Blackjack cheating by the house is not common in the major casinos. (The Nevada Gaming Commission may revoke a casino’s gambling license if a casino is caught cheating players.) Granted, there may be a few employees (dealers, boxmen, whomever) that may cheat players, but it is extremely unlikely that any casino in Nevada or Atlantic City does so on a casino-wide scale. You definitely should be wary of any casino that is not regulated, such as those found on many cruise ships. However, the fact is that casinos make plenty of money legitimately with the built-in house advantages and don’t really need to cheat players to survive. I provide some cheating methods here merely to make you aware of the scams. These techniques are still carried out in crooked underground casinos and private games.
The single deck hand-held BlackJack game is quite a bit more susceptible to cheating by both the dealer and the player than games dealt from a shoe. The preferred method of dealer cheating is called the “second deal”. As you may infer, this technique requires the card mechanic to pretend to deal the top card but instead deals the card that is immediately under the top card. Imagine if you could draw a low card when you need a low card, and a high card when you need a high card. You could win large sums of money in a very short period. Well, a dealer who has the ability to execute the demanding sleight of hand movements for second dealing can drain even the best BlackJack player’s bankroll in short order.
If someone is going to deal seconds, they must know what the second card is if he or she is to benefit. One way to determine the second card is by peeking. A mechanic will distract you by pointing or gesticulating with the hand that is holding the deck. While you are busy looking, the dealer is covertly peeking at the second card. A more risky method is pegging. A device called a pegger is used to put small indentations in the cards that the dealer can feel. Pegging all the ten value cards has obvious benefits.
Another method is the “high-low pickup”. I like this one because it’s easy for a novice to do, especially in a place where there are a lot of distractions for the players. After every hand, the dealer picks up the cards in a high-low alternating order. The mechanic then proceeds with the “false shuffle” in which the deck is thought to have been shuffled but in reality the cards remain in the same order as before the shuffle. The high-low-high-low arrangement of the cards is death to the BlackJack player. Get dealt a ten and then a 5, you have to hit, so get another ten. Busted. Since the dealer doesn’t lose until he/she busts, all the players who bust before lose. Bottom dealing and switching hole cards are other techniques that may be used to cheat players.
For shoe games, there is a device called a “holdout shoe” that essentially second deals for the dealer. Discreet mirrors and prisms may be contained in the holdout shoe which only allow the dealer to see what card is next. Shorting a regular shoe of ten cards will obviously have a detrimental effect on the BlackJack player.
Player cheating isn’t recommended. However, I’ll quickly list some of the methods for awareness purposes. The old stand-by of going up to a table, grabbing some chips, and running like hell is still done but certainly lacks originality. Marking cards while you play is another popular method. “The Daub” technique is done by clandestinely applying a substance that leaves an almost invisible smudge on the card. High value cards like tens are usually the targets. (One scam involved the use of a special paint that was only visible to specially made contact lenses.) The “hold out” method requires the palming of a card and substituting a better one. This is usually done when there is big money bet on the hand. One of the risks to these methods is when the deck is changed since the pit boss always scrutinizes the decks after they are taken out of play.
Other methods entail playing two hands and switching cards from one hand to the other, counterfeiting cards and/or casino chips, and adding chips after a winning hand. Some dealers may be careless when looking at their hole card for a BlackJack. A person behind the dealer on the other side of the pit may be able to discern the card. The value is then signalled to a player at the table. (Astute pit bosses may notice someone who is not playing that scratches their head too much.) Wireless signalling devices have been used for various purposes but some casinos have new electronic detection systems that monitor certain frequencies for activity.