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HISTORY OF KANSAS CITY BLACKJACK FROM A CARD COUNTER'S PERSPECTIVE

by JPB

JPB has been playing blackjack and counting cards part-time since 1996. He plays throughout the country but primarily in Missouri. He has been a Green Chip member of BJ21.com for five years and one-time winner of the Post-of-the-Month. JPB is a professional engineer with three engineering degrees and works as a consulting engineer. This article is a first in a series of articles on the history of blackjack games in Kansas City from JPBs playing experience.

Introduction

On my way home from the Kansas City Airport a few weeks ago, I stopped by Argosy Casino in Kansas City to use a $50.00 free-play coupon. I strolled over to the high-limit pit and watched as the dealer kept dealing from the two-deck shoe, wondering if I could play a few shoes before the dreaded 25%-penetration countermeasures would be taken by the casino bosses. (Mid-shoe entry has never been allowed at any of the Kansas City casinos, so I could not have entered play at that point even if I wanted too). Card after card kept coming out until finally the yellow shuffle card appeared, and I estimated that I had just seen 85% penetration on a double-deck game with H17 and DAS. (This equates to being one of the best, if not the best, blackjack games in the country for a card counter). Before I could break out a stack of hundreds, the pit boss came by and told the dealer, "Cut the shoe at a deck and a half," (meaning 25% penetration), and I knew if I played, I would be looking at unplayable conditions. I just used my free-play coupon on a six-deck table, shook my head, and walked away wondering how Kansas City blackjack evolved from horrible conditions to this card-counter paradise, and wondering if I will ever be able to get a piece of that action again.

History of Kansas City Blackjack- Part 1 (1994-1998)

The possibility of casinos opening in Missouri (Kansas City and St. Louis) started appearing in the newspapers around 1991. (I did not believe I would ever see the day that casinos would open in Kansas City.) Approval required a state-wide vote that was very close and required some concessions by the casino industry. Among the unique concessions were:

  • Casinos had to be on "riverboats"- no land based casinos. Casino entry was limited to certain boarding times. Thus, in Missouri, people would say: Do you want to go to the "boat or boats" rather than "casino".
  • The casinos were prohibited from offering "games of chance." The industry had to convince the state that blackjack was a "game of skill" and not a "game of chance" that ultimately led to the Missouri Gaming Commission ruling that the casinos could not ban a skilled player from card counting.
  • A strict loss-limit of $500 per two-hour session per player had to be enforced
  • Casinos could not offer credit
  • Free alcoholic drinks cannot be offered to players
  • ID required for entry

All of the casinos charged an admission fee for a two-hour session in the early years. I believe the fees ranged from $5-$10.00. I heard stories of packed casinos and lines to get in. The first casino to open was Argosy in June 1994. It was a true riverboat capable of traversing the Missouri river. I did not visit in the first year or so because after going to Vegas a few times, I could not accept the idea of paying an admission fee to enter a casino. Furthermore, I had heard that Argosy was only offering six-deck games and tables were always crowded the first year or so.

Shortly after Argosy opened, the Flamingo, Harrah's, and Sam's Town opened. These casinos started pushing the definition of "riverboat." Harrah's was more of a casino built adjacent to the river with a cut-out to allow water to surround it (a "boat in a moat"). The jewel of the market was Station Casino, which had movie theaters, a kids play zone, concert hall, multiple restaurants, and eventually a large hotel. It was the last to open, around 1997. Both gamblers and non-gamblers lined up to visit Station Casinos the first few years. Parents could (and did) drop the kids off at the play zone, gamble a few hours, and then picked up their kids afterwards. The theater was top-notch and the restaurant selection was good, including an Arthur Bryant's barbeque.

Because of the casino admission fee, I decided to wait it out until finally Harrah's offered a deal I could bite on around early 1995. They still charged an admission fee of about $5-$10.00, but with the 8:00am "cruise" (that did not cruise, by the way), you received a free breakfast buffet. I could go for that. These Kansas City rules were bizarre, but this is how I remember them:

  • A valid ID was required for entry. A player would then receive a "boarding pass" with printed squares ranging from $10-$500. When you cashed in for chips, the boarding pass would be marked accordingly; once you cashed in for $500, you were done. No boarding pass with open squares, no chips. A player would have to wait two hours to get another boarding pass and buy additional chips.
  • I believe the maximum table limits were $500- but obviously not many players bet anywhere in that range with the $500 buy-in limit.
  • No free drinks or even comped drinks for players.
  • Player's had to leave the "boat" at the end of the two-hour session and buy another boarding pass.
  • Trying to skirt around the buy-in limit was taken seriously. At a minimum, a player would be escorted off the boat.
  • Players would sell chips in the bathroom to those that had maxed out the $500 buy-in. A dealer told me that one player made a nice living selling chips at a premium to down-and-out gamblers.

I am reasonably certain there were no issues or need for the casinos to...

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