Book Review: Casino-ology

Bill Zender. Casino-ology: The Art of Managing Casino Games. Las Vegas, Huntington Press, 2008. 313 pages.

Casino management might really be more of an art than a science. With a variety of factors from game pace to possible cheating affecting game performance, casino managers have no clear-cut path to profitability. As a result, virtually any “expert” peddling a theory can set himself up as a consultant. Finding someone who truly understands the complex mix of variables in the gambling business is both rare and valuable.

Bill Zender, a seasoned live-gaming veteran who’s written several books on game protection, explains the math behind the art in Casino-ology. The book starts out with a three-part analysis of blackjack. Zender emphasizes from the start the importance of time and motion issues to the casino’s bottom line: by dealing an extra round per hour on each game can add more than $128,000 to the casino’s revenue stream. He makes a compelling argument for speedy game play. The first section of the book, which is devoted to blackjack, should be a wake-up call for many anxious gaming executives: Zender convincingly argues against excessive protection schemes like prohibiting mid-shoe entry and over-zealous anti-card-counter measures. He wants a casino where games are quick, efficient, but attractive to the player. 6 to 5 blackjack is a particular bete noir, and Zender demonstrates that any gains in hold percentage are offset by player backlash once they learn that they’re getting trimmed.

In the next section Zender assesses general issues, like game mix and player tracking, as well as specific ones like marketing to Asian customers and the pitfalls of a non-negotiable chip program. Next, he explores game protection, trying to objectively determine how many skilled card counters actually exist and whether casinos should be hyper-vigilant against them. He’s got great chapters on detecting both counters and shuffle trackers and a detailed look at the false-shuffle baccarat scam that’s been plaguing casinos for several years now.

Finally, Zender wraps up with some thoughts on live game management, including the proper utilization of multiple-odds craps, the effect of eliminating the boxperson on the game, and an exploration of rhythmic rolling, a craps technique that partisans claim virtually guarantees winning.

Casino-ology makes tremendous sense: it is hard to argue against Zender’s plea for a more logical, more player-friendly gaming put. I like the fact that the book starts off cold with the blackjack material instead of a long introduction that stresses the importance of proper game management–we already know that it’s important to run a casino well, just tell us how you think we should do it. Zender’s book is almost completely devoid of theory and jam-packed with practical suggestions for better play and better results. It’s a definite must-read for the casino games executive or anyone further up in the management hierarchy.

There’s a bet of repetition towards the end, but Casino-ology is so densely-laden with valuable insights into live gaming that it doesn’t mar the book’s value at all. It’s easy to see why Zender’s a sought-after casino consultant, and readers should be happy to get his thoughts on gambling management in such a great package. Obviously, with chapters like “Metrics for Determining Live Game Pace” it’s not going to appeal to your casual gambler who bets the table minimum at roulette twice a year, but I’d strongly recommend this book for both casino managers and serious players, who would benefit from knowing the mindset on the other side of the tables.

Casino-ology is a rare find–a book that’s got a high expected return for both the house and the player.

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1 thought on “Book Review: Casino-ology”

  1. As an addendum to yr review, lemme give a plug for Howard Schwartz’s excellent podcast — the Gamblers Book Club’s podcast — on which he recently interviewed Zender (episode 33, dated 11/26/08). Interesting stuff, for sure.

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