The Casino was once the scene everybody worth their salt wanted to be seen in, and Las Vegas was king. But is it upholding that status against online casinos?
In the technology era, does the house ever lose? Do the infamous card counters still exist? And is there a formula for winning on Roulette?
To find out, The Knowledge podcast spoke to Casino Gaming Consultant JJ Woods, whose latest creation is the sparkling Carlton Club in Dublin, Ireland. You can listen to the full podcast below, where Woods tells us everything he knows about Las Vegas, the casino backstage, and BlackJack.
>> Listen to the full Knowledge Episode 4 Podcast here
Is Las Vegas Really A Bucket-List Item?
Woods has worked in casinos for more than three decades. In fact, if you put arcades in a similar bracket, he’s been in casinos his whole life. Through his profession in casinos he has travelled to countless exotic locations – Russia, South America, North Africa, the Caribbean – but, yes, Las Vegas, still stands out as unlike any other.
“Vegas is still that place,” Woods says. “It’s like being on another planet. It still holds that for me, because it is an extraordinary place. When you leave it takes you a few days to come down from Vegas, to say, ‘my God, that was extraordinary’.”
In this week’s episode of The Knowledge, Woods tells us about his most famous memory of being in Vegas, way back in 1995, when it seemed the world’s most glamorous were all in town, making movies, and exploding buildings.
Must you go? Yes, says Woods, absolutely. But perhaps not often. Just tick the box and move on. Where the Casino thrill-seeker goes next though, Woods is unsure.
Macau? Cyprus? Australia? The Caribbean? They are all trying to build meccas for casino players, but Woods thinks they aren’t actually quite there yet. Las Vegas is still king. For now.
What Is It That Makes A Casino Great?
Though he talks it up, Woods isn’t actually much of a fan of Las Vegas, or any American casinos. What makes a good casino for him is attention to the finer details; he wants the right people serving and dealing, the right ambiance, dramatic lighting, and an escape from reality. That’s what first drew him in.
“I was always involved as a kid,” he said. “My first summer job was working in an arcade. It was a slot machine arcade, and in those days you walked around with hundreds of keys around your neck – to open the door of each machine.
“But the only thing you were doing in those days was unjamming a coin, because the only electrics was to light up the front. Everything else was mechanical.”
As a teenager, he progressed to working in a bank, but one day he met an old colleague in a bar. She had trained him at the bank, then left to join the Sportsman Casino on Tottenham Court Road in London.
Intrigued, Woods went along to an interview there. That’s where he had his first casino experience.
“When I walked on to that casino floor at I think it was five o’clock in the afternoon, to see people, and the most beautiful girls in gowns, the beauty of the floor, and the lighting….” he says. “I couldn’t believe that at this time of day this type of facility was available. It was still quite secretive in those days. That did it for me.”
He added: “For me it was an escape, because I didn’t like working days. I loved the fact you could work nights, I was one of those people who felt I just wasn’t a day person. I came awake at night.
“So it suited me for that. But I also liked the etiquette. You had to have your nails checked every night, even the men’s nails. There was a little small board you had to put your hands on before you went on the floor, to make sure that you nails weren’t bitten.
“There was a whole grooming procedure and I liked the idea that you had to prepare yourself for work. You couldn’t just roll out of bed and go to the casino. You had to be very well presented.”
Woods’ Keys To Blackjack – And Roulette
Blackjack so happens to be Woods’ game. He’s been playing it for years, and has a really useful tip coming up here. If you’re just into quick thrills at the casino, he’s also going to share his roulette strategy – stressing, that you never really can employ a strategy on a casino game of chance.
“All the games we play in the casino are games of chance, except BlackJack,” he says. “You’ve got an input. You’ve got a choice, you can make decisions. Whereas with roulette, the only decision you make is to put a bet on.”
Blackjack requires a bit of patience, a bit of restraint. Resist that urge to get to 21, says Woods. Just get yourself to a nice place, a solid place. Maybe a 4, 5 and an 8 for 17? Something like that couldwork. Because you just never know what the dealer will draw.
Roulette is a different ball game altogether, but Woods has got an idea that can get you in the money.
“Roulette is fun because it’s a game of chance,” he says, “so I usually say to treat the roulette wheel like a birthday cake and take a slice, and a slice is usually five numbers.
“The idea of the ball landing exactly in that one number that you’ve betted is going to be pretty hard, so bet five numbers, and keep betting the same five numbers with a small stake, like a dollar on each number.
“The idea is that the ball can land in that section of the wheel, on one of your five numbers, as opposed to just betting one number.”
What About Card Counters, Are There Any Left?
Card counters, generally people naturally gifted with photographic memories, play Blackjack.
During the games, they decrease the house advantage by keeping a running tally of high and low cards in their heads. It allows them to bet more with less risk. And casinos are obviously not fans, but, does’ Woods himself see it as cheating, or just a natural advantage?
“It’s a difficult one,” he says, “I’ve taken them on, because they don’t always win. They don’t always beat us. The formula has to work, everything has to be perfect. But generally speaking, if you don’t monitor them, yeah they can beat you. They do have an unfair advantage.”
He adds: “There is a part of me that admires them because they have this special talent, but they are executing a talent that makes the game more in their favour. I don’t think I’d be terribly angry with a card counter though, they aren’t the real cheats. I don’t think they are the real thieves either.”
Did you miss Ep4 Can You Trust eSports Betting? Featuring renowned researcher Brett Abarbanel? Listen here, and look out for Ep6 as we meet betting syndicate manager Matthew Walton.