Colin Jones (S2 E6): The Woman at the Card Table

Colin Jones (S2 E6): The Woman at the Card Table

Nowhere in The 21st-Century Card Counter did I see the percentage of BJA members that are women, but I’m quite curious. I suspect the figure is quite low, as it is even in some other fields that do not involve a meaningful physical component–such as chess or computer science. I remember scanning the auditorium for the first lecture of CS51 (CS150 in those days), and seeing maybe three women out of 100-200 students.

In gambling, there might still be social barriers during the learning process, but once the chips are in the betting circle or the pot, it’s a bet. A player who knows how to get an edge in the game will be able to make money. Richard Munchkin, a co-host of Gambling With An Edge, has famously said, “Being an Asian female is worth $1 million in an AP’s career.”

Snopes has contracted me to fact-check that statement, and I think it would be best to split it into two parts. I’ll talk about the Asian part of it next time, but let’s focus on the female part. I’m basing my comments on my own research (having talked to other APs and read the interviews in CJ’s book), and my own experience, having worked with a dozen female teammates over the years, so I hope this doesn’t sound like me mansplaining the female condition.

The main idea underlying Munchkin’s statement is that casino pit bosses, who in Vegas are mostly white males, will misogynistically underestimate a female player. I think real-world experience bears that out, though I would point out that females may not be the only demographic group that gets overlooked. Pit bosses don’t seem to hold a high opinion of white males wearing Harley-Davidson jackets who have a tattoos-to-teeth ratio higher than 1.

Here’s what SemiPro, a female dealer-cum-counter interviewed in CJ’s book, has to say: “My backoffs happen quicker than my boyfriend’s do most of the time. You stand out more as a female card counter, because lone females in casinos are outliers. I once asked Tommy Hyland if the female players on his team had any common playing experiences that differed from his male players, and he said a main one was that it took casinos a lot longer to forget about them.”

So here we see the problem: Though a pit boss’s “Bayesian Prior” might be that a female has no skill, the pit boss then collects data on the female faster, because the female is noticeable. Card counting cannot withstand much scrutiny, so the exposure proves fatal. The heightened scrutiny is for two common reasons. As SemiPro points out, there won’t be many females betting big money (at least not white females). But on top of that, the bosses are predominantly male, and will tend to notice females, and might be more inclined to try to flirt and make small talk.

I had that problem with a female teammate at the Stardust. The floorman was all over our table, flirting with her. “Can’t you get rid of him?” I complained. “What am I supposed to do?” she asked. At least drop the B word on the guy, and escalate that to the K word if he still doesn’t get the message! (Am I mansplaining now?)

I was walking through Bally’s Vegas recently, and a dealer says to me, “You used to come in here with that blond.” This is a dealer who was never a target, whom I didn’t even recognize, who doesn’t know my name or anything about me, but he remembers “that blond” from years earlier. So her increased visibility leaked onto me!

Because that visibility can be very memorable to the casino staff, a female AP might have a very hard time recovering from a backoff at a property, as Tommy told SemiPro. Back in the day, Mr. Lucky used to play with his wife, a statuesque blond Russian. They played around town for big stakes, but once they got backed off, it was over. There was really no way the town would ever forget her, and Mr. Lucky was memorable and “guilty” by association.

The exposure problem is heightened for female APs, but the traditional tactics of reducing exposure would still apply. As SemiPro says: “You might never blend in, but you can attempt to stand out less.” Being generally quiet is better. Always avoid any personal topics of conversation, other than quickly dropping the H/B/K word to pre-empt flirtations. When seat position doesn’t matter, avoid sitting at 1st or 3rd base, because those seats invite the floorman to sidle up and chitchat.

I do think a female can more easily make radical changes of appearance without triggering suspicion, such as changing hair color or style, radically changing clothing style, and wearing different makeup. It’s probably best to look plain, but it’s a difficult position for a young female AP who spends a lot of hours in the casino. As a teammate once lamented, “But these are my pretty years.” Sure the AP is at work while in the casino, but it’s still the AP’s life, and who wants to spend their time sleeping in a car, pissing in a jug, and intentionally being unattractive? (Isn’t the card counter’s life glamorous?!)

There are plays that benefit from having two APs at the table, and a female-male couple would then blend in very naturally in those situations, and be able to bounce from table to table together.

So, in evaluating Munchkin’s statement regarding the value of being an Asian female, GWAE/Snopes would rate that statement, as it pertains to the female part, as: Somewhat True.