Bet on it: The house edge is never big enough for greedhead Colorado casinos

This week's decision by the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commissionto allow casinos to pay 6-5 on blackjack isn't exactly a shocker. The gaming regulators aim to please, and the casino operators know who their customers are and what they want.

Their customers are rubes and feebs, and they want to get fleeced.

I can see the marketing pitch now: Come to Black Hawk, sugar, and if you're bold enough to indulge in a table game, one in which (for a thinking player) the house edge is considerably thinner than it is for our wallet-sucking slots, we'll just shave a few bucks off your return every time you hit blackjack, rather than the 3-2 payout serious gamblers expect. Doesn't that sound like fun?

This latest scam is yet more proof, if any is needed, that the "gaming industry" is one of the most risk-averse enterprises on earth; compared to casino executives, health insurance actuaries are a bunch of reckless plungers. And they have a shrewd understanding of their core clientele, which is either too stupid or too desperate to care about the eroding returns on its wagers.

After laboring under a paltry five-buck table limit while grinding out slot profits for years, the mountain casinos finally pissed and moaned their way to a more Vegas-like deal: hundred-dollar limit, 24-hour operations, more table games. That's boosted revenue, but not by the leaps and bounds the greedheads hoped. And somehow they overlooked the fact that raising the limits would allow players to vary their bets, arguably a slight advantage over the old scheme if you've got the Rain Man skills to count cards at a multi-deck blackjack table.

So, not content with stuffing their pockets with hundred-dollar sucker bets, the casinos are now intent on screwing the occasional winner by stinting on the payout. None of the major operators have admitted they'll switch to the new 6-5 payout when it becomes permissible at the end of April -- but why push for it if you don't intend to adopt it?

The operators have tried to soften the blow by suggesting the payout is common practice on the Vegas Strip. It's not -- at least, not beyond low-limit tables geared to amateurs who actually believe they're "purchasing entertainment time" rather than flushing their bankroll down a rathole. They've also suggested that the 6-5 limit will allow them to offer more single-deck tables for serious players.

That seems a little disingenuous. If the state's casinos were really interested in table players, they'd have more tables and fewer acres of slot machines. And they'd stick by the 3-2 payout. This could be an opportunity in disguise for the beleaguered folks in Central City (and smaller houses in Black Hawk) to offer single- or double-deck blackjack tables with honest payouts for players who actually care about the odds, while the big guys continue to woo people who've never heard of splitting eights.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast