Coronavirus IV: Rats!

I am Charlie Brown to The Rat’s Lucy van Pelt. When The Rat guest-blogged that the re-opening of casinos could bring a uniquely juicy opportunity for APs, I was skeptical. I told Anthony Curtis, “So surveillance has a little more work, but that doesn’t turn a sweatshop into a candy store.” I made a verbose blog post saying the same thing, dismissing masked avengers as a fantasy, based on my decades battling casinos as a real-world AP on the front lines (I’m not expecting APs to be called “heroes” anytime soon). Despite the bombast, there was a tiny piece of me—maybe 1%—that thought: “Maybe I’m wrong this time [winking-with-tongue-out emoji here, ok?]. Could past experience be irrelevant in this bizarre, coronavirus world?”

Naw. (And yes, I adjectivized “coronavirus”—that just happened.) To be fair, the casino conditions are changing, and will affect APs in different ways. From my point of view, scouting has now confirmed that overall conditions are garbage compared to the pre-lockdown world, and I feel like a gullible fool for hoping I could kick the football ( While my previous blog post was speculative, I can now reiterate using actual observations, consolidated from scouts in diverse locales in the US.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the discussion was international: How is the US response different from South Korea’s? Are we beating the Russians? Once it became clear that the US wasn’t about to win any gold medal, the discussion was re-framed: Are the Blue states beating the Gray/Red states? With casinos, you can’t even look at things on a state level. One thing we’ve seen is that even within a state, there is significant variety in the new gambling and health procedures. Some casinos require masks, but most don’t. Some casinos check IDs. Some casinos have plexiglass partitions. Some casinos have re-opened the poker room. You should call or check the website for the specific casino you intend to visit.

You will almost certainly face temperature checks at
casinos, airports, and even some restaurants. I believe that these checks are
mostly security theater. Suspiciously, casino temperature readings have been
consistently low, generally 97 degrees or less. One teammate had a reading below
95 degrees! Either these devices are ridiculously inaccurate, or the casinos
have intentionally calibrated them on the low side.

The security theater extends beyond temperature checks. Some casinos check IDs or take pictures at the entrance. This is a transparent power/data grab. Ostensibly, a list of names from the entrance or the table could allow sophisticated contact tracing, but the South Point GM admitted on a recent GWAE podcast that such tracing simply isn’t pragmatic. The reality is that a casino is never going to want to submit any data to state authorities, and there isn’t any sophisticated contact tracing going on right now anyway. Suppose a dealer tests positive for coronavirus. Which scenario is most likely: (1) The casino tracks down exposed players to warn them of their heightened health risk, and in so doing, the casino possibly exposes itself to a lawsuit; (2) To defend itself from a lawsuit, the casino uses the player list to determine whether any player has tested positive, and then blames that player for infecting the dealer and everyone else; (3) When a coronavirus-related need for the data arises, the casino says that it doesn’t have the data, or that it is not available in a format allowing it to be used for that purpose.

The casino industry’s fake concern for player health is belied by the degens blowing clouds of smoke (and thus coronavirus?) fifteen feet into the air. Though these smokers pose a greater health risk to others than non-smokers do, the casinos are applying more stringent rules to the non-smokers. At casinos that require masks, a non-smoker who removes his mask will be reprimanded, while a smoker is allowed to have his mask dangling around his neck, cuz hey, how can we expect him to wear a mask while he’s smoking? Casino logic! The South Point GM stated that banning smoking is a non-starter, because so many of their customers are smokers. Now that there is a limit of three players per table, a casino could ban smoking on table games and easily fill the tables with non-smokers. Let the smokers play slots. (And put the slots out in the parking lot.)

Even in casinos that do not require gamblers to wear masks, dealers and APs will wear masks. An unexpected consequence: it’s hard to hear what mask-wearers are saying. Verbal signaling is noticeably more difficult, as is eavesdropping on pit conversations. Wearing a mask is annoying at first, but you get used to it. (So quit being such a snowflake and wear the damn thing! And suck on breath mints if you have to.)

As expected, personnel schedules are completely out of whack. The operating hours for some casino pits have changed. Dealers have been furloughed. Dealers have changed their work hours. For APs who have favorite dealers, it’s a major chore to re-scout every shift, every day, at every casino. Many Walmarts are no longer operating 24 hours per day! That’s the seventh sign.

If part of your AP routine involves killing time in the poker room while waiting for favorable conditions in the pit, you might have a problem. The poker room is probably not open yet. If it is, you will have to learn how to play 5-max or 4-max poker, since casinos are not offering full 9-handed games. Daily tournaments are probably curtailed.

If you are a play-all counter, the mask can bring some benefit, but I wouldn’t make too much of it. I think it would work best at a place where you’ve never played. Starting with a clean slate, perhaps you can accumulate many hours of play under your mask. If you combine the mask with dyed hair, you won’t dirty the slate, and when you return next year with your natural hair color sans mask, they’ll never know you’ve even played there before. However, all of this presumes a casino where you have not previously played. But if such a casino near your home had a good game, you’d probably have played there already! I’d enjoy a mask to scout a casino that I’ve never visited before. But that’s a very short list, and a casino where I need a mask to feel safe scouting is probably a sweatshop.

Some hole-card players have encountered annoying mechanical disruptions to the game—changes in chair positions, glare and dirt on plexiglass partitions, and … dealers wearing gloves! Prior to this pandemic, the strangest way that I ever saw a game die was when a poolside game became too windy. Even though the dealer put coins on top of the cards, they kept blowing away. Our desperate pleas did not stop the boss from shutting down the table. Now we have a worldwide pandemic causing some casino staff to wear gloves, killing the game by changing the dealing mechanics. It could have worked the other way, with gloves opening up a game, but none of us are eager to scout for that unicorn right now.

I’ve saved the worst for last. With only three or four players allowed per table, and fewer tables and fewer casinos even open, it’s impossible to get a seat! Forget about Wonging. Hole-carding is incredibly difficult. Of course, we hoped that we could lock down a table with one spotter, one BP, and one civilian, and that bosses would push back the annoying spectators. The opposite has happened—instead of locking down a game, we’ve mostly been locked out of games. Getting two critical seats (one for the playcaller, one for a BP) is often impossible. If you are fortunate enough to play your favorite game, you can expect to have a spectator breathing down your neck, possibly for hours. The bosses are not keeping the spectators back, and the casinos have not implemented a waiting-list system, which is sorely needed for some games.

Oh, one more thing: it’s a pandemic! Vegas does look like a Petri dish, and the numbers will understate how bad it is. If it takes a few days for symptoms to appear, then many Vegas visitors will be back at home by the time they test positive. These infected gamblers will hurt the numbers and sicken the communities of California and the other places around the country where they live. It’s disappointing to me that casinos have already re-opened, but not professional sports like NBA basketball, which uses a small number of quarantined participants to entertain a wide audience. Why did casinos re-open before movie theaters, where people can sit apart, wear masks, and not touch shared surfaces at all? But I digress.

The bottom line: for me, the casino conditions are horrendous. That doesn’t mean we can’t make a few bucks, but I’d rather do other things right now.

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