Regarding your “tips and rumours” story last week:

A former Crown Casino employee who is now a punter writes: As Crown celebrate their 10-year anniversary at Melbourne’s Southbank, what is their gift to punters? Believe it or not they have changed the rules on Blackjack to enable them to rake in more cash from desperate punters. Dealers on Blackjack now draw a card to a “soft 17” total (eg, an ace and a six), creating a significantly higher “house advantage”. But here’s the real kicker. The rule change has not been implemented in the high-roller areas.

Sad to say, it’s true. Crown Casino has quietly changed their rules of Blackjack for the worse, upping their advantage against optimal (but non card-counting) play by 39%. As far as I am aware there are no advertisements on TV with actors’ beaming smiles publicising this 39% price increase. Imagine the price of some other commodity suddenly going up 39%? Apparently “entertainment” costs 39% more now than it did a month ago.

Clown (sorry, Crown) Casino has created this price increase by introducing a new rule “dealer hits on soft 17”, a rule that has never existed in any one of Australia’s 13 legal casinos. In typical Crown style, it appears they introduced this rule completely unilaterally and with no government or punter consultation whatsoever.

We now hear that the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation is investigating whether Crown had permission to change the rules and why it wasn’t displayed on its website, as required by the Casino Control Act . One very short-odds bet is that nothing will come of the VCGR’s “probing investigation”.

Every time the VCGR (or its forerunner the VCGA) has investigated Crown for its numerous rule and procedure breaches over the last 13 years, the outcome has been a slap on the wrist at best, and complete silence at worst. Did I hear someone say, “do not bite the hand that feeds you”?

This is not the first time Crown has quietly slipped in rule changes. Some years back, they changed the rules to increase their Blackjack advantage by 68%. So the game today costs the punter 234% of the price it did when the folks at Crown first opened their doors on Black Thursday, 30 June 1994. Who knows when the next rule change for the worse will come?

When they made the change years ago, which increased the price of Blackjack by 68%, their excuse was “to come into line with the other Australian casinos”. Funny that, because when “coming into line” meant a price increase, then “coming into line” was fine. But now they have made a rule change which no other casino in the country has, and as a by-product of that change, well, what-do-you-know, the price of play goes up by 39%! Apparently “coming into line” is not so necessary anymore …

The part of Crikey’s “tips and rumours” about the strange Pontoon game is also true, although it is not a new phenomenon. Frown (sorry, Crown) introduced this weird Blackjack variant game (let’s call it “Blackjack for Dummies”) some years ago. It costs approximately double the price of real Blackjack. What fun!

Oh, and don’t forget that anyone with enough brainpower to beat the game (such as yours truly) is persona non grata  at the casino, and not allowed to play the game. Hence, skilled players play a never-ending cat-and-mouse game, disguising their skill from the powers that be at Crown, often using farcical methods that would be hilarious if there wasn’t so much money involved.

On the other hand, losers with no knowledge on how to win are, naturally, most welcome guests of Crown. If you are a really big loser, then they will roll out the red carpet (luxury suites, luxury food, luxury soirées and luxury whatever, here we come).

What we need in Australia is what they have in the great casino locations of the world — competition. Look at Las Vegas and Macau. Dozens of major casinos compete side by side, and rule changes —  for the better  — are common. Casinos place large signs at their door advertising good rules. In all my years’ experience with Australia casinos, I have never seen a casino make and advertise to the punting masses a rule change for the better. Why? Because the two nearest casinos in Australia are over 100km apart, and they just happen to be owned by the same company. The nearest casinos to Crown are in Launceston and Canberra.

Maybe there is a role for the ACCC in this? It would be great to see a classy, boutique-style card room or casino open next door to Crown, offering great games with wafer-thin advantages, giving real bang for the punter’s buck.

The current price gouging of the less fortunate in our society has just got to stop. Unfortunately with Crown’s cosy exclusivity deal in place with their business partner (and regulator), the Victorian Government, any competition for Crown remains a pipe dream.

Crown Casino represents one of the most cynical money grabs in Australian society. They call it “A World of Entertainment”, I call it “A World of Negative Expectation”. I would have thought the Packer family already had enough money, without gouging it from the masses. Apparently not.