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New Wrinkles for Old Bags
by Frank Scoblete

You’ve all heard of this saying - “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Traditionalists and other conservatives live by this credo. In fact, Abraham Lincoln once said that the greatest threat to America was politicians and other bureaucrats who wanted to change institutions that worked in order to make a name for themselves.

      The 60’s generation, of which I am by birth and therefore reluctantly a part of, had a different credo: “Change is good.” We’ve all seen what that credo has ushered into our world. If you work for any bureaucracy, whether government, school, or big corporation, the worst thing a new manager can say is: “I’m here to effect change.” It’s usually downhill from there. They’ll change this, that and the other thing just to be able to record on their resumes that they made changes. Then they move onwards or upwards, leaving a wake of disaffection and disaster behind them until someone new comes in to “effect changes” in the changes that had previously been made. Tradition is out. Change is in.

      Peruse for a moment the broad spectrum of the “changed” landscape. Changes in government have created ever bigger bureaucracies with ever more spendthrift ways and morose workers; ever more and higher taxes. The change in the IRS paperwork has resulted in more paper than a redwood can supply. Changes in the school curricula across the country have resulted in watered-down courses, grade inflation, and heightened self-esteem on the part of students who are embarrassingly ignorant but consistently praised for their efforts - whether they exert any effort or not. Everyone now goes to college, even those who shouldn’t have graduated grade school. And big corporations have seen their leaders, if not being carted off to jail, at the very least slithering under the water coolers to avoid the icy stares of people whose 401K’s are in jeopardy. Even Martha Stewart, the bastion of suburban manners, mores and marketing, dug a big hole in her own garden and buried herself in it when she changed from entrepreneur to investor. She should have continued to make dinner and forget about those power lunches.

      So I subscribe to the “change is generally bad” credo, especially when it comes to casino games. Not one single new game introduced into the casinos in the past 25 years has been better than the old standbys of craps and blackjack. The new games generally have higher house edges or much faster paces or both, just look at Three-Card Poker and Let It Ride. A game such as Sic Bo is a sick joke - with edges that transcend the Big Wheel and Keno. While many of the “new” games are fun to play, they are not usually good bets in the long run if you intend to make casino gambling your hobby.

      Speaking of change, the nickel slot machine explosion, which can now see players pouring oodles of cash into the belly of those computerized, mechanical and seemingly small-denomination beasts, has turned small-fry slot aficionados into unknowingly high-rolling great white sharks. Many of those nickel machines come with very high house edges. Even though the player might actually be considered a dollar or higher player on these machines, he is only getting the return of a traditional nickel player. Not good.

      Perhaps, the worst manifestation of “change for change’s sake” has occurred in blackjack, where new variations have been flooding the market - not one of which is better than the old standby. People play blackjack because they think that it can be beaten. No other reason. (And yes, we know that approximately one out of every 53,000 casino gamblers might just be able to do that!) Yet, the tinkering that is going on with the game is ruining it. You might not notice it now; just like you might not notice the lungs of that seemingly healthy-looking smoker, but time will show the attempt to “fix” blackjack when it wasn’t “broke” actually broke the game.

      Tinkering with blackjack’s success, overwhelming success I might add, is tantamount to taking a lumbering home-run hitter and telling him to start stealing more bases and bunting more. Why would any sane coach do that? So why are the casinos ushering in forms of blackjack that are to the original game what a chimpanzee is to a human; similar in shape, form, and manner but an entirely different species? Greed is one answer; shortsightedness is another. Both are probably accurate. And both might ultimately lead to players not only abandoning the game of blackjack but abandoning casino gambling when their losses are magnified over time by these new variations which come in with house edges that are double, triple, and quadruple what the house edge is at traditional blackjack.

      Most of the variations of blackjack that are now on the scene are chimps and you’d be a chump to play them instead of the traditional game.

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