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An Insider's Guide to Dealer Mistakes

by Ariande

Ariande has over 15 years of experience dealing and supervising casino games in multiple states for diverse companies. He offers the following observations and advice based on his experience.

"Did the dealer just pay a push?" Hold on just a second... Was it a push? Are you sure? Was it an accident or intentional? Has this happened already with this same dealer?

These are just a few of the questions that would undoubtedly run through my mind in the event of a dealer error. What should you do if this happens? You can do the morally right thing and say, "Sir (or Madam), I believe you just paid a push." This may help insulate the casino employee from potential firing. But let's be reasonable at the same time; a mistake is sometimes just a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes in their jobs. Dealers are no exception; they are capable of working within acceptable margins of error. Casinos are less interested in retaining employees caught making repeated mistakes. You may know in your heart that you've had a bad day during your lifetime. You also may have brought your home life to work with you and your mind has been clouded too...

You might expect me to recommend that you correct every mistake. But I'm not going to tell you what to do at all. I'm going to give you advice from someone who has seen the games from both sides of the table and leave you to act accordingly. So let's begin by examining some potential dealer mistakes that could occur.

Think back to the last time you thought your dealer took your push hand or pushed a winning hand. Depending on your level of confidence, or your level of confidence with the dealer, you would undoubtedly say something. Let's be honest how these claims get resolved. If the game is legit, and let's grant that modern casino gaming is legit, whatever error the dealer made to your detriment will be immediately rectified. Meaning, whatever money is owed, you will be paid.

What if you don't say anything or didn't notice? Do you think surveillance is watching every hand and is eager to amend infractions immediately? I have seen cases where a casino paid out on a dealer error (without a customer complaining), but a realistic gauging of the scope of experiences says this is the exception, not the rule.

When something goes wrong to your disfavor, absolutely say something; just be polite about it. When you are right, your perspective of the mistake will be validated; however, if or when you are wrong, you will more than likely be labeled a "shot-taker" by the casino and not given a "more friendly" rating. The severity of the label depends entirely on your tone dealing with the dealer, supervisor, or pit-boss. "I really think I had 18 there. I probably had six cards or so, and I don't do this for a living, but would you just mind double-checking. _________ (dealer's name) has been great to me, but I think there was a mistake."

This line of wording is fine so long as there weren't egregious errors leading up to the hand in question. Let me be as clear as I possibly can on this: if you are counting, you want to have as few interactions with surveillance as possible. I'm not saying you should forfeit your money in all cases. Defend it by all means because the casino will do the same for its money.

There are good dealers; and unfortunately, there are bad dealers. There are amazing dealers; and there are dealers who will make you cringe. Dealers come in every shape and size, volume, speed, etc. Dealing blackjack has lead to countless operations for repetitive-motion, work-related injuries that don't get filed or paid, and anxiety from the surveillance culture under which dealers are forced to function (or else). Unless you've actually dealt the game for at least a decade, you don't know what they're going through. Dealing blackjack isn't the most difficult job, but it is a lot harder than it looks. (Trust me on this.)

The preceding paragraph was not the intended tone of my article, but it needs to be there. You probably have a favorite dealer that you don't want to see fired, and you probably can list dozens that you wouldn't miss ever again. Whether I like a dealer can influence my own personal attitude towards correcting a mistake-but it's really up to you.

Let's transition to the boon that goes in your favor that began my train of thought on the subject.

Let's assume that you are more than reasonably confident that your dealer has just paid a push (or a losing hand). You have two options: bring up the mistake or let it go. Elucidating the mistake is not in your immediate financial interest. You might even be wrong. Stop and think about your last bet. You can take the money, and the dealer might get caught with ramifications potentially leading to termination (implied here is there may be no consequence at all for anyone if they don't catch it). Even if someone in surveillance does spot the error, you'd have every right to say, "I didn't see it" if someone were to question you.

This is really where I want the focus-what happens if you take the money?

If the mistake is caught, the casino is more than likely going to get their money back. But you know that, right? If you have already lost all your chips, is the casino going to come after you? Probably not-but no matter which game you are playing, the casino can get their money back in the event of an over-payment.

Every dealer makes mistakes. The worst thing a customer can do in response to a dealer mistake is to tip him or her. If the dealer is on the up-and-up and gets tipped out of nowhere, a mistake may be immediately evident to the dealer and the floor (if either cares). In this scenario, the dealer or floor is more likely to check to see if a mistake has been made.

What happens if the dealer does it again, and you tip again? This may be interpreted as collusion, and when caught, not only will the casino terminate the dealer, they will get their money back. You will not only be out of your tip money but possibly barred. What? You got paid in error and you gave the dealer money. The error is not your tipping. Is that clear?

Regardless of the amount of money, what you need to understand is that money paid in error is not yours. You are in a casino. But is it the gambler's responsibility to do the supervisor's job and correct every single mistake?

I've given this considerable thought from both sides. If you like the dealer, you can double check that a mistake was made. You will have a friend for life and quite likely a higher average for all your future playing sessions with this dealer. Realistically, a good floor supervisor will give you a higher average bet and the benefit of the doubt in a future disagreement. But when you correct a mistake that went in favor of another player, you will inevitably generate animosity from much of the table. You can say nothing and you will not be in the wrong.

If we are honest, bad floors or dealers aren't always going to appreciate a mistake corrected, even one that is in the house's (and their jobs') favor. So in the perfect storm where casino employees are (or border on) incompetent and you get paid on a single error, I don't blame you for keeping the money and not saying a word. I can't give you statistics for the likelihood of you being caught. But I will provide this caveat: whatever you are paid in error, file that money in a separate category in your head, because while you may be holding the chips, it's not your money.

Let's try a different scenario. You are pretty confident the dealer is paying intermittent pushes to one or more specific players (implied being not you). Get off that table as soon as the count becomes unfavorable or sooner. Why? One mistake is entirely forgivable. Repeated mistakes are collusion more often than not. When they run the film, surveillance will likely be watching the count as well. And there you were, minding your own business and now they have confirmed you as a skilled player.

There are other mistakes dealers can make besides simply paying a push. Maybe they misinterpreted a hand signal. This category of errors will be immediately rectified, but there are other categories. When checking for blackjack, the dealer flips over a hole card point total that isn't 21. It happens whether they are using a mirror or a machine. Play this hand as if you were playing double exposure (unless you have a tied hard hand). In other words, you see the dealer has 20 and you have a hard seventeen. Surrender, if available, or hit. It's not your fault that you benefitted from this situation. The games were constructed with sufficient house advantage to overcome the percentage of dealer errors.

Every once in a great while, you may come across a dealer, who inadvertently (or not), exposes his or her hole card. You are in an extremely problematic situation if you decide to drastically alter your strategy to maximize profitability. Greed destroys players in this scenario. If you could reliably win small amounts of money without crazy alterations in strategy, you might get away with this for some time. In any advantage scenario, counting or not, you run the risk of being caught and having your picture shared with multiple casinos across the country. For a one time, small score, why not? But going back to the same well, time after time, to gush oil, you may end up facing consequences up to having your play prohibited.

It wasn't your fault though. Too bad but the casino doesn't care. Every customer is not treated equally. We give players we choose a shot at our bankroll. There's no point in protesting once you are caught. There isn't an appeal process that is settled in court.

You can't possibly know who else is watching. Here is a quick example from craps. Hop bets in craps are proposition bets paying either 30 to 1 or 15 to 1 on a single roll of the dice, and these bets can be booked verbally and later set up visually. A colleague in Vegas told me of a scam where dealers were colluding with a single player. When a second player wanted the same treatment and was denied, the second player reported the cheating to the casino. This is when the casino seeks damages, when there is active collusion.

I use craps as an example of players often reporting dealers cheating or paying in error. This happens in blackjack and other games as well. If you take advantage of too many paid pushes, someone else may relay this information to a supervisor, hoping for favorable treatment. Your plausible deniability erodes, the higher number of occurrences.

A few decades ago, being "on film" meant being recorded onto a VHS tape, and only a few games were recording at a single time. Due to the new developments in technology, the cameras are always on and every hand is recorded digitally. "Who's watching the $10 game anyway?" It is likely that no one is actively "watching" the game until they have a reason to; therefore, don't give them one. Once they have a reason to watch, they will likely start digging. As indicated above, counters often get caught because surveillance was looking for something else.

It is primarily for this last reason that I come to my conclusion: you want a dealer who makes very few mistakes. If you observe a single error, saying nothing is well within your rights. But if you witness multiple errors, staying and playing elevates your level of risk of being caught. If you were counting during that time, do not bring up the errors to a supervisor's attention-you will likely be giving yourself away. Successful counting necessitates staying under the radar, including throwing the casino off the scent where possible.

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