What Does It Mean When a Casino “Backs Off” a Player?

Closeup of a Man in a Suit Holding Playing Cards

You’ll sometimes hear that someone has been “backed off” by a casino.

Being backed off isn’t the same thing as being banned or barred, but it’s a preliminary step in that direction.

In this post, I explain what the expression “backing off” means in a casino and what you should do if a casino backs you off.

Getting Backed Off by the Casino

Casinos love slot machine players.

They love any gambler who’s willing to place a sucker bet, too – whether it’s at the craps table, the roulette table, or on a progressive slot machine game.

And if you’re hoping for a big jackpot, those are the games you will probably play.

If that’s you, don’t worry about getting backed off by the casino. They love you and want you to keep playing.

Real money blackjack players, on the other hand, are playing a game with the lowest house edge in the casino.

This means that the mathematical edge that the casino enjoys over the player is smaller than it is for other games.

Worse yet for the casino, some gamblers are able to get a mathematical edge over the house by counting cards or using some other kind of advantage gambling technique.

These are the gamblers who risk getting backed off by the casino.

And the definition of the phrase “backed off” is simple:

It just means that the casino won’t accept any more of your action. In some cases, they’ll limit the size of your bets or require you to flat bet.

You can avoid getting backed off even if you’re an advantage player, though.

How to Avoid Getting Backed Off by the Casino

Card counters get their edge by ranging the size of their bets based on how advantageous the deck is.

If the cards left in the deck include more 10s and aces than usual, you have a better probability of getting a “natural” or “blackjack,” which pays off at 3 to 2.

It makes sense to get more money into action then.

But raising and lowering the size of your bets is something a casino can easily observe, and they know what it means.

The bigger your bet range, the more money you stand to make, but you’ll also attract more attention.

The last time I counted cards in a casino, I was betting between $10 and $100, depending on the count.

But that’s a betting range of between 1 and 10 units, which is too much for the casino. It attracts too much attention.

Ace and King of Diamonds

Smarter advantage gamblers limit their “betting spread” to between 1 and 4 units.

In my case, that would have meant limiting my bets to between $10 and $40 depending on the count.

They’re less likely to back you off over this.

Also, if you’re going to count cards, don’t use a players club card. You don’t want them to track you and permanently ban you as a card counter. Trespassing charges are no fun.

Another way to avoid getting backed off is to make occasional mistakes and play games where you definitely don’t have an edge. Dedicated card counters won’t make mistakes, and they never play games like craps or roulette.

By doing both or either of these, you’re camouflaging the fact that you’re an advantage gambler.

The trick is to avoid making so many camouflage bets that you eliminate your edge. If you do that, you’re not an advantage gambler anymore.

What Should I Do if the Casino Backs Me Off?

Even if you do everything right, the casino might back you off. It’s important to not lose your cool in this situation. Don’t collapse into a pool of angry tears, and don’t abuse the casino personnel.

Arguing with the staff at the casino won’t help. Once the pit boss has made his decision, he won’t change it based on your arguments – no matter how reasonable they might seem.

In fact, if you create a scene or get into an argument, getting backed off could turn into getting banned from the casino.

Getting banned is bad news, because at that point, you’re no longer welcome in the casino. If you go back, you can be arrested for trespassing.

Counting cards isn’t illegal, but trespassing is.

If you get backed off, get out of the casino as fast as possible. You don’t want the casino to have time to take surreptitious photographs of you. You also don’t want to give the staff any more time than possible to remember your face.

In fact, just keep your chips in your pocket. You can cash those out later or send someone else to cash them out for you. The more time you spend in the casino after getting backed off, the worse it is for you.

Casinos are paranoid about card counters.

And there are only so many casinos to target, so do your best to avoid being eliminated from any of them.

Other Action Casinos Might Take Against a Card Counter

Casinos don’t always back off card counters. When I was counting cards at Harrahs in Kansas City, they just started shuffling the deck after every hand. This eliminated any edge I could get from counting.

Sometimes casinos will decide that you’re too good at a game to keep getting comps using your players club card. This won’t apply to most advantage players, but it’s something that could happen to so-called “comp hustlers” or “comp wizards.”

These kinds of gamblers have read and understand Max Rubin’s book Comp City, in which he explains how to combine perfect basic strategy with the comps program at the casino to create a positive expectation situation.

Readers of The Frugal Gambler by Jean Scott also risk getting negative attention from the casino. In that book, she explains how to combine your comps and rebates from the players club with the best paytables in video poker and the best strategy to get an edge over the casino.

Most of the online casinos where this is possible only offer such low stakes games that advantage play isn’t worth the effort. After all, if your expected win per hour is less than minimum wage, why bother.

One of the perks of being in the players club is getting special offers in the mail. If the casino suspects you of being too skilled a gambler, they’ll add you to the “do not invite” list, which means you’ll no longer get these special offers in the mail.

Online Casinos and Getting Labeled a Bonus Abuser

Online casinos offer free money in the form of signup bonuses. Years ago, smart gamblers were able to create positive expectation situations for themselves by abusing these bonuses.

Here’s how it was done:

You’d sign up at a casino that was offering a $200 bonus when you made your first deposit of $100.

You have a bankroll of $300.

You then place 60 bets at the blackjack table at $5 each. With perfect basic strategy, the house edge is only 0.5%, so you’re only expecting to lose $1.50 on that amount of action.

Now you have $298.50, which you would then cash out.

Your profit is $198.50.

But the casinos caught on to that quick.

Closeup of Blackjack Table and Cards

They instituted wagering requirements, or playthrough requirements, that mandated you to wager your deposit plus your bonus a specific number of times before cashing out. Those wagering requirements have gotten more stringent over the years.

A common wagering requirement is 35X your deposit plus bonus, which would mean you’d need to make $10,500 in wagers before cashing out.

That’s still not a big loss if you’re playing perfect strategy blackjack, though – it’s only an expected loss of just over $50, which means potential profit for the player.

To combat that, online casinos started eliminating games from counting toward those wagering requirements.

Or they’d discount how much the wagers counted – a common tactic is for blackjack wagers to only count as 10% toward your wagering requirement.

This would mean you’d have to wager $105,000 and have an expected loss of over $500 before being able to cash out.

Since you’re starting bankroll is only $300, the wagering requirements would give you a negative expectation of walking away a winner.

And even if you’re able to figure out a way to get around such stringent measures, most online casinos have a catch-all clause in their terms and conditions aimed at running off bonus abusers.

These clauses usually give the casino ultimate authority deciding whether a gambler is abusing the bonus offer – even if they have followed the letter of the law in the terms and requirements.

This is the online equivalent of getting backed off.

Conclusion

Getting backed off at a casino isn’t that bad. Just be smart about how you handle it.

Some card counters wear getting backed off as a badge of honor. I had a counter tell me one time that I wasn’t really a card counter until a casino had backed me off.

But, still – if you can avoid being backed off, it’s better to do so.