For five years, Robert* went to a casino every night to gamble with his employer’s money.
Along with his fellow card-counting coworkers, Robert would hit the blackjack tables and walk out with at least double the money he went in with.
Then one night they got banned. They had pushed their luck too hard and the casino shut them down.
To this day, Robert said he can’t walk into a casino without being approached by men in suits who strongly suggest he should not attempt to play blackjack.
He added that it is very difficult to gamble professionally these days, however, as new shuffle machines and other techniques are used to frustrate card counters.
Table operators do get lazy and don’t immediately put cards into shuffling machines like they’re supposed to, though, and with a few basic tricks you can still make more money than most.
Just not nearly as much as before, he said.
Young and hungry
As an avid gamer, Robert was recruited straight out of high school through his job at an Internet cafe.
The owner offered to teach him how to make money from gambling, on condition that Robert worked for him.
His boss could not be seen in a casino, but his protégés could visit each casino within reasonable driving range on a rotation and play on his behalf.
Keeping in mind that this was nearly 20 years ago, Robert was paid R500 per night – whether he won or lost – to play with R40,000 to R100,000 of his boss’s cash.
“The deal is that when we get to the casinos, we don’t know one another,” said Robert.
It would often happen that three of them would end up at the same table. They would even have signals for one another if a table was “hot” and ready to be taken advantage of.
Their aim was not to individually beat the house, but to collectively walk out with double or more than what they entered with.
“Sometimes you lose, but you never do anything less than break even,” he said.
In a short time, the crew became VIPs at the casinos they frequented – including achieving platinum status on Sun’s MVG loyalty programme.
“We didn’t just play in Sun International casinos, but it was mostly their casinos we went to,” he said.
Robert said that when your winning streak starts getting too hot, the casino will offer you complimentary rooms and meals.
The aim is to get you away from the tables, with the hope you will play again in the morning and give the house a chance to win its money back.
When you ignore the signs that the casino doesn’t want you winning anymore, that’s when you get barred for life, he added.
“They tried twice to give us free rooms and we declined, because we were on a roll,” said Robert.
“We were three at one table, two at the other. Eventually, they made up an excuse and closed the whole MVG lounge.”
Casinos aren’t allowed to just ban you, but according to Robert, they can make things uncomfortable.
“Guys in suits follow you around the casino,” he said.
“If you do decide to play despite the warnings, just to irritate you they’ll bring you a new dealer every hour.”
According to Robert, all Sun International casinos have facial recognition systems linked together on a network.
Regardless of which casino he goes into, a man in a suit will appear at his side and ask him not to try and play blackjack.
Sun International disputed Robert’s claim, however, and told MyBroadband it does not use facial recognition technology to identify people barred from its casinos.
“If a player wins legitimately at a casino, we will pay the player his winnings. The casino may review the play to ensure that no cheating activity takes place,” chief operating officer for Sun International, Thabo Mosololi, told MyBroadband.
Mosololi said casinos operate in a regulated environment, and the games offered are in accordance with their licences, the requirements of the provincial gambling boards, and the rules of the game.
“A player who breaches these, depending on the specific circumstances, will be considered cheating,” he said.
“Examples of cheating may be placing bets on a roulette number after No More Bets has been called and the resultant number is known, or trying to change bets placed after the outcome of the game is known.”
He said the only instances where a casino will ban someone is if they are purposely cheating, or steal from other patrons or the casino.
In certain cases, people may be banned for unruly behaviour, said Mosololi.
*Not his real name. His identity has been withheld at his request.