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The funniest person in gambling is the founder of the First Church of Blackjack, known as "the Bishop". No one else comes even close to the Bishop, as Arnold Snyder is known. He founded his First Church of Blackjack some years ago as a parody, and also a celebration, of the cult of blackjack. Blackjack counters took the game so seriously, and still do, that it had become a sort of religion.

The official hymn of his Church gives you a good idea of the Bishop's style. It opens: "Onward Blackjack Soldiers, Counting down the deck! Never be a loser, You can win your bet."

The Bishop has many thousands of followers who subscribe to his publications in the US and around the world. Recently I attended the Bishop's latest sermon at a high-powered gambling conference in Montreal. He got the whole room chanting: "Yo! Bish! Yo! Bish!" so enthusiastically and so noisily that the seminar in the lecture room next door spilled out to see what was going on.

Behind his irreverence, the Bish has a solid and learned grip on the game of blackjack, in all its manifold detail. His principle means of disseminating the Word is his quarterly magazine Blackjack Forum. It lists the best games, the latest in systems, letters, tips, new books, video and software reviews, and table conditions for casinos in 37 different countries.

As you can see, blackjack at this level is a serious business. Blackjack Forum is available on a 90-day trial from RGE Publishing, 414 Santa Clara Ave, Oakland, California 94610, or by credit-card on fax (510) 652 4330.

"I don't play much any more," the Bishop told me. "It's boring, the hours are too long and I don't have the time. All my efforts are concentrated on my publishing, which is going very well."

The Bishop's latest, most provocative offer in his sales catalogue proclaims: "Save Your Soul & 10%!" He explains he is bringing back the medieval practice of selling indulgences, so sadly dropped by conventional churches. The discount is on a new book, Blackjack Attack, price $23.50.

"Have you any message for your followers in England?" I inquired. The Bishop reflected a moment: "Send me your pounds," he said simply.