What effect do shuffling machines have on casino blackjack?

In most cases, shuffling machines do not have an effect on the outcome of the game. That is, they do not have any effect that cannot already be created by a dealer who manipulates the cards in the same way as the machine is designed to.

The first reaction to a shuffling machine is suspicion. In order to be worth the investment to the casino, the machine must generate additional revenue—and the most obvious way to do this is by stacking the deck in favor of the house. While this may be true in some situations, it cannot be a widespread practice where gambling is regulated, as the gaming commission takes a dim view of casino cheats and would keep a closer eye on any mechanical device than on any human dealer. Even in locations where the local inspectors can be paid to turn a blind eye, it’s much cheaper to invest in a single shrink-wrapping machine (allowing them to remove a few tens and re-seal the deck) than a bank of shuffling contraptions.

The value of a shuffling machine is that it completely randomizes the deck. Unlike the manual cut-and-riffle procedure that moves cards only a few positions, a shuffling machine can thoroughly and rapidly randomize the position of every card from the discard tray before the deck goes back into play. This will eliminate the effects of high-low card clumping and bring the game, hence the profit, back to a level that can be accurately predicted by mathematical probability. This offers no advantage to either the house or the player, but eliminates unfair advantages on either side of the table.

The one exception to this is when casinos use shuffling machines to keep the deck continuously shuffled. If spent cards are shuffled back into the deck at the end of each round, this effectively defeats card counters, whose techniquedepends on estimating the bias of the remaining deck as a result of the cards that have been removed. The effect of using a machine in this manner, however, is no different than that of a dealer who shuffles the cards after each round.

If you’re still suspicious of the casino’s motives, there are a handful or legitimate reasons that shuffling machines periodically appear in casinos. Primarily, they reduce the possibility of collusion (a crooked dealer working in cahoots with a player to cheat the house). An added advantage is that a machine shuffles cards faster than a human being can, so there’s less of a wait during the shuffling procedure, and more hands are played during any given hour. Finally, since shuffling the only procedure that requires muchskill on the part of the dealer, a casino can cut its labor costs by hiring less skilled staff and using machines to handle the cards.

Even so, there’s no incentive for a player to prefer a table where a shuffling machine is operated over one at which a dealer handles the cards—and most players do not. In a recent trip to a casino that was experimenting with shuffling machines, this was painfully evident. In one pit, dealers still handled the cards. All the chairs were filled and there were customers who would wait to play rather than crossing the floor to the (many) empty chairs at tables in another pit where the shuffling machines had been installed.

In the end, you shouldn’t worry about being cheated at a table where a shufflingmachine is used—and neither should you worry that machines will replacedealers at most popular gaming spots.