herbert Report
Things remained tough in Atlantic City through the first half of the year. Revenues fell some 10.7% on a year-to-year basis. In other words, the multi-year slide continues.
In June, every casino showed a decline, with a 12.6% average for all properties. Table games led the way with a 16.3% decrease. Nevertheless, things varied among the individual casinos. Trump Plaza, the sale of which fell through, led the way with a gigantic 23.6% fall, followed closely by Revel’s 22.6%.
On a more positive note, Borgata was down only 8.9%, Golden Nugget 5.2%, and the champion turned out to be Resorts, whose revenues, driven by the new addition of Margaritaville, declined about ½ of 1% during the period. This hard data appeared in an article by Wayne Parry on AP Wire based on NJ Gaming Commission Reports. By way of contrast, the four new Maryland Casinos revenues increased 57% during the month. Cannibalizing anyone?
July, however, proved more positive for AC with a 297.2 million total win, only 3.6% less than the previous year. Things varied between casinos. Nine establishments saw y/o/y revenues decline, led by Tropicana’s 26% and Plaza’s 25%. On the other end, Golden Nugget shrunk only 1.9% and Atlantic (the sale of which also recently got called off) less then 3%. Three casinos showed positive improvement. Resorts results rose 6.2%, and Borgata’s a whopping 19.4% to 64 millions. But the champ proved to be Revel, whose monthly revenues climbed a staggering 33% to 23.4m. (For more on this, see below.)
Indications are that traffic has been growing steadily. Several signs of this exist. Friends report busses more crowded. A couple we know wanted to go to AC. They had heard about Margaritaville at Resorts. They could not get a reservation for the last weekend in July nor for the first couple of days of that week. This can only be very positive news. However, as in Las Vegas, pure traffic does not necessarily translate into bottom line profits. People seem to be risking less at games of chance. Sketchy reports from other AC spots indicate a similar weekend crunch.
Revel has been the focus of much attention due to its efforts to reinvent itself. As many readers may know first hand, the casino launched a wide publicity campaign in major East Coast cities and suburbs including ads on taxi tops and TV spots. The main attractions were two: One, they offered to match any slot offers by other casinos, and two, give credits for all slot losses suffered during July.
Sounds great, right?
As with all casino promotions, wait a minute. A friend lost a couple of grand during July over the course of several visits. They just got a mailing with coupons – all 20 of them! In other words, you get 5% of your losses back per week. If you do not go, you lose the rebate. The whole promo is a gigantic sucking sound to get you back into the casino as many times as possible. If you live nearby, maybe. But if you have to really make a trip, no way Jose. Lesson No. 1: Always read the fine print in any offer from someone who wants your money!
For August, Revel advertises free parking, and an end of the month give-a-way of automobiles plus other goodies. They have promised further lures during the fall months. If the gain in revenue is any indication, goodly numbers of people took up Revel’s offer although many became disillusioned when they realized how the casino intends to rebate losses. Time will tell.
But Revel has real problems. What follows is an amalgam from several visits, friend’s comments, talk inside the casino, etc. The infrastructure is seriously breaking down. They have skeletized the staff and much of it is composed of people unfamiliar with how things should work. This makes for glitches galore. The billing system is really screwed up. People who get "comped" are charged at check out if their host is not around at that moment, and then have to reclaim the amount.
Many have complained about room service. It delivers slowly; it delivers wrong orders; it delivers bad stuff. Sometimes complaints, if voiced loud and long enough and if the player is big enough, are grudgingly awarded compensation. But that doesn’t satisfy a player who arrives hungry at 2-3 AM and then gets slow, bad service. Complaints abound about the failure to make up rooms, particularly those towards the end of the long, long corridors. A call to house keeping, may or may not produce results, but keep on bugging them and eventually, i.e. five or six hours, someone will appear.
Personally, I have better things to do with my time, and other friends have expressed it more forcefully. In addition, you can wait a goodly while for bell service, both when you arrive, and particularly if you check out early AM. One of the nice amenities used to be free coffee in the hotel lobby in the morning. Now it is pay $1.50 or more at a cart in the check out area, a walk away.
Now, let’s go to the floor. One of the best things about Revel was its no-smoking policy. Gone. Management did install an adequate ventilation system; however, smoking is still smoking. So why should that bother, just play in the non-smoking areas. Wait a minute! Not all games are available in non-smoking. They have cut back on dealers, and some pits do not even open during the weekdays. If you want to play Pai-Gow tiles or cards on weekdays, you can ONLY do it in a smoking area (to be fair, same as at Resorts).
As a close friend, who nearly died from lung cancer, said, "They want to kill me again." Regular rules (or should I say old time rules) BJ? Look closely……Hit soft 17 does not work for real players... Yes, you can get a regular rules game but only either in the smoking area or higher stakes lounges, $25 and up and sometimes that is not available either.The $50 BJ with drunken idiots at the table is unpleasant at best, although to be fair, good players do exist in the higher-stakes areas.
As we know, Revel emerged from bankruptcy in May and it is rumored up for sale. This is a real shame because it could have been the new champion of AC. But as the joke goes: what are they going to do with the building? High-rise condos for the rooms and a gambling museum or mausoleum for the main casino floor?
Revel apparently has banned several high-stakes players or system players who tried to take advantage of the offer to replace losses. This has been on the wires for a couple of weeks. The casino apparently refused to issue player cards or worse revoked players’ cards at the high-stakes poker machines. Sometimes AFTER the fact, if my sources are correct. This is really base if true.
Finally, let me say three things positive about Revel. The food menu, if very expensive, continues a close second to Borgata. If you play right along and get comped, paying $200 for a meal is nothing (literally). The steak house, the fish place, and Amada are good, Relish is adequate, etc. The female members of the groups that I often go with have noted with much relief that the threat factor feels MUCH lower on Friday and Saturday nights at Revel than, say, Borgata. Fewer aggressive drunken college types, fewer incidents between couples/groups either in the corridors, elevators, or on the floor. Finally, the dice tables continue among the best in AC. Generally well run and without the bus crowd or young set, they tend to attract more serious players.
That’s all for now, good luck everybody,
Bubba from Boston
We just returned from a three-day stay in Atlantic City and I will give you my observations.
The Boardwalk is still a great take. It was packed even on a 95-degree day. Outside bars are a part of every casino and a good place to people watch and have some drinks.
Now to the casinos:
The Revel: Huge signs that say "gamblers wanted" are everywhere, including on regular television commercials.
They are offering 100% back on slot losses. I am not a slot player but they seem to be getting people to enter the casino. The entrance on the boardwalk is different from the other boardwalk casinos because you have to walk up a walkway and across a driveway. This is a huge casino with escalators taking you to the different levels. The casino is nice but the games are just average. Revel is a must see if you travel to A/C. Not sure how they are going to do in the long run but for now they seem busy.
Ballys: It was very crowded in the blackjack area. Games are just average. On one table, dealer was cutting off 2 to 2.5 decks, on another table dealer was cutting 1 to 1.5 decks. Players should be aware of this. All games are machine shuffled. They offer rooms very cheap or free so you do have a rougher crowd at the casino. The poker and race book is my favorite place to play.
Golden Nugget: Great place to stay, quiet on hotel floors. Pool Area nice place to go with three blackjack tables by the pool. Games in the casino are good, dealers are friendly. GN is a good place to play. All games are machine shuffled. I recommend staying here.
In summary, Atlantic City is still a good take and I plan on returning. The outlet stores were packed with great deals.
Atlantic City needs to market it self as a destination spot and I think it will be fine in the long run.
Bubba from Boston
I don’t go to every casino in Atlantic City but I do stay on the Boardwalk. I have stopped going to Trump Plaza completely. It is a dive and I just do not like the crowd the place has during the week or even on weekends. Ballys is also going downhill, with the types of trash that hang out there. I am not sure why these two casinos attract such patrons but since they do, my wife, and my friends and I prefer not to go to these places.
I like Caesars, Tropicana and Taj Mahal. Tropicana had the best blackjack games. I think Revel is interesting but it just seems to be a cold place. During the times I was there it was not a ghost town as you wrote but did have a pretty big crowd. The question to be asked is will this casino have large crowds when the colder weather comes around in a few months.
Keep up the good work.
Borgata is overrated. I think because so many young folks hang out there the place has a vibe but the casino doesn’t do anything for me. Okay, that’s just me. I do like Harrah’s and Showboat, another Harrah’s property and I want to scold you for being so anti-dog because Showboat was allowing customers to bring their pets.
I am a dog lover and my two dogs are like children to me. I do love them and by allowing me to bring them to a hotel I can travel more and go to the casinos more. So give some second thoughts to your anti-dog views.
I think you have your best and worst casinos for blackjack a little messed up. I rate Revel as number one because you can get those great six-deck games for just $25 with the "old" standard rules of standing on soft 17. The cuts are deep too. Borgata is not as good as you wrote because when I was there the cuts were maybe 70 percent, dealers hit soft 17, and the dealers were really trying to deal fast. I think they do that to get more hands in, and also to confuse some of the less skillful players.
I also disliked Ballys and never felt comfortable walking around that casino. I got a bad feeling about the crowds that come there. I didn’t think the games were all that hot either, with every table hitting soft 17 but I didn’t go to the high roller room so maybe the games in there are good. Tropicana and Caesars are both really classy places and I thought their craps games and blackjack games were some of the best I have seen.
Anyway, that’s my two or three cents.
Joseph P. H.
You are right about the Golden Nugget. I found their dealers at craps and the other table games to be really friendly and professional. I don’t know about slots because I won’t go near them.
I didn’t find any real paranoia at blackjack but I am a really small stakes player going from $10/$15 to $100 in gradual increments in high counts. Those are on those eight-deck shoes. I didn’t notice anyone getting scared. Maybe higher stakes players have been harassed, I don’t know.
I made a side trip to Borgata but it was so crowded I didn’t bother playing. I never bothered going to the Boardwalk. Over the years, I have found I don’t like the crowds there.
Dear Mr. Scoblete:
Herewith are my ratings of the casinos residing in Atlantic City from my five day visit in August.
I cannot claim that I am the final report on all the casinos since I just saw what I saw and someone might see these games in a different way.
* * * * *
We thank many of our readers for helping us to stay as updated as possible. There may be some disagreements in ratings among our correspondents but all these reports are based on individuals’ experiences.A word to the wise: it’s always best to check out the casinos for yourselves.
***** = Excellent
**** = Very Good
*** = Good
** = Fair
* = Poor
General rules: Atlantic City casinos basically have the same rules – on occasion this or that casino might change how many splits you can do or offer those horrible 6-to-5 blackjack games. Sometimes casinos will offer surrender (a rarity). Just about all casinos have gone to the H17, although most will have some games where dealers stand on soft 17 (high roller rooms). The best games in terms of penetration and number of decks are invariably found in the high roller rooms. Players can double on any first two cards; they can split two or three times (make sure you ask about this or read the signs on the table); aces can only be split once and each ace receives one card (the standard rule all across the country). You can usually play up to three hands but most of the casinos will let you play all the spots if you make arrangements beforehand – obviously the casino is looking for high roller action in such a case. Check out the new wording on many of the layouts – amazingly wordy and almost totally BS as opposed to BJ.
BALLY’S PARK PLACE:Some bad reports about the patrons but the games are good here. Good cuts of about 80 percent. Could be a happy time for small-time card counters. This might be a good time to check this casino out. All 8-deck games except for the high roller room action. The hitting on soft 17 is now a sad fact. Crews are friendly. Craps games are quite good. High roller minimums can go as high as $200. Three stars: * * *
BORGATA: The hottest place in AC bar none. The 6-deck games are now almost everywhere again and the penetration is starting to look like the old Borgata, if you can call a relatively new casino "old." A mixture of S17 and H17 were found but the H17 is starting to dominate. Sometimes these tables are right next to each other so – obviously – read the layout to see which of the two games you prefer to play. This is a happening place and caters to a swinging 30-something crowd. You’ll enjoy the night clubs and the beautiful people. This is still a decent casino for blackjack. Not a good casino for craps. Two and one-half stars: * * ½*
CAESARS:Looks to be a casino that is still flourishing. The main floor of eight-deckers has some of the upper-limit tables ($25 and $50) with no mid-shoe entry. All the games in the high roller pit are also no mid-shoe entry with $100 and higher minimums. Six-deck games in high roller room have 75 percent penetration just as most of the regular floor does. High roller room is S17; the main floor is H17. The craps games here are good with 12-foot tables. The tables are high so smaller controlled shooters should wear their "special shoes." Two and one-half stars: * * ½ *
CLARIDGE:A remnant of days gone by.
HARRAH’S:The blackjack games are so-so with eight decks and penetration of about 70-75 percent. Seems to be holding its own in the down-trending AC landscape. Good place for craps. I must say this without equivocation, players like Harrah’s. Two and one-half stars: * * ½ *
ACH[formerly the Hilton]: My last trip here was interesting. It was a Tuesday morning and the place had some fairly good action. High roller room is 6-decks; rest of the casino is 8-decks with a few $25/$50 six-deckers on occasion. No mid-shoe entry on the six-deckers. For craps, we are dealing with 13-foot tables and a couple of 12 footers. This place might be heading for a good turn around. Two and one-half stars: * * ½ *
RESORTS:Margaritaville? Pass this loud place on by. Jimmy Buffet, for some mystical reason, has middle aged and older fans ga-ga over his music. The reports are in and out about Resorts games and the casino’s future. Many H17 games on main floor; high roller room is S17. Penetration on all games is about 70-75 percent which is not bad considering this is AC. Decent craps games. Has opened the first Atlantic City gay nightclub and is courting the gay community, which is a smart move as gay vacation resorts and nightclubs seem to make a good go of it. Two and one-half stars: * * ½*
REVEL:This summer seems to have been kinder to Revel than the winter and spring were – which just means the place had enough players to make it seem a going concern as opposed to a "going out of business" concern. This was originally going to be a smokeless casino. If dealers came to work smelling of smoke from their commute or smelling of smoke when they snuck out of the building on their breaks, they were fired. This is now changing. The market of AC says quite clearly, "Hey, I want to smoke in the casino when I am playing." So now Revel will have smoking sections as do all the casinos in AC. They might lose some of their players to lung cancer but they don’t want to lose them to other casinos.
As for blackjack, some games are good and some are bad. Look for the six decks with S17; the eight deckers are hit on soft 17. The six deckers are in the minority and the best are right by those giant escalators. Penetration is now about 80 percent on those. These are damn good games.
You’ll meet a lot of sad-faced dealers who left previous casinos in AC. That should help you get acclimated seeing those familiar faces. But whoever decided to originally go with the small comps, highly expensive rooms, and non-smoking did not understand the AC base. This place wanted to become a destination resort and its destination seems to be the bottom of the economic barrel. I am rooting for Revel. Actually I am rooting for all of Atlantic City. Revel has now brought in a new group to manage the property and they are aggressively going after players. I wish them the best! Three stars: * * *
SHOWBOAT: Same as last issue. Slots dominate this place now. The blackjack has deteriorated considerably with little penetration – maybe you play 60-66 percent of the shoe. All games are hit on soft 17. High roller room is passable with better penetration, about 75 percent, and at some slow times the minimums are $25 – although you won’t see this much in the summer. Pass this place by unless you are walking Fido since they are now the animal friendly hotel – disgusting! One star: *
TROPICANA:As stated for several issues now, Trop is starting to really look like a top-notch property. This place is going in the opposite direction from Trump Plaza and ACH by bringing the highest rollers into AC. Now the place is H17 on all games except those outside the high roller room. Still has some good penetration, maybe 75 percent; sometimes excellent penetration of 80 percent. Three stars: * * * (for penetration)
THE GOLDEN NUGGET:The casino looks good. The restaurants are top notch. The newly renovated guest rooms are beautiful. The place is catching on. The blackjack games in the high roller room are excellent with penetration of 80 percent [I didn’t get to play there for a long time – a half shoe – when Michael, the shift boss, did the old Atlantic City thing of shuffling up and limiting me to one bet of $100 – not a good sign. He didn’t even wait to see if I was actually counting cards.] and top rules such as splitting and resplitting; and standing on soft 17. The eight-deck games in the casino are ho-hum and basically the same as all the other casinos in AC. The craps games are excellent and – as always – this place has the nicest and most professional dealers you will find. Give it a whirl but again, the report of others as well is that blackjack paranoia now reigns supreme here, otherwise I might have rated this one of the best games in town. Two and one-half stars: * * ½*
TRUMP PLAZA:Has NOT been sold. It is now called "Dump Plaza" or "The Trump Dump" but it does have fairly good games when those games are open. Still something has to be done with the dark, dingy casino and the low-life scum slithering through it. The penetration is 70-75 percent. No mid-shoe entry on games outside high-roller pit but you can find $25 (a few) to $50 minimums on these. Allows resplits, except aces. All tables are $10 and higher. Craps tables are 12-footers. The dealers range from professional and friendly down to arrogant and ignorant. Some days the place is practically empty. Two and one-half stars: * * ½ *
TRUMP TAJ MAHAL:They are hitting soft 17 except in high roller room. First they screwed up the craps tables so the dice go flying off the table every third roll and now they have decided to give the blackjack games a wicked colonoscopy with barbed wire. Great hotel and great restaurants and great entertainment. Also, great dealers and pit personnel. Too bad it isn’t the premier place to play any more because it is a great place to stay. Two and one-half stars: * * ½*
WILD, WILD WEST:Tumble-weed is blowing through this place now.
THE BEST BLACKJACK IN ATLANTIC CITY: Any casino above with a rating of three stars.
Best Craps in Atlantic City: All except: Borgata, Taj Mahal, Showboat and Wild, Wild West (if open).
* * * * *
Everything Casino Poker:
Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold’em,
Omaha Hi-Lo and Pai Gow Poker!
By Frank Scoblete
Every game in this book can be beaten if you play the right way. Even video poker machines that return 98-99 percent of the money played can garner comps that make playing the machines a positive experience. And the great news is that there are a multitude of machines in this book that return 100 percent or more! These machines can be beaten mathematically by using the strategies that Casino Player and Blackjack Insider columnist Jerry "Stickman" has developed.
Frank Scoblete is the #1 best selling casino gambling authority in America. His books, DVDs, articles, web sites and television shows have helped millions of people become better casino players and also help players get real edges over the house at certain games such as blackjack and craps.
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