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TUNICA BLACKJACK REPORT

by Mark Gruetze

Mark Gruetze writeís the weekly "Playerís Advantage" gambling column for the Pittsburg Tribune-Review in Pennsylvania. His columns are online at http://triblive.com/aande/gambling. He has been a skilled recreational player for more than 30 years, focusing on blackjack, video poker, and poker. E-Mail questions or comments to players@triweb.com.

Note: The trip to Tunica occurred in March 2014. Casinos visited include:

Gold Strike

Fitz

Resorts

Hollywood

Gold Strike

Gamblers averse to cigarette smoke have a new option in Tunica. In March, Gold Strike Casino opened a nonsmoking gambling area with three blackjack tables, a carnival game and close-to-playable video poker.

The nonsmoking table game pit is on the second floor, in the area formerly used as a poker room. Video poker and slot machines line the walls and the circular area overlooking the escalators to the first floor. The Millennium Theater is opposite the nonsmoking pit.

Pit supervisors and dealers said the nonsmoking area opened with little fanfare on March 14, a Friday. My wife and I discovered it the following week during our annual Tunica spring break. The option of playing a double-deck game without having to breathe secondhand smoke is joy enough; the $10 minimums, deep penetration and feeling of a private room enhance its appeal.

Two of the blackjack games are pitch; the third was a six-deck shoe. The fourth table was a Mississippi Stud game.

The blackjack shoe game and at least one of the pitch games had a $10 minimum whenever we checked throughout the day. The minimum at the other pitch game ranged from $10 to $50. We were there only during the week; minimums might be higher on the weekends, when the Gold Strike tends to be packed.

Blackjack rules are standard for Tunica: dealer hits Soft 17, pairs may be resplit up to four hands, DOA, and RSA. Gold Strike always seems to deal a little deeper into the deck than other casinos, but penetration was even better in the nonsmoking area during our visit. The first-floor Gold Strike tables use a notch on the discard trays to insert the cutoff card. The trays in the nonsmoking area did not have the notch, and dealers consistently gave 65 to 70 percent penetration as they tried to guess where the notch should have been. During one session, the dealer notified a PC that she had to shuffle even though she hadnít reached the cutoff card because she was in danger of running out of cards if she dealt the next hand. Another dealer apologized for going the other way; she inadvertently turned the deck the wrong way to insert the card and came to the cutoff in just two hands.

Dealers and PCs said the room was so crowded on opening night that people were waiting for spots to open up. Itís hard to tell whether that was because of the popularity of the nonsmoking area itself or because the entire casino was packed. We walked through Gold Strikeís first floor that night and couldnít find an open spot at anything below a $25 minimum.

Another amenity of the nonsmoking area is a...

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