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Vegas fleecing gamblers even worse?

I had no idea that casinos were taking advantage of gamblers. I'm shocked!

Why You’re Losing More to Casinos on the Las Vegas Strip

Gambling companies shift betting further in their favor, raising minimums at blackjack tables and tipping the odds in roulette

By Katherine Sayre, WSJ

May 29, 2023 12:01 am ET

Las Vegas Strip casinos took in nearly $8.3 billion in gambling revenue last year.

LAS VEGAS—As Las Vegas gambling and tourism boom, casinos are making it costlier to play and harder to win.

Payouts are lower for winning blackjack hands. Bets on some roulette wheels are riskier. And it is taking more cash to play at many game tables.

Blackjack players lost nearly $1 billion to casinos on the Strip last year, the second-highest loss on record, after 2007, according to data from the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Some Las Vegas casinos cut back the number of blackjack tables with dealers, raised minimum bets during busy times and lifted their advantage over players in some games—doubling-down on a prepandemic practice of making subtle changes that favor the house, according to industry executives, researchers and gamblers.

These changes are part of a broader effort by companies to make Las Vegas more of an upscale destination.

“You’re bringing in higher value customers, and we’re already full,” Caesars Entertainment CZR 1.81%increase; green up pointing triangle Chief Executive Tom Reeg said on a call with Wall Street analysts this month. “So, you’re kicking out the lowest end. I see no reason that that needs to stop or would stop.”

In addition to smaller winnings, visitors are also paying more to visit Las Vegas. Prices for everything from hotel rooms to concerts to restaurants have surged in recent years. So far, tourists haven’t been deterred.

Las Vegas Strip casinos took in nearly $8.3 billion in gambling revenue last year, a record that exceeded prepandemic revenue by more than 25%, according to state regulators. In 2022 the number of visitors to Las Vegas fell short of 2019 levels, but tourists last year still spent money at record-setting levels, according to tourism officials.

Gambling companies such as MGM Resorts MGM 1.08%increase; green up pointing triangle and Caesars, the two biggest operators on the Strip, have reduced how much they will pay for winning hands at blackjack at many of their tables, data show.

Blackjack, a fast-paced card game, historically paid out a ratio of 3:2 when a player hit 21 on the first two cards. That means a gambler wins $15 for every $10 bet. Now, many blackjack tables on the Strip pay out at 6:5, which means that same $10 yields only $12.

John and Kristina Mehaffey, owners of gambling-news and data company Vegas Advantage, have been cataloging these changes since 2011, walking miles-long routes through casinos to record the number of blackjack and roulette tables set outside of VIP areas.

According to the Mehaffeys’ data, more than two-thirds of blackjack tables on the Strip currently offer 6:5 payouts, as opposed to 3:2.

John Mehaffey is a former professional poker player who says he has benefited from a near-photographic memory. Kristina Mehaffey calls herself a database nerd who processes all their collected game data.

The couple systematically divides and conquers by using checklists on their phones to hunt down what has changed and what hasn’t on each casino floor. Their twice-a-year sweeps involve two days of concentrated table-counting as they pass through casinos at a brisk pace.

“People are figuring out something’s wrong, but it is just not obvious what that is,” John Mehaffey said of gamblers’ diminishing winnings.

Derek Van Nostran, an Atlanta-based blackjack fan who has frequently visited the Strip, said it feels as if casinos are trying to take gamblers’ money too quickly. “Now, it is almost not worth flying to Vegas to play blackjack,” he said.

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The change to blackjack payouts increases the house’s edge, the average amount a casino would win from a gambler over time. John Mehaffey said that on busy nights, casinos raise minimum bets to $25 and $50 at tables. Before the pandemic, it was easier to find $15 minimums, he said. With the 6:5 payouts, a $50 bet pays out $60, rather than $75 under 3:2 payouts, for hitting a blackjack.










Casino executives say labor costs make table games expensive to operate, making the lower-priced bets more difficult to offer. Casinos are also offering fewer opportunities to play at a table. Last year Strip casinos had about 1,090 blackjack tables, down about 19% from a decade ago, state records show.

Casinos have automated some of their offerings with electronic table-games, such as blackjack and roulette, which don’t require a dealer. In many cases, those offer lower minimum bets to appeal to bargain bettors. Such games on the Strip are counted by the state as slot machines, which posted record revenue last year of nearly $4.6 billion, up 15% over the year before, the previous record, according to state data.

Skimpier payouts started arriving on the Strip more than a decade ago in so-called party pits. Casinos created miniature nightclubs with scantily clad blackjack dealers, dancers on tables, flashing lights and pumping music. Gradually party pits disappeared, but the new payout policies continued.

Payout levels aren’t always obvious at blackjack tables. At a table in the MGM Grand, for example, the 6:5 payout appeared in fine print that scrolled along the bottom of a small screen.

Gamblers playing the centuries-old game roulette must look closely from table to table to figure out their odds of winning. Triple-zero roulette, a version that leans in favor of the casino, is increasingly popping up on the Strip. Historically, American casinos more commonly used a wheel with 38 slots, including 18 black, 18 red, and two green slots numbered zero and double-zero. The triple-zero roulette adds another slot with three zeros, lifting the house’s advantage and making gamblers’ bets more difficult to win.

Various types of roulette tables at Caesars Palace have different risk levels. PHOTO: SAEED RAHBARAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

At Caesars Palace on a recent afternoon, two roulette tables stood side by side, both with minimum bets of $25 and each with a handful of gamblers crowded around. One was a double-zero. The other was a triple-zero.

According to state regulators, the number of roulette tables on the Strip was at a record high last year at 278. Nevada’s state records don’t track data on various roulette types. According to Vegas Advantage’s survey, the triple-zero roulette tables have grown from a handful in 2016 to 78 last year, compared with 111 double-zero tables.

Las Vegas visitors on vacation might not notice—or might not care—about the casinos’ increased advantage, says Bill Zender, a casino consultant who focuses on table-game management. But casinos risk losing business over time, he says.

“If you go into a casino and gamble, and you lose your money fairly quickly, almost every time, you don’t feel you’re getting the bang for your buck,” Zender said.

Van Nostran, who until last year spent about half the year in Las Vegas for work, got so frustrated by blackjack’s lower payouts that he started a public-awareness holiday.

He trademarked National Blackjack Day on March 2, or 3/2.

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