What is card counting?

Card counting is a perfectly legal but, understandably, heavily discouraged, strategy employed by players of blackjack and similar games to reverse the inherent house edge in their favour. As the name suggests, card counting involves keeping a running tally of all the cards dealt to the player doing the counting, the other players and the dealer. Card counting is based on the presupposition that a deck of cards rich in aces, court cards and/or tens is favourable to the player, while a deck rich in low value cards is favourable to the dealer, and vice versa.

The simplest form of card counting, known as ‘Hi-Lo’, assigns each card that passes a value of -1, 0 or +1, depending on how favourable it is to the player. Aces, court cards are assigned a value of -1, sevens, eights and nines are assigned a value of 0 and any card lower than a seven is assigned a value of +1. The player keeps a ‘running’ count, by adding or subtracting the appropriate value for each card. When the count is positive, the odds are in favour of the player, who can increase his/her stake, and adjust his/her playing strategy, accordingly.

The running count, alone, is only effective in single-deck blackjack so, to dissuade card counters and increase the house edge, many casinos operate six-deck blackjack games, as standard, and even up to eight-deck games. Multiple decks add an extra level of complexity to card counting, but the problem can be solved by estimating the number of decks remaining and dividing the running count by that number to give the so-called ‘true’ count.

Which is the biggest casino in Las Vegas?

The Las Vegas Strip, which occupies a four-mile stretch of South Las Vegas Boulevard, is renowned for its concentration of casinos. However, surprising though it may seem, the largest casino in Las Vegas, the Sunset Station Hotel & Casino, is not located on the Strip, but on West Sunset Road, in Henderson, approximately ten miles to the west.

Originally opened in 1997, the Sunset Station Hotel & Casino is a deluxe ‘locals’ casino or, in other words, a casino intended to attract residents of Las Vegas, rather than tourists. As Station Casinos’ flagship property, Sunset Station was deliberately designed not to look like a traditional ‘locals’ casino, with an absence of long, rectangular lines and an abundance of unique shapes, colour and design features, not least the Gaudi Bar, inspired by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Sunset Station underwent multi-million dollar expansion in 1999 and again in 2005 and now occupies a total of 162,173 square feet.

Sunset Station was also intended to appeal to tourists seeking a less crowded, more affordable alternative to resort hotels and casinos on the Strip. The twenty-one storey hotel tower, which was renovated in 2016, houses 450 rooms and suites, many of which were upgraded at the same time, while 13,000 square feet is devoted to meeting and convention space. Aside from the casino floor, which features the usual array of table games and slot machines, the Sunset Station Hotel & Casino complex also houses nine restaurants, a bingo hall, a bowling alley and a cinema.

Is the movie ‘Casino’ based on a true story?

The simple answer is yes, it is. Although by no means a biographical account, the movie ‘Casino’ was inspired by the non-fiction book ‘Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas’, written by Nicholas Pileggi, which wasn’t published until after the fictionalised film version had been released. Fanciful though the narrative may be, each of the main protagonists in the movie is based on a real-life individual and most, but not all, of the memorable events really did take place.

Mobster Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, played by Robert De Niro, was inspired by Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal, who did indeed manage Mafia-controlled casinos in Las Vegas – albeit the Fremont, Hacienda and Stardust, rather than the Tangiers – in the Seventies and Eighties. Rosenthal, like Rothstein, had no gaming licence and, following a hearing with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, at which his application for a licence was denied, he was subsequently officially banned from all casinos in Nevada in 1988.

So, too was his associate, Anthony ‘The Ant’ Spilotro, who inspired the character Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci, who suffered the same fate in the movie. In reality, Spilotro was included in so-called ‘Black Book’, which lists those banned from entering casinos in Nevada, in 1978. His high-profile misbehaviour ultimately led to his demise; he was beaten to death – as was the Santoro character – along with his brother, Michael, in 1986 According to real-life hitman Frank Cullota, played in the movie by Frank Vincent, Spilotro did actually put the head of Billy McCarthy, one of the men who had committed the unauthorised murders of the Scalvo Brothers, Ronnie and Phil, into a vice and tightened it until his eyeball popped out, as graphically recounted on the screen.

When was roulette first played?

‘Roulette’ is the French word for ‘caster’ or, in other words, a small wheel. Given the French name, it should really come as no surprise that conventional wisdom dictates that roulette was created by French mathematician Blaise Pascal, in 1655, during his investigations into hypothetical perpetual motion. Pascal was an inveterate gambler – in fact, the previous year he and Pierre de Fermat had invented probability theory to solve a gambling problem – so was familiar with two popular contemporary games, known as ‘Roly Poly’ and ‘Even/Odd’, which had many similarities to modern roulette.

Roulette became popular in French casinos, as it did in the gambling houses opened by Prince Charles of Monaco, in the late eighteenth century. By that stage, the roulette wheel had evolved into a recognisable form, with 36 numbers, coloured red or black, but with both a single zero and double zero. The next stage in the evolution of the roulette wheel came in the middle of the nineteenth century, when it was overhauled by two French brothers, Louis and Francois Blanc. The Blanc brothers removed the double zero pocket, thereby creating what is traditionally known as the French, or European, roulette table. The single-zero version offers a house edge of just 2.7%, compared with 5.26% for the double-zero wheel – which is still used in modern casinos, to play so-called American roulette – and was created to compete with other casinos of the time on that basis.

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