VIDEO VAULT | Treasury Casino offered card counting lessons to prospective gamblers

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Southern Nevada casinos keep an eye out for card counters—gamblers who use math and memory to turn Blackjack odds to their advantage. As a general rule, these players are asked to leave and not return. But in 1980, News-3’s Terry Care reported on one property that welcomed the most famous card counter of his time.

“You might not know this guy, but casino bosses here and around the world have for years,” said Care. “Ken Uston is a professional card counter, and now the Treasury Casino has hired him to teach his trade to students who would presumably someday use their new skill to beat the Treasury and others. Even the Treasury knows that.”

The Treasury is long gone. It was originally a Howard Johnson’s. It became the 20th Century Hotel and then the Treasury. Later it transitioned from the Pacifica to the Polenysian to the San Remo. Today it is home to Hooters Hotel and Casino.

Uston had written several books on card counting and his exploits by the time he arrived at the Treasury.

“People are coming to be better and better and better players, spending more and more money,” reasoned Treasury President Herb Pastor. “And they're doing that because they've realized that the game can be beaten.”

“Uston will initially hold one workshop a month, beginning next month,” reported Care. “It's normally a $1,200 course, says Uston, but these will be free. Those students will be obligated to put up a $3,000 gambling bankroll during the workshop weekend.”

“Uston has been counting cards for six years, and claims with his team to have won millions. He remembers when counters were considered cheaters.”

“Finally somebody recognized--The New Jersey Commission—that counters are not criminals,” said Uston. “That skill at blackjack is not a criminal activity. It's a skill.”

While New Jersey ruled in 1979 that card counters could not be banned from casinos, Nevada did not follow suit. Typically, Uston would not be allowed in a Nevada casino. What was happening in this case, appeared to be a publicity stunt.

“The Ttreasury argues that 21 is the world's most popular casino game, that players are becoming better and therefore wagering more,” said Care. “And that, adds the Treasury, has recently meant more casino revenues. In other words, the Treasury is betting that as the game's popularity grows, what it loses to counters will be insignificant, compared to what it makes off the others.”

What is left unclear, is whether the Treasury instituted counter-measures, such as were used in New Jersey to thwart card-counters. These include shuffling frequently or anytime a player would significantly raise his wager.

If you are relatively new to Southern Nevada, it's no surprise if you haven't heard of Ken Uston. He died of a heart attack while visiting Paris in 1987. He was only 52. One friend was quoted as saying Uston’s lifestyle caught up with him.

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