What Ben Affleck’s Blackjack Ban Should Mean for a Second Philly Casino
Presented for your contemplation: Two seemingly unrelated pieces of gambling news — one local, the other no so much.
• Pennsylvania’s Gaming Control Board still hasn’t held a vote on a second casino license for Philadelphia. A vote had been expected within 60 days of the close of applications on the matter. Which means that a second casino isn’t a done deal.
• Multiple news reports over the weekend revealed that actor/director/aging pretty-boy/future Batman Ben Affleck has been banned from playing blackjack at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas because security caught him “card counting” to gain an advantage against the house. “You are too good at the game,” one of the security guys reportedly told Affleck as his time at the table ended.
News stories took pains to emphasize that card counting isn’t illegal — but it is frowned upon by casinos. Why? Well, basically, card counting is a tactic whereby a card player gains an advantage … by paying attention to the game. Seriously. The player simply pays attention to the deck of cards, remembers which high and low cards have been played from it, and estimates his chances of winning the hand based on what cards have been played before, making informed gambling choices along the way. It’s an entirely rational skill for a card-player to cultivate.
Eagles fans, remember when you used to beg Andy Reid to learn clock management? It’s kind of the same thing. Imagine Andy Reid being kicked out of a game because he used his time-outs properly. (Stop laughing. We’ll wait.)
Here’s the math:
• When regular players pay attention to the game, the casino loses its advantage.
• When the casino loses its advantage in so-called games of chance, its business model falls apart.
• So basically, the casino business relies on suckers — some admittedly willing, others naive — to stay alive and profit.
We know this — instinctively, if not always intellectually — but those casino ads make gambling look so fun, so sexy, and winning a hand is such a thrill, such a shot of joy to the nervous system, that it’s easy to lose oneself in the effort to get that next hit. It’s the story behind a million noir novels and gangster films.
What does this have to do with Philly?
Easy. A second casino is not a completely done deal, yet. We still have time to ask ourselves how many suckers we want our state and local government to help create.
In fairness, it appears there’s a somewhat limited supply. Atlantic City is fighting to keep its gaming head above water these days. Then again, that’s partly because of the growth of gambling in Pennsylvania, which in 2012 generated more non-tribal casino revenue — $3.16 billion — than any state that’s not Nevada.
That’s a lot of money. Here’s the thing, though: Nobody wants to add another casino if it’s just going to cannibalize the business that’s already here. The whole point of adding a second casino to the city would be to cultivate and grow the supply of suckers in the region. As a policy matter — and the Gaming Control Board’s vote will, after all, be a policy decision — that seems unwise.
It can be argued that adults should be able to make their own entertainment decisions, and that’s fine. There is already one casino in Philadelphia proper, another nearby, and Atlantic CIty is just a stone’s throw away. Choices abound for the folks who really, really want to gamble on card games.
Precious few of those gamblers will have the wit and savvy of Ben Affleck, sad to say. Philly doesn’t need any more suckers.
Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.