The blackjack shoe used today to hold the decks of cards at the blackjack table has a long history. It has its roots in Cuban casinos in the 1950s.
Long before Castro outlawed gambling in that country gambling was a big draw for glamorous Havana hotels. East Coast American tourists found Cuba to be as much fun and exciting as Las Vegas was without requiring the long trip to Nevada. East coast patrons particularly enjoyed the sun and fun of the Caribbean island.
During that time the casinos were run by underworld bosses like Meyer Lansky. Cuban President Fulgencio Batista had invited Lansky to become adviser on gambling reform to straighten out the unproductive gambling then in place in Havana. The ownership and management of the casinos was carried out by personnel Lansky brought in from the U.S.; however, the rank and file staffs were local Cubans.
Many of those dealers put on their first pair of shoes when they applied for dealing jobs. These young dealers, using single decks, dealt cards all day and night and in short order became very efficient in card handing. Due to this new skill of handling a deck of cards, at the right time with the right play they were able to “help” players win by sometimes supplying bottom cards when needed. This action normally resulted in receiving a generous tip from the player which greatly increased the dealers own income. Occasionally, dealer friends would show up and again “skill” on the part of these young Cuban dealers helped those buddy’s win more often than the normal odds predicted.
Management began to suspect that some of their dealers were favoring patrons instead of the house and knew that something had to be done to correct the situation. Someone suggested using a baccarat shoe and increase the amount of decks to four. This way the dealer wouldn’t know what was the next card since it was stacked in the shoe with no way of telling what it might be.
The introduction of the shoe had an immediate effect that was reflected by the increased win-rate for the house. An added feature for the house was seen when it was discovered that more hands per hour could be generated since less shuffling was involved. This also resulted in a bigger win for the house. Using the shoe became the standard for blackjack throughout the casinos in Cuba and all seemed very happy about it, all that is except of course the young native dealers.
Meanwhile in Nevada, the only state at the time to allow casino gambling, single deck blackjack was still the standard in Las Vegas as well as the rest of the state. However, in 1962 a young mathematics professor named Edward Thorp wrote a best selling book called "Beat the Dealer."
Thorp showed that blackjack could be beaten by using a basic playing strategy along with keeping track of what cards had been played verves what cards remained in the deck. This concept allowed the player to predict, with good accuracy, what cards were about to be played allowing the player to change his bet and also adjust the way the hand was played. These two actions allowed the odds to move in favor of the player and away from the house. Players using Thorp’s concept became know as “card counters.”
Also during this period, many of the operators of Cuban casinos had moved to Las Vegas when Castro closed all gambling in the country and they remembered how they stopped the young dealers from cheating the house. They thought that introducing the shoe would work against card counters.
Four deck shoes were put into play in casinos throughout Las Vegas and it helped against the card counters because of the additional number of cards in play making it harder to keep an accurate track of the deck. Later, six and eight deck-shoes were introduced and became the standard in most casinos in Nevada. When Atlantic City opened in 1978, blackjack shoe games became the standard in all of the casinos from their first opening.
Automatic shuffling machines began to appear, mostly in multi-deck games. Casinos find these machines to have many attractive features. The manufacturer boasts a forty percent increase in hands played per unit of time. One needs to remember that casinos make no money while the dealer is shuffling cards.
So these automatic shuffle machines were considered a proven winner for the casino. Automatic shuffling machines are also utilized by casinos to ensure two other things; 1) the dealer cannot stack the deck, 2) the player cannot accuse the dealer or casino of non-random shuffling. An important point is that after the cards were shuffled, they were withdrawn from the machine and placed in a standard 4, 5 or 8 deck shoes. Card counting is still possible as long as one can see which cards have been played and which ones remain in the deck.
As time moved on, casinos continued to try to thwart card counters. Card counting is not illegal, but the casinos don’t take kindly to any player who takes funds from their tables. Major help finally arrived in 2000 when Shuffle Master introduced the first Continuous Shuffling Machine (CSM) for the game.
Their machine was called “The King” and its main purpose was to help the casinos foil card counters. After every round of play, the played cards are returned to the CSM. The result is a “new” 4, or 6 deck game starting at every hand, thus preventing any counting being able to take place. With the CSM card counting is not possible.
One interesting idea presented to casinos before continues shuffle machines were introduced was a two shoe blackjack game. One casino experimented using two shoes, totaling 12 decks. One shoe had red backed cards while the other had blue backed ones. The two shoes were used throughout each hand. This action did not go over very well with players, and the two shoe concept was quickly withdrawn.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Marchel's Website:
Books by John Marchel:More books by John Marchel