Is Blackjack Spooking Legal?

Statue of Lady Justice and a Blackjack Table

Blackjack is the most popular game among advantage players. It can be beaten through a variety of ways, including card counting, shuffle tracking, ace sequencing, and hole carding.

The casino will throw out any players whom they catch successfully using any of these techniques. However, each of these methods is at least legal and won’t get one sent to jail.

Other strategies for beating blackjack are more questionable. Spooking, for example, falls into the murky category.

Unlike marking cards or colluding with the dealer, spooking doesn’t come off as being blatantly illegal. I’ll discuss more on this technique along with if it’s ultimately legal to use in blackjack.

What Is Spooking?

In a real money blackjack game, the dealer receives two cards—one up card and one face-down card—to start each round. You can use the up card in combination with your cards to determine whether to hit, stand, split, or double down.

You’re not supposed to know the value of the dealer’s face-down card (a.k.a. hole card). Therefore, you’re dealing with incomplete information when making decisions.

Spooking Is a method of finding out the dealer’s hole card so that you have more information to act on. It involves two people, including one who sits at a table and plays hands, and another who tries seeing the face-down card’s value.

The latter person stands off to the side of the game, in a position where they can better spot the dealer’s face-down card. They use hand signals or gestures to relay the information to the gambler.

Closeup of a Blackjack Hand and an Orange Table

Spooking can also involve a dealer who colludes with a gambler. The croupier must peek for the hole card value whenever they have an ace or 10 up card.

They can make an indiscreet gesture to let the player know their hole card. Dealer-player collusion is obviously illegal, so I’ll avoid discussing it throughout the rest of the post.

How Does Spooking Differ From Hole Carding?

Spooking bears many similarities to hole carding. The latter also involves trying to figure out the dealer’s hole card.

However, here are the key differences with hole carding:

  • It can be used by a solo player or a team.
  • Nobody stands off to the side of the table.
  • It’s clearly advantage gambling rather than a murky technique like spooking.

Simply put, hole carders always sit and play a blackjack game. They don’t need an accomplice who watches the dealer from afar, because they look for the hole card values themselves.

This Technique Requires Great Skill

Spooking might sound like an easy way to make money. You just need somebody who can sit stand in a way that they can see the dealer’s hole cards, right?

Actually, spookers must not only be good at seeing the face-down card but also evading detection. They need to be extremely discreet about looking at the hole cards and also when signaling the player.

Casino surveillance is very adept at catching skilled gamblers. They have no trouble spotting transparent hand signals and obvious attempts to see cards.

Those who don’t practice and work out infallible techniques beforehand risk being discovered. Therefore, any good blackjack team has to hone their skills before hitting the casino.

The person who is monitoring the dealer especially must be on top of their game. They should be adept at seeing the hole card from afar and properly relaying the value without drawing attention to themselves.

What’s the Legality of Spooking?

In answer to the original question posed at the start, no, spooking is not legal. Casinos have the right to kick you out and also prosecute you afterward.

Now, you may wonder why hole carding is legal and spooking isn’t. The answer lies in where the participants are located.

All hole carding takes place at the table. Gamblers rely on their own skills and observations to figure out the hole card and make money.

Spooking, meanwhile, mainly relies on somebody who’s not even at the blackjack table. Instead, the person watching the dealer is considered a cheater.

You’re not going to spend years in prison as a first-time offender who gets busted for spooking. However, you’ll definitely face legal repercussions of some kind when caught.

Why Do People Still Use This Method?

Spooking certainly isn’t desirable from a legal standpoint. Therefore, you might wonder why one doesn’t just opt for a safer way of beating blackjack.

I definitely suggest going to the legal route if you want to win profits in the casino. But spooking does have its merits when compared to other strategies.

You do need skill to properly pull off this technique. However, you don’t have to be as skilled as, say, a hole carder or shuffle tracker.

The latter pursuits involve putting countless hours into winning. Spooking also requires some preparation and practice, but it doesn’t demand the same amount of dedication.

Gold Coast Busy Casino Floor

Moreover, the watcher is the only person who really needs to be skilled. The player at the table, meanwhile, just needs to read the signals or gestures and act accordingly.

Spooking is also a very successful technique when properly pulled off. You don’t have to wait for a dealer who flashes their cards. You just need somebody who can spot the dealer’s hole card when they check for a natural blackjack or pluck the card from the shoe.

Again, spooking is an extremely risky technique that could put you behind bars for a short while. But it’s also fruitful and relatively easy to manage when compared to more complicated strategies.

Legal Ways to Beat Blackjack

You likely aren’t thrilled about risking prosecution to beat blackjack. Therefore, you might consider the following legal advantage gambling methods instead.

Card Counting

Card counting is by far the most popular way to beat the casino. Gamblers have been using this strategy for decades to win profits.

It involves watching each card as it comes out of the shoe and assigning a point value to it. Here are the card groups along with their associated point values:

  • A through 10 (high cards) = +1
  • 9 through 7 (neutral cards) = 0
  • 6 through 2 (low cards) = -1

The goal is to determine when there’s a positive count and increase your bets at this point. You also benefit more when the count is positive later in the shoe.

With more deck penetration, you can have more confidence in your accounts. After all, a +3 count is more trustworthy 75% of the way through the shoe versus just 10%.

Many different card counting systems exist. But you should definitely start out with the simple and reliable Hi-Lo, which is explained here.

Shuffle Tracking

Shuffle tracking begins with card counting. You count cards until the dealer stops the game to shuffle.

The point of card counting in this situation is to determine which part of the shoe—dealt or undealt portion—features a positive count:

Here’s an example:

  • You’re playing at a table with an eight-deck shoe.
  • The dealer goes through six decks (75% penetration) before shuffling.
  • Your count is -3 when the dealer shuffles.
  • Therefore, the undealt two decks feature a +3 count and are favorable.
  • You track these two decks as the dealer breaks them into piles and begins shuffling.

Shuffle tracking brings an added element to card counting by calling on you to visually track favorable card piles. With enough skill, you can track the favorable clumps and bet more when these “slugs” are dealt.

This strategy has an advantage over card counting, because it’s harder to detect by pit bosses.

Hole Carding

I briefly covered hole carding earlier, but I’ll go over it again in this section. This technique involves trying to see the dealer’s hole card.

The biggest step toward successful hole carding involves finding a dealer that accidentally flashes their face-down cards. These dealers are rare and usually only show hole cards due to a lack of experience and/or skill.

After finding such a croupier, you need to sit in a way that allows you to see the dealer’s hole card. Here are the seats you would take in a blackjack game:

  • First base (seat to dealer’s immediate left) – Sit here if the dealer is right-handed.
  • A right-handed croupier usually peels the card up and towards the first-base side.
  • Third base (seat to dealer’s immediate right) – Sit here if the croupier is left-handed.
  • A left-handed croupier usually peels the card up and towards the third-base side.

Basically, you just need to be where the croupier would logically flash their hole card. For example, they’re more likely to show it to third base when they’re left-handed.

You also need to be discreet when looking at the dealer’s hole card. This matter involves slouching so that you’re lower to the table without making it obvious what you’re trying to do.

Conclusion

Unlike the advantage play methods covered here, spooking isn’t legal. It’s an underhanded technique that relies on somebody who’s not even at the table.

One might think that they’re being clever when looking at the dealer’s hole cards from a distance. But they’re actually breaking gaming laws in any jurisdiction.

Spooking will still remain a popular strategy to beat the casinos thanks to its ease of use and success rate. However, it also requires taking a considerable degree of legal risk.

Assuming you want to avoid being busted for cheating, you should use a legal advantage gambling strategy. Enough of the latter exists to where you don’t need to cheat.