I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Forming a team - part 1

There has been a lot of chatter on the blackjack boards recently about new teams forming. I wanted to take this opportunity to pass on some of my thoughts on teams. I have played on 5 or 6 teams over my career, and what I mean by a team is a group of players who have a shared bankroll, and a target they must hit before they break that bank. The target can be either a monetary win, or it can be a fixed number of hours, weeks, or months. When the target is hit the bank breaks, money is distributed, and a new bank is formed.

Before I get into it I want to say that it has been over 20 years since I played on a large team, and 15 since I played on a small one. Now I have partnerships. The difference is that I now have a handful of partners. 2 or 3 of us will get together for a short trip, maybe 2-7 days. We play together for that trip and split the money equally. No commitment, no muss, no fuss. We are all together so we know exactly what games we are playing, and how much we are betting. On my last large team, when we finished we had money on 4 continents in 6 currencies. It was like working for a large corporation. In other words, it was like a job. Teams are great for guys with short bankrolls. It is a chance to grow your BR, see the world, and meet other professional players. But I much prefer the way I do it now.

I am going to lay out some of the problems that I have encountered

  1. Theft
    . This is the biggest problem with teams, and can kill them quickly. This ranges from the small-time skimming, the guy who declares he lost $9,000 instead of $8,000, or he won $11,000 instead of $13,000, to the big thief who just gets stuck 100k and complains how unlucky he is. The worst is when the team organizer is the thief. Check out this excellent article by Michael Kaplan. The Card Con. What do you do when you catch someone stealing? I played on some teams that had a rule that any member could request that any other member be polygraphed at any time. But polygraphs really don't work. You can find ways to beat them in 5 minutes using google. As one well known team manager said to me, "What can you do? We're not mobsters." At the end of the day most people I know just end up severing ties with the thief, and write off the loss.
  2. Players stop playing when the bank gets stuck.  Say the players on a team are playing a game with ev of $200 per hour. The target for the bank is $50,000 so on average the bank should take 250 hours. The bank gets split 50/50 between the players (based on the number of hours they played) and 50% to the investors. If the bank takes exactly 250 hours then then every hour a player worked is worth $100. Pretty good right? Now let's look at a really bad scenario. The bank starts out losing really badly, so much that the team decides they need to cut their unit in half. Hundreds of hours have already been played, and players start to realize that their hours might be worth $20 an hour or even less. Lethargy sets in, and player find more and more reasons not to play. The players with the larger investments start getting pissed, because they are the ones getting the short end here. This is a very common scenario, and a lot of thought has gone into how to structure bankrolls to account for this.
  3. Disagreements over things that were not discussed at the beginning. It is hard to think of every possible thing that can arise when you are out playing, but the more things you can think about, and make decisions ahead of time about, the better off you will be. Here is one example; A BP on our team went out after a play and had quite a few drinks. He took a cab home, and thinks $8,000 fell out of his pockets either in the bar or in the cab. Is this a team loss or his own responsibility? What if he had not been drinking? Would your answer change? What if instead of losing the money he had been mugged in the parking lot?
If you are forming a team, here are some things that should be discussed:

What games are we playing, and how are we betting them? Is this an EMFH (Every Man For Himself) team where each player is off playing on his own with the benefits of a bigger bank and less fluctuations? Or is it a Big Player call-in team? Are you going to play other games besides blackjack?

Will the team ever cut the unit size? Most teams I played with would cut the size of the unit we were betting if the bank got stuck 50%. If you are not going to cut the unit, then at some point you may want to put in additional investment.

What is a team expense? I played on a team where there were zero team expenses. 6 of us lived in Vegas, and if you wanted to go up to Reno to play you paid your own way. I've played on other teams where air, car rental, cabs and more were all considered legitimate team expenses. There is no right or wrong here, it just needs to be hashed out ahead of time.

What is the tipping policy? I played on teams where there was no tipping allowed. I played on a team where tips came out of your own pocket. (I wonder how scrupulous players were about keeping track of that.) And I've played on teams where the tipping policy was rather loose. In this case we were playing together on the same game, and could see exactly how much everyone was tipping. If it was ever an issue it was easy for the group to say, you can tip a bit more (or less) in that situation.

What cover is allowed? This falls into 2 categories, cover plays, and cover bets. A cover play might be not hitting A7 vs. a 9. A cover bet might be betting big off the top of a shoe. Whether you allow these things should have a lot to do with how big your edge is. The smaller the edge, the less cover you should use. (That means you card counters.)

Are players allowed to drink alcohol or get high? This is a no brainer. I am strongly in the camp of absolutely no drugs if you are holding a single dollar of team cash. What you do on your own time is your own business, but if you get busted holding something illegal, and money gets confiscated, well that was your personal money, not team cash. I can't tell you how many player have said things like, "I can play perfectly after one or two drinks." That is up to your and your team to decide. If I am using a BP then we encourage the BP to drink. His job is to sell the act, and we will do the mental work.

What is the policy regarding comps? Do they go to the team or the player, or some combination? I played on teams where cash comps like airfare or free chips counted as part of your win, where things like show tickets were your own. If you sold show tickets or fight tickets that was split with the team. There is danger here because some players don't want to endanger their good comp status so they don't play the game as strong as they are supposed to.

How are the players tested? On one of my first teams a friend told me the policy was you had to tread water in the deep end of the pool, at night in the dark, while someone sprayed you in the face with a garden hose, and other team members pitched cards at you. If you kept the count, and didn't drown you were a witch, but accepted on the team. I don't care if you can count down a deck in 9.7 seconds, or play a 6 deck shoe while singing Go Greased Lightning. Final checkouts should take place doing real play in a casino. There are guys who can do great on the kitchen table, but when they get on a real table they just lose it. I had one friend that when he had to bet $500 his hands would shake. Get out in the casino, have the tester bet small, and watch at least 3 shoes that go positive. At least one of those shoes has to have the count go high enough for the player to get his max bets out. At the end of each shoe you should have a signaling system so he can tell you what his count is after the last hand. If you aren't 100% sure of his play then keep testing until you are 100% confident in his abilites.

Do the players have an hours requirement? Many of my early teams required the players to play a certain number of hours per week. If they did not there were penalties when the bank was broken.  Say you were required to play 10 hours per week, and the bank lasted 3 weeks. Instead of 30 hours you only played 28. Since you were 2 hours short you may have had 2 hours deducted from your total and paid for 26. The formula varied, maybe you would lose half an hour for every hour short, but you get the idea.

Are players allowed to play off the bank? I played on one team that was entirely devoted to shuffle tracking. If I found a hole card game then I played it on my personal money. But this policy of sometimes playing for the team, and sometimes not led to several situations where players had big wins and then announced, "Oh no, that was on my own money."

What is the policy regarding players cards? Are you going to use them or play as refusals? Is it up to the individual? What about fake IDs?

What is the policy on taxes? Usually everyone is on their own. It is their responsibility to take care of their own taxes. But what if someone gets a W2g for hitting a large jackpot when the money is going to the team?

I know one large team whose policy was, always use your real name, always cash out the entire amount, and let them file the CTR. This works great from a legal standpoint, but as you can imagine BPs were fried in a matter of hours.

What if someone gets arrested and/or has money confiscated? Is the confiscated money a team loss? What about legal fees? What if the players sues the casino, is that a team win?

This should give you a lot to think about, but you may realize I haven't addressed the most important question; What's the chop? We will look at that in Part 2 along with some other issues. I welcome feedback along the way so I can answer your questions as I go.


David Spence said...

Great post. And I'm with you--short duration, two- or three-man partnerships are much easier than longer or bigger arrangements.

When deciding the chop, here are some potentially tricky situations that have come up [I copied and pasted this from a comment I made months ago]: when a stranger finds a game and wants a referral fee, when one player isn't bankrolled but is performing some difficult task on the game, when one player develops a strategy for a game but is unable to play for whatever reason, when one player has no skill or bankroll but is just being used as a gorilla to get more money on the table, etc. There are countless other situations, but those are a few that come to mind if you feel like addressing them in Part 2.

Anonymous said...

The best way to do a referral fee is to cut the person in for a fixed share of wins and losses, with no work required. I'm very happy to take action on a strong game with players I know to be competent and honest, despite some small risk of loss.

Twice I've had the experience of being awoken from sweet dreams in my comfy hotel bed by the phone going off with a text message that partners won $50,000 overnight. There's no better feeling than learning you've been making money in your sleep.