Behind the Black Dome Interview - Blackjack Apprenticeship

Behind the Black Dome Interview


Behind the Black Dome Two years ago, I received an eerie email from a Las Vegas surveillance professional by the name of “T.Dane.” He said he knew who Ben and I were (this was long before the any Documentary or major press). He said that although his day job was to protect casinos and catch card counters and other advantage players, he had a great deal of respect for what we do, having even spent some of his free time counting cards for money.

To date, I’ve only gotten emails from a couple people who work in surveillance. Usually it’s along the lines of “I know who you are and I’ve watched you play,” but they aren’t willing to take the risk of actually meeting. Well, it turns out T. Dane was different. A few months back, he put his career on the line to write and published “Behind the Black Dome”, a book that dives into what surveillance is looking for, what the common tells of a card counter are, and how an advantage player can avoid detection. A book like this only comes around every decade or so, and it’s absolute GOLD to a professional player! T. Dane has also been kind enough to give some guest lectures at our more recent bootcamps, which is always a highlight of the day for myself and everyone else!

If you are serious about card counting, you should absolutely check out his book here (we don’t get anything out of promoting it, just think it’s a great resource).

We were fortunate enough to interview T. Dane about his book and experience on the other side of the black dome.

You can read our interview below…


Colin: On pg. 11  You explain the different specialties each shift has to deal with (day, swing, & graveyard). Which shift is the best for the AP to play?

T. Dane: It all depends on the player, the type of approach and what time of day suits best for that approach. Some opportunities are also dealer dependent. But in general, I would think team play would be more efficient and the players would blend in more if table games action is at peak time, which is swing. On the other hand, crowded conditions can mean less hands per hour for the solo counter and he would prefer a different shift.  It’s also a good habit to be observant each time you step in a casino. Just by scanning the casino floor, it can give the player a good idea whether or not security, table games or surveillance are involved in an incident. To give an example, if you see a high action player, he is most likely being ‘hawked’ closely by the pit and surveillance. Another example would be if you see security tending to a patron with a medical emergency or if you see law enforcement vehicles present. If you notice an incident, simply ask yourself which department are most likely involved. the more workload for the casino, the more manpower is used and less of their areas being watched.

Colin: How does one figure out what time each shift is working?  Is it fairly standard across properties?

T. Dane: Surveillance dayshift is usually pretty close to banker hours. Table games are the ones who work the weird hours, i.e. 3a-11a for days or 8p-4a for swing and so on. It is common for surveillance and table games to have different start times. This means that if you catch heat from one shift in table games and you think there was a turnover in personnel, this isn’t necessarily true for surveillance. You can still be playing the same shift personnel in surveillance. Overall, there really is no standard shift. Each property or company will have their own, so just be aware.

Colin: In order to practice basic strategy it is mentioned that they use software programs and deal to each other. How skilled on average are most surveillance operators at basic strategy?

T. Dane: Operators are pretty good when it comes to basic strategy. There are tests given to operators before hire, each quarter or annually depending on the director. They are expected to know basic strategy so they can understand a play. deviations from basic is what gives the play away, so the operator must first know basic to understand a deviation.

Colin: How would you rate your own card counting skills?

T. Dane: LOL. I never rated my own skills but speed-wise I can keep up. I remember back when I first started in surveillance, I would hold the deck face down, take one card out, and stare at the date and time stamp on the surveillance monitor. As soon as the seconds reset to :00, I flipped the cards one by one, trying to finish within a minute. Now I can do it 20 seconds face down and 15 seconds face up. I’ve heard of others who can do it in less time.

Colin: Do you know any surveillance operators that go and play against the house as AP’s?

T. Dane: I’m sure there are plenty who play and count but nothing serious. I only met two other operators who attempted AP. I haven’t met anyone who did it or is doing it on a professional level. And If they are, they wouldn’t share that information anyway.

Colin: Facial recognition software:  In the movie 21 it is said that facial recognition software will be so powerful it will lead to the end of card counting.  You briefly mention it in the book, but say that when casino tested it was not very accurate and that the technology was still young for the industry. How is the technology currently used?  Has it been improving?

T. Dane: Much of what is depicted in surveillance when it comes to movies and tv shows are more for entertainment. As far as my experience in FRS, they are still young and could use some adjustments to satisfy the need of a surveillance room. I know of one that was recently tested and it did not perform as promised. But who knows what’s currently being developed or has been developed. If there is FRS that does perform, it is most likely being used in law enforcement or the military. But an operators memory will always be the best FRS.

 – (pg. 36-38) SIN and Griffin, and now OSN, strike fear in card counters.

Colin:   When a player is identified as an AP how proactive are casinos in notifying other casinos and submitting their information to Biometrica or Griffin?

T. Dane: Back in the day, I would say there were a lot of networking and sharing information within the surveillance community from different companies. Mostly because properties did not maintain or did not have the capability to maintain their own subject database. But times has changed. Most casinos now have their own database and if a flier is sent, information is mostly passed on to sister properties. Also, surveillance rooms should always make their own determination. They should never rely solely and take action based on any outside information.

Colin: How detailed are player profiles within these databases?  Are they kept up to date?

T. Dane: Any information you gave for your players card or information from your drivers license will most likely be available. Subject profiles are kept up to date each time a new entry for the player is inputted.

–     (Pg. 48) “Pattern/Tell”: “The Fishing Hole – Be careful of double deck and six deck shoes combined in one pit.  Surveillance is most likely hawking these pits since they know AP’s will eventually land and play.  They don’t really give much attention to pits full of continuous shuffling machines and carnival games” (p. 48, para. 3).

Colin: Most of the book is focused around blackjack advantage play, but do casinos have similar systems or work as proactively to combat AP’s at carnival games?  If you can make an advantage play against a carnival game will you face less heat?

T. Dane: Some casinos do take a proactive approach when it comes to combating AP for other games. Any AP approach that is out of the ordinary will definitely buy the player more time than straight counting. Other opportunities are out there, just be observant.

–        “Splitting 20’s is a bold move that attracts unwanted attention.”

Colin: When it comes to this play what do you think is the mindset/approach AP’s should have?  Do you split 20’s and be ready to get out of there, or do you think minimizing the use of this play will pay off in adding longevity of play?

T. Dane: The first thing surveillance will look at is the bet. If the bet is low, it is not much of a red flag. However if the bet is high with the player splitting 20’s against a stiff, then the next question that comes to mind is “What’s the count?” Surveillance can then run back the footage to see what the count was or just start to watch you – now you attracted surveillance heat. If you create a pattern of splitting them only on high plus with a high bet, it’s a dead giveaway and you are most likely to get backed off quicker than the other player who mixes it up by splitting them with a low bet. But deviations like this will also depend on the player. An AP who plays their local store everyday should minimize this type of play to achieve longevity. But the player who plays for a team and wants to be aggressive in getting the money out can get away with this play as long as they are willing to leave soon after.

–        “Playing as a refusal is considered the number one tell for an AP” (p. 56, para. 3).

Colin: When it comes to players cards it seems like there is no winning.  You don’t use them and you attract unwanted attention.  You use them and you they track and flag you. What would you do if you were counting cards for income?

T. Dane: This will all depend on the player. If comps and promotions are a big part of your game then yes, you should always use a card. But if it’s not, then using your real name and getting backed off will only affect your longevity. But a player who doesn’t want to use a card doesn’t have to play as a refusal. Just be creative and remember to stay on the legal side.

Colin: What would your advice to A.P.s be?

T. Dane: My advice to players would be to stay informed. If you get backed off or limited your play due to paranoia, it’s minus ev. I’ll quote RWM when he said “Learning to count cards is easy. Learning to get away with it is tough.” True, but it doesn’t have to be that way as long as you know the “enemy”. Part of the reason I became an asset in surveillance was because I took the time to understand who I dealt with by learning more than the information provided to me by the casinos. Anyone who goes into battle without first learning who they are dealing with will fail.

Colin:  Since surveillance doesn’t have any audio how important is the correct language?  What types of gestures/acts should players avoid? Which should they use?

T. Dane: Since there is no audio on the casino floor, a player’s body language is very important and should always be passive when dealing with casino personnel. If you find yourself being 86’d by overzealous casino personnel, you should back down keeping your hands close to your chest while maintaining an open palm or walk away while pointing towards the exit. These are things that will matter when it comes to “he said, she said.” Let the footage do the talking. Do not act aggressive at any time. Avoid moving towards personnel or having closed fists. Avoid shouting or raising your arms. Just understand that the casinos have a job to do and just take them on another day.

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