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What Were They Thinking?

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Mar 19, 2014


Steve ZolotowI interrupt my series of articles on bluffing to address something that has been bothering me for years. I have been giving advice to poker players and other gamblers for close to 50 years. Some listen and learn, and most don’t. For much of that time I have also been providing free advice to casinos on how they might run their operations better or more profitably. I have tended to focus on sports books and poker rooms. At least some players are willing to learn, but casinos never do. If they were smart they’d consider what I am trying to teach them. Try out some of my ideas to see if they work, and then thank me later. If they were really smart, they’d hire me as a consultant, but no. Their egos are too inflated to ever admit that improvements might be possible. Now that I have given myself a little pat on the back, I want to quote from a Card Player article I wrote nearly ten years ago.

There are several things that I have been harping on for years, both in person and in print. In an article entitled They Don’t Know Chip, I wrote, “another frequent mistake tournament organizers make is changing the cash value of chips between tournaments. While all tournament chips say, ‘no cash value,’ they all have one. If you pay a $500 entry fee and get 1,000 in chips, the cash value is half of the face value. I was at a tournament where a low entry super satellite gave 2,000 in chips for $100 cash. On that same day, in the main tournament, players got 2,000 in chips for $500 cash. The same chips were used. Any unscrupulous player who managed to take chips from the satellite into the tournament made a 500 percent profit.”

Over the years, some cardrooms have perpetuated this procedure, and periodically some extra chips find their way from a cheap buy-in tournament to a higher buy-in tournament. No surprise to me, but the organizers either don’t notice or pretend to be shocked that this could happen

Anyone who has been following the recent poker news realizes that a major tournament was cancelled when the organizers neglected to follow my suggestion above. (I was probably not the only person to have made this suggestion. In retrospect, it seems pretty obviously the correct procedure.) At a late stage in the event, additional chips “mysteriously” appeared after a cheater introduced counterfit chips. Well they can’t say I didn’t warn them.

It is easy after the fact, to ask how could they be so stupid? But there are at least two factors. First, making extra sets of chips costs money and takes work on the part of the casino staff. Casinos hate to spend money and do work. There is a simple method that eliminates most of the incentive to illegally move chips from one tournament to another. Keep the cash value of chips constant. Following a consistent formula at least means chips always have the same dollar value. The WSOP does this in all its bracelet events. The chips are “worth” one-third of their face value. If the buy-in is $1,500, you start with 4,500 in chips. If the buy-in is $10,000, you get 30,000 in chips. The second reason that casinos have a strong incentive to protect their own money. If someone rips off the casino, they lose money. The have a lot less incentive to protect the players’ money. If the players are ripped off, it doesn’t cost the casino anything. In fact the thieves may generate a lot of card fees, rake, and can be very good tippers, so they can be popular with dealers and floor people.

I titled this article What Were They Thinking, but the real questions are why don’t they think and why don’t they listen? Single-handed, I probably can’t get the casinos to change their ways, but perhaps I can convince a few more players to be a lot more vocal when something isn’t being done right. There is an old saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” If you think a procedure might be faulty or inadequate, complain! If enough customers complain, eventually things change. One example of vocal players influencing the policies of casinos is seen in the current no-smoking policy that is in effect in almost every major poker room and at every major tournament in the US. ♠

Steve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 years. With 2 WSOP bracelets and few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City -The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.