Blackjack in Paradise and an Ethical Nightmare

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A few years back I won a poker trip to the beautiful island of Aruba. For reasons you will soon see, I won’t mention what casino I was staying at or which casino I was gambling at. Little did I know that I was going to find myself stuck in the middle of one of the biggest ethical dilemmas of my life. Still, to this day, I have no idea if I handled it properly or if I am a dirt bag. I’ll tell you the full story and let you be the judge and decide what you would have done.

Let’s set the stage first. I won a trip online to go down to Aruba for a major poker tournament. All my accommodations were covered minus my absurd bar tabs. My entry into the tournament was covered as well. As a professional poker player, this is a dream. Basically, a free roll into the tournament and most of my expenses covered.

After arriving a few days early to kick it on the beach, it was time for the tournament. It went AMAZING! No, no it didn’t. I don’t think I ever had over the starting stack and was knocked out and back on the beach in a matter of hours. Sadly, this happens a lot in the world of tournament poker. Variance is a jerk and comes with the territory. I will tell you this, though: Busting a tournament in the middle of paradise really isn’t that bad. I was sad for a few minutes, but everything was better the second I had a cocktail in my hand and a view of the ocean.

Fast forward to the last night of my trip and several party-filled days later. A few of my friends are gearing up to go out for the night and decide they want to gamble a little bit before they get started. Poker players are notorious for loving to gamble (even though poker is not gambling. I will cover this in another blog post if you disagree. Stay tuned). I, on the other hand, am not a huge fan. Something about playing a game where I know I am at a disadvantage just rubs me the wrong way, and I don’t find a lot of fun in it. Yes, I know I’m an oddball.

But, since it was my last night I figured I’d go down and get some drinks and play a little blackjack to kill some time and a few brain cells before we hit the town. I got down to the casino and picked the table with the lowest limit because I really didn’t feel like betting all that much and was just looking to kill time. The only seat open was the one on the dealer’s right, far end of the table. I believe the cool kids call this seat one. I’m not just sharing what seat I picked for any reason; it’s the key to the story.

Here is another important key to the story. This casino was smaller, and they usually are slow on cycling their dealers through. This means you may have the same dealer at your table for anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour. As I sit down, they are in the process of switching out dealers which is no big deal to me.

I place my first $10 bet and wait to get my cards dealt. To be honest, I don’t even remember what I had that first hand because I became instantly way too focused on something else. When the dealer would put down her down card, she had this move that I assume she saw on TV or an episode of Las Vegas or something where she would bring her hand up a bit and then quickly slide the card down flat on the table. Did it look cool? Yes. Was it going to be the center of my ethical dilemma? Also yes.

When the dealer made her little move with her down card, it clearly flashed to me, and I could see it as clear as day. I knew what the dealer’s down card was. This was going to make this hand an easy one for me. If I recall correctly, it didn’t really affect my decision because I had a 19 or a 20 and won the hand. Things got interesting on the next hand, though. She did it again…And then again…And Again… I knew what the dealer’s hole card was on every single hand.

Now comes the dilemma. Do I say something to her or the floor staff or do I up my bets and start raking in the money? If this were poker, I know how I would react. Anytime I see a player’s hole cards, I immediately tell them that they need to protect their hand because I can see their cards. I love to win at poker, but I don’t want to win that way. Surprisingly, most people get mad when I tell them because they accuse me of trying to look at their cards??? Umm, if that were the case, I wouldn’t tell you that I could see them. Common sense here people.

But this situation was different. It’s not another player I’m competing against, but the house. They don’t tell me if I’m making a stupid mistake that is costing me money. They just laugh that all the way to the bank. I was beyond conflicted. I fancy myself to be an extremely ethical person and always go above and beyond to do what I think is right. I’m not just saying that to sound good in this blog post, but it’s how I actually like to operate.

What Would You Have Done? Unethical or the Casino’s Fault?

Seriously, what would you have done? Imagine you were in my shoes and had to make a decision about how to proceed. I had to make a decision quickly. If I thought about it forever and then decided to go for it, the dealer would be gone, and that would be that. My mind began rationalizing the situation. “It’s THEIR responsibility to train their dealers properly. They wouldn’t help me out if I made a mistake. This is the casino, not another player…” My brain kept cranking and cranking.

Finally, I made my decision.

Visions of the MIT Blackjack Team flashed through my head, and I decided I was going for it. Commence Operation Get Paid. I immediately started upping my bets and ordering shots. Time to look drunk (or actually be) while I make some strange decisions with when to hit or stay. I’ve got to sell it just like the guys in the movies. We were going for it. Can’t up the bets too quickly but can’t wait too long or she’ll be gone.

Zeros were quickly added to the end of those $10 bets, and I started winning. I immediately started tipping the floor and the dealer, so they were happy and in la la land. It was this dealer’s last shift for the night, but she stuck around for about 35 minutes. By the time she left, I had made thousands. My $10 a hand killing time session had turned into a multi-thousand winning streak that made for an absolutely wild last night. I imagine this lady is still dealing somewhere and still flashing cards to people.

About 100% of people that I’ve talked to said they would have done the exact same thing. Still, though, does that mean that I did the RIGHT thing? From an ethical standpoint, I still wrestle with this one to this day. I love winning, but I never want to do it by any unethical standpoint. This is why I tell people in poker if I can see their cards. If I see something mismarked at the store, I mention it to the staff. I want to win just as bad as the next guy or gal, but never at the expense of my integrity.

My bottom line thought currently on this is that it’s the casino’s responsibility to train their dealers properly and if they have a problem with how I’m winning, they can ask me to leave or train their dealers better. I was not cheating. I didn’t have some special mirror to see the cards. I merely (not mirror-ly) sat down and played my cards and took advantage of everything that was going on. My situational awareness got me paid that night.

What would you have done?

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