At one time, the general public widely believed that card counting was/is illegal. These thoughts came from watching movies where card counters wear goofy disguises, run from security, and get beat up in back rooms.
By now, more people know that card counting isn’t outlawed. This fact has spread across the internet and made the public much more aware than in years past.
If you’re like me, though, then you may wonder if counting cards is illegal anywhere. I’ll discuss this matter by covering more on the stigma surrounding card counting and if any gambling jurisdictions actually outlaw it.
What Created the Stigma That Card Counting Is Illegal?
Several factors exist behind the perception that card counting is against the law:
- Casinos can ask counters to quit playing.
- Casinos can ban counters.
- The general public doesn’t understand much about card counting.
- Movies reinforce the idea that it’s illegal.
Gambling establishments can and do exercise their right to stop people from counting cards. However, these powers don’t come from an actual law against advantage play.
In fact, advantage gamblers are free to beat casinos as long as they play within the parameters of real money blackjack. They’re only breaking the law when they manipulate the course of the game through devices, marking cards, etc.
The reason why casinos can ban advantage players is because they’re private businesses. They can legally refuse service to anybody so long as they’re not discriminating based on gender or race.
Of course, the general public doesn’t look this deeply into the matter. Some believe that casinos can boot card counters because this technique is illegal.
Hollywood doesn’t help matters either. They’ve create the idea that card counting is highly taboo without ever explaining the legal side of things.
Do Any Gambling Destinations Outlaw Card Counting?
Counting cards seems to be against the law, but it’s definitely not. I can’t find a single gambling jurisdiction that outlaws this advantage play method.
I’ve looked at gaming laws in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and various European countries. Each country/region allows advantage gambling under reasonable circumstances.
They don’t see skill-based play as being illegal in any capacity. If you’re good enough to beat a casino game, then you’re perfectly in the clear.
Perhaps a tiny and remote gambling jurisdiction exists that bans card counting. If such a place does exist, though, then I can’t locate it.
Some Native American casinos have more freedom over how they deal with advantage players. But even in these cases, the reservations don’t explicitly outlaw counting cards.
The law only concerns cheating the casino. Players aren’t allowed to legally uses devices, mark cards, collude with dealers, or use other unsavory methods to win.
Card counting doesn’t constitute cheating, because it does not require the introduction of devices or bending the rules. Instead, counters merely observe the game and use skill to win.
Have Card Counters Ever Been Prosecuted?
Card counting has never officially been illegal. But this fact hasn’t stopped some jurisdictions from bringing bogus charges against advantage players.
In a 1995 case entitled R v Zalis, Caesars Windsor tried suing the Tommy Hyland team. The team consisted of Christopher Zalis, Karen Conroy, and Barbara Dancey.
Assuming the shoe was hot, one or the other would signal Zalis to the table. He’d place big bets right away so that he merely looked like a high roller (i.e. big player strategy).
After watching the team rack up over $100,000 in the matter of a few days, Caesars Windsor began investigating their play.
They first tried claiming that the players were using illegal cheating devices (i.e. pop-off beaded necklaces). However, their legal team noted that Windsor, Ontario didn’t have any laws against using devices at the time (this quickly changed).
The casino changed its strategy to suggest that the team cheated by using hand signals. However, the jury ultimately determined that hand signals are part of fair and legitimate advantage gambling.
In the end, Caesars Windsor didn’t technically prosecute the Tommy Hyland team just for counting cards. But they did come up with inventive ways to go after the team.
What Can Casinos Legally Do to Counters?
Gambling establishments can’t prosecute people for counting cards alone. They can, however, use a variety of methods to throw suspected counters off or even remove them from the property.
Bring the Heat
The pit boss monitors table games to ensure that gamblers behave, dealers perform adequately, and no advantage gamblers are present. The last duty is key to this discussion.
Of course, card counters don’t have a blinking cursor pointing towards them. Therefore, the pit boss must make a judgement call before going after them.
If they suspect card counting, they may walk up to a table and casually observe the action. This action may be all that’s needed to back off a card counter.
If they notice large bet spreads (i.e. going from the table minimum to 15x or higher), they may begin chatting with the player in question. The talk may be friendly in nature, but it’s designed to scare the gambler off what they’re doing.
A pit boss doesn’t have to immediately escort a player off the property. They can use other measures to effectively neutralize the gambler instead.
Limiting bets is one way to ensure that a card counter can’t profit. For example, the pit boss may not allow a certain player to wager over $25.
Assuming the table minimum is $10, the counter can only increase their bet 2.5x. The latter isn’t enough to capitalize on favorable counts.
Additionally, the pit boss may ask the dealer to place the cut card sooner in the shoe. When the dealer shuffles earlier, this action prevents counters from getting deeper into the shoe where they can be more confident in their count.
Ask for an ID
The pit boss or security may ask for a player’s identification. They likely want to run the gambler’s information and find out if they’re an advantage player.
When the casino finds out that somebody is an advantage gambler, they’ll escort them out of the casino. However, the casino can’t force anybody to produce an ID without law enforcement present.
Take Players to the Back Room
Security may ask a gambler to go to a back room. They use this measure to keep the player on-property while running their details and/or waiting on police.
The latter is only necessary when somebody is suspected of cheating or committing another criminal offense. Of course, card counting doesn’t qualify under this category.
Ban a Player for Life
The final action against an advantage player involves issuing a lifetime ban. Such a move indicates that the casino definitely doesn’t want the gambler’s action any longer.
Of course, the gaming establishment can more easily pull off this feat when they have the player’s identification.
The casino will read the customer the trespassing act upon banning them. They’ll arrest said gambler if they attempt to return to any of the company’s properties.
Tips to Avoid Being Caught When Counting Cards
Card counting may not be illegal, but it sure feels so when considering all of the options that casinos have at their disposal.
The best thing you can do is take steps to avoid giving away your skills. Here are tips for camouflaging your counting abilities:
- Use a team – “Spotters” can identify a hot shoe and signal the big player. This practice eliminates the need to spread bets, which is the biggest tipoff to pit bosses.
- Hit and run – You don’t want to stay in the same casino all night. The pit boss will become suspicious if you keep winning.
- Don’t “wong in” – Most casinos have rules against mid-shoe entry (a.k.a. wonging in). Even if they don’t, though, you’ll give yourself away by counting off to the side and wonging in.
- Look normal – Unlike what movies suggest, card counters don’t wear disguises and goofy getups.
- Look for lenient casinos – Certain casinos are less concerned with card counting than others. You can find these venues with some research.
You’ll likely get caught a few times even if you’re excellent at camouflaging. When this happens, don’t show your ID under any circumstances. Casinos can enter you into a database that flags you as a known advantage player.
Card counting has never been and will never be against the law. You can freely count cards as long as gambling establishments don’t catch you.
Assuming the latter happens, though, then casinos have a legitimate right to boot and ban you. They draw this right from being a private business.
Luckily, you can take several steps to camouflage your play and lower the chances of being made. I heavily suggest researching camouflaging techniques and refusing to show identification if you are caught.
Remember: casinos aren’t law enforcement officers. They aren’t legally entitled to your ID—only the police are.