I first started going to Chumash Casino in 1997. At the time, the laws were different in California about how these casinos operate. The casinos were not allowed to keep player losses. Instead, they earned their income on a pay-to-play system. For example, it cost 50 cents to play a single hand of blackjack.
So what did Chumash Casino do with all the money it legitimately won from its patrons? The answer is that they had to return all of this money in the form of promotions. This meant giving “free money” back to the patrons. With so much to give back, the promotions happened several times per week and were a very lucrative opportunity.
I used to time my visits to Chumash to coincide with especially good promotions. For example, they had a game called “Catch 22,” where every time you busted a hand in blackjack and got a total of 22, they would pay you $22. Needless to say, I busted every hand all night long. There was another bonus where they would select a table at random every 15 minutes and give everyone seated there $100. These were the golden days for advantage play. Never again will so many opportunities be available.
I got to be very good friends with some of the management at Chumash Casino, in particular Bill Peters, the table games manager. With nothing to hide, I openly discussed all aspects of advantage gambling with him and other managers and employees. But the good times ended in August 1999, when the state gaming laws changed to true Nevada-style gambling. With no antes, all the promotions stopped, and the games got tough.
Having to settle for mere “card counting,” I was now also in the position of being a known advantage player at Chumash. Based on my friendships, they gave me permission to play there, with one rule: I wasn’t allowed to give advice to anyone else at the table. As Peters said, “We don’t want a team of you playing against us.” For several months I played there until this nice woman asked how to play her 6-6 against the dealer’s deuce. The next time I tried to play, I was told that I violated the no-advice rule and I was not allowed to play.
Several months later, my wife called Bill Peters and asked if she could give me a birthday present of being allowed to play there again. Surprisingly, he said, “Yes.” In early 2001, I once again was at the tables. This lasted through the summer, until I had a little accident. The accident was that I figured out their shuffle. After each shuffle, I had a very good idea how the cards would come out on the other side. Naively, I thought that if I showed Chumash management what I knew, they would take off some of the restrictions they had on my play. That was not the case. Instead, I was surrounded by undercover security who nervously escorted me to the door.
Soon after this incident, Chumash Casino installed automatic shuffle machines, permanently fixing the problems with their shuffle procedure. I spoke to Peters on the phone. He told me that I could come back, but under no circumstances was I allowed within six feet of one of their table games. So I played poker.
Later that year, I was playing a no-limit hold’em tournament at Chumash. As I walked through the casino, I noticed this one table game that had a serious defect in how it was being dealt to the players. I quickly computed that I could get better than a 15 percent edge over the house by legally exploiting this defect. This was a one-time opportunity, but I would be breaking the six-foot rule. Greed overpowered wisdom. I sat down at the table and tried to buy in for $100 in chips. Straight away, a police officer stepped up to the table. He then told me that I had to leave the premises immediately and that if I returned, I would be arrested for trespassing. I politely left. I was told by a friend that the defect in the game I had noticed was fixed within a week.
I have not returned to Chumash Casino since this trespass warning. I still send a Christmas card to Bill Peters each year, but it appears that he doesn’t want to be my friend any more.
Daily Nexus gaming columnist Eliot Jacobson is uncertain about the odds of Chumash letting him back through their doors.