A Favorable Exchange Rate

I recently escorted my lovely daughter to Cape Town, South Africa, to begin her college semester abroad. As an Advantage Player, before leaving the States, I checked around for any potentially profitable advantage I might find doing what I do best. I found a large casino east of downtown, in a town called Goodwood (indeed) without any competing casinos nearby. This is not usually conducive to finding an advantage, as competition amongst casinos is a good thing. This casino offered a few blackjack tables, a sportsbook (which they called “sports betting bar”), and also advertised a poker room. So, yeah, I should be able to make a few bucks…I never found the poker room.

I called the Grand West Casino and spoke to someone in the cashier’s cage. She assured me that money exchange was no problem, all I had to do was bring my passport, and I could get 17.28 Rand for every dollar I exchanged. The going rate on the streets of Cape Town was a little over 14 Rand per dollar, so this seemed like an advantage already! As with everything, if it is too good to be true, it is.

I was needing a little walking around Rand and, at the very least, I was hoping to exchange some dollars for Rand without the transaction fee. Throw in some Advantage Play and I may be able to stroll out of there with a festive little profit.

The money exchange was not without its difficulties. I was told the exchange rate was only 13.28 Rand per dollar and I swear they told me 17.28 over the phone. Regardless, my daughter, who is a fledgling card counter herself, and I were going to play anyway. We only had to deal with the money exchange bureaucracy.

The cashier did not simply take my dollars and hand me back Rand. That would have made too much sense, would have been too easy and would not have enabled me the favorable exchange rate. No, they put all my Rand on a credit card type of deal and I was instructed to present my card at the tables and my deposit on the card would be charged off at the tables. Getting the money on the card was neither quick, nor efficient. Yet, four hundred American dollars got me 5312 Rand.

My lovely daughter and I played two sessions of blackjack of the worst blackjack game I have ever played (and I have played on cruise ships). Eight deck shoe game with an infinite shuffler, standard Vegas rules applied after that – except the dealer did not deal her hole card. It was dealt after all players made their decisions. In the midst of these awful games, we paid a visit to the sports betting bar.

Those of you who have not yet met an infinite shuffler, be warned. These games cannot be beat no matter how good your card counting skills. The beauty of blackjack played without an infinite shuffle is the effect of card removal. As cards are removed from the shoe, the makeup of the shoe changes and these changes can be tracked by effective card counting. The infinite shuffle takes away all the advantage of counting by essentially keeping the shoe as a freshly shuffled shoe, with no cards removed. As a round of blackjack is played, the cards are moved from the discard pile back into the shuffler to reconstitute the shoe. Effectively, no cards have been removed and the count never moves past the cards that were dealt on the immediate hand. Worthless to the Advantage Player, but I suppose ideal for the degenerate gambler who just wants action. And much more ideal for the house.

Mind you, I also witnessed the worst kinds of blackjack play at these tables. No basic strategy play and I doubt my fellow card players had ever heard of basic strategy. One of the geniuses twice hit Hard 17 against a dealer 10 and surrendered a Hard 5 against a dealer 8.

But I digress…

As I was saying, between our two blackjack sessions, my daughter and I strolled into the sports betting bar to have a look at the lines. There were no lines. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of people in there watching soccer and horse racing and placing bets, but it would have been hard to tell what they were betting on. There was no board behind the ticket writers, just a large blank, black wall that sported two signs warning of the evils of gambling addiction.

That Sunday happened to be the final round of the US PGA golf championship at Bellerive, Missouri. Brooks Koepka was in the lead, but there were many challengers within a few strokes. I asked the ticket writer if they were taking action on the final round. After about five minutes of her poking her computer screen, she told me they were taking head to head action. I asked her what the lines and odds were and she told me no one in there cares about such things. I asked how could a bettor bet on something he doesn’t have current odds to review? She told me no one in there cares, they just come up and tell her who or what they want to bet (no Rotation Numbers). She punches it into the machine and a ticket pops out. They pay and leave with their ticket. I gotta say, gentle reader, I was quite dumbfounded by this.

The notion of Advantage Play is evaluating lines and odds and finding a wager that offers value. There was no value in just taking whatever odds were spit out on your ticket. Yet, the ticket writer was very friendly and helpful and after 10 minutes of her stabbing her computer screen with her finger, I got a print out of the PGA final round head to head matchups, with their attendant odds. After perusing this list for some time, I realized that no matter how much of my hard exchanged Rand I wagered, it probably would not be profitable for me to hire a cab to haul my ass back out to the casino to cash the ticket, then haul my ass back to my downtown hotel.

Alas, I left without placing a wager on the final round. I did, however, notice a game horse named Led Zeppelin running in the 6th race at Scottsville. I put down 100 Rand to Win (8 to 1 odds at the time)…he didn’t win. Damn nag might not have even finished the race, he certainly was not among the top four finishers.

So, about that exchange rate. We played the second session of blackjack, my fortunes could not have been worse, but my daughter was hitting her splits and double downs and getting the occasional Snapper and actually made some money. We decided it was time to color up and get back to town.

I had over 5300 Rand on that card (you remember the card, right?) when we started. I made two deductions totaling 4000 Rand. I cashed the chips we colored up and then asked to get the balance off the card. A very friendly cashier told me the card was “locked” and I would need the assistance of one of the friendly personnel in the players club, if I wanted the balance of 5312 Rand. But I played 4000 Rand off the card and told her so. She told me the balance was indeed 5312 Rand and to redeem it, I had to go to the players club to unlock the card. I again told her that was not all my money, as I played 4000 off of it. She assured me I was wrong. So, we strolled over to the player’s club.

The friendly woman at the player’s club told me the card certainly was not locked and there should be no problem withdrawing the remaining funds of 5312 Rand. I again did the math for her, telling her I was only entitled to what was left, 1312 Rand. She told me that to redeem the full value of Rand, 5312, I needed to go back to the cashier’s cage, because the card certainly was not locked. After an officious amount of paper shuffling, she thought it imperative to accompany me back to the cashier’s cage to straighten all this out.

We were invited back to the cashier I started with and the whole process began anew. I Insisted I was not entitled to 5312 Rand…they demanded I was entitled to every last Rand of it. Another helpful cashier got involved and after another explanation, she likewise demanded I was entitled to all 5312 Rand of it.

I’m a pretty honest guy, after all, Bob Dylan tells us in Absolutely Sweet Marie, “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” But I took this as a sign The Universe wanted me to be rolling around The Cape countryside with some hefty Rand in my pocket. I do what The Universe tells me to do. When all of this was said and done, I made about $188 American, for them losing track of 4000 Rand.

Friends, I spread that Rand around all over the countryside. The next morning, my daughter and I hired a driver, went to see wild African penguins, petted cheetahs, fed African white lions and Bengal tigers, ate and drank ravenously. What was left, I gave to my daughter for some walking around Rand and tipped our driver very generously.

I guess if there is a moral to this story, it is this…

The Dude Abides.

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