Casinos typically hold a statistical advantage over all casino games. Despite many gamblers striking it lucky, casinos enjoy a healthy profit due to the many more who leave with empty pockets. Amongst the incredible array of games available, Blackjack is the one game where gamblers can enjoy a statistical advantage with the right strategy. This strategy involves counting cards, leaving many players asking, is counting cards illegal

Also known as Twenty-One, Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games globally. The goal is to beat the dealer and attempt to get your score as close to 21 points worth of cards. The dealer has a relatively simple task of following the betting rules strictly, while gamblers have the freedom to pursue the strategy of their choice. For dedicated Blackjack lovers, this strategy involves counting cards.

Contrary to popular belief, counting cards is not difficult, and anybody can master it with enough practice. Gamblers who play Blackjack exploit a weakness in the application of the game that doesn’t form part of the Blackjack rules. These rules make no mention of dealing multiple hands from the same pre-shuffled stack, and this is what makes card counting a possibility. Gamblers who use a card counting strategy to play the game exactly how the casino offers it, and with skill, can beat the casino at their own game. 

The house may occasionally beat you, but you are certain to win more often over the long term. Incredibly, Blackjack is the only casino game that can be consistently beaten, with the casino being almost helpless. 

Is Counting Cards Illegal?

So, is counting cards illegal? In actual fact, it is legal. However, it is not popular with establishments as it violates an unwritten rule of the house, i.e. the casino ALWAYS has the edge. Casinos, therefore, take matters into their own hands when they encounter gamblers who use the card counting strategy to circumvent the house edge. These measures include barring players from the casino and harassing card counters in the hope that the atmosphere becomes unbearable and they choose to play elsewhere. 

How Does It Work?

In a typical Blackjack game played with a single deck of cards, the casino’s house edge is essentially zero. This means that if a gambler plays with a card-counting strategy, he or she might break even in the long run. Although that does not sound appealing, Blackjack is the only table game that can give advantageous odds to its players and incentivise them to employ card counting. Card counting means keeping a count of specific cards while the dealer goes through the deck. 

By keeping an accurate count, gamblers can predict with a fair amount of accuracy which cards are more likely to come up for both them and the dealer in the following hand. This is precisely the information that gamblers need to gauge to know when to bet big and when to bet small. It is a disadvantage to have more low-numbered cards remaining in the deck. That would suggest that there is less likelihood of getting a Blackjack score.

Moreover, it is less likely that the dealer will bust his cards, i.e. surpass 21 points worth of cards, due to the game’s firm betting rules.

Conversely, it’s beneficial to players when more high-numbered cards remain in the pack. Counting cards can improve a gambler’s odds by approximately 1 percent if played correctly. As low as this sounds, if gamblers invest many hours in the strategy and play more hands of cards, they can be assured of rolling into a profit. If a gambler plays a basic strategy and flat bet, i.e. the same wager on each hand, the casino will enjoy an edge of approximately 1%. Card counters usually watch for specific situations that occasionally arise during the game where the gambler is favoured. Once this favourable condition arises, they bump their bets to take advantage of these situations. 

Gamblers sometimes vary this strategy by playing in teams. A team of counters typically spreads out amongst the tables, observing for favourable situations that can be leveraged. Casinos refer to it as trolling. When the stacked cards are favourable, the trolls will signal a big player to join the favourable table and make large bets. This strategy entails the big player switching tables randomly. Casinos are too wary of this strategy and will not hesitate to remove gamblers for that kind of behaviour, irrespective of whether card counting is involved. The house assumes that most players would not engage in that kind of behaviour unless they are card counting. 


How Casinos Attempt To Stifle Card Counting

Casinos can easily deter card counters by making the game boring. This is usually accomplished by taking away their advantage. This can be detrimental to the casino’s profits as it may also steer regular players away from the Blackjack tables. This card-counting strategy can be counteracted in the following ways: The casino shuffles manually after each hand. This, however, slows down the game and consequently reduces casino winnings on the game that already gives the casino a relatively small house edge. 

The casino may also use automatic shuffling machines. However, they are not popular as gamblers claim that they destroy the atmosphere of playing Blackjack and are persuaded to play other games. This method makes card counting impractical, and the only plays that can be made are choosing between standing or hitting 16 against a ten under most circumstances. If the deck resets, the shoe will never be favourable for a player to raise bets. The casino can make the rules worse to increase the house’s edge. These worsening of rules include: 

  • Remove doubling after a split
  • Remove late surrender

Regular players know that bad rules equate to lower winnings, leading to discouraged gamblers opting not to play. Casinos may set the cut card earlier than normal. Typical gamblers might not bother about deck penetration, which is how many cards are being played at a given time, but this is extremely important to card counters and their strategy. The more cards played before a reshuffle, the better the opportunity for winning. Casinos are known to interfere with the table’s min/max wager limits or set a specific rule just for a player who they suspect is card counting. They may tell you that you can only make certain amounts, and they may also alter the bet limits. 

Why Is Card Counting Perceived As Illegal?

Numerous factors exist that make people believe that the answer is yes when considering the question. This is because of the following: 

  • Casinos may ask counters to quit playing, making people believe this strategy is unlawful.
  • They are also at liberty to ban counters, reinforcing the belief that card counting is unlawful.
  • The general public doesn’t have a good understanding of card counting.
  • Many movies emphasise the idea that card counting is illegal.

As much as casinos can and do exercise their right to halt people from counting cards, these powers don’t originate from any law against advantage play. On the contrary, advantage gamblers can beat the casino’s house edge, provided they play within the game’s parameters. The only time a gambler would participate unlawfully is when they manipulate the course of the game through devious methods such as devices and marking cards. 

Casinos can ban card counting players because they are private businesses that can legally refuse service to anyone, provided they are not discriminating against gamblers based on gender or race. Many who don’t understand this vehemently believe that casinos can eject card counters purely because this technique is illegal, and that is sadly misguided. The movies have exacerbated the matter by creating the idea that card counting is extremely taboo without legal explanation. 


How Do Casinos Counteract Card Counting

In asking if counting cards are illegal, consider that although casinos cannot prosecute gamblers for counting cards exclusively, they employ various methods to throw suspected card counters off or even remove them from the casino. 

Stringent Monitoring

Table games are constantly monitored to ensure that gamblers are behaving, dealers perform adequately, and no gamblers that use a card counting strategy are active. Casinos must be careful not to single out players incorrectly and make a judgment call before approaching them with their suspicions. Their approach is designed to scare the card-counting gambler off what they’re doing and unnerve their concentration levels. 

Wager Limits

Casinos often use other measures to effectively neutralise card-counting gamblers, like restricting bets to lower the profits of the card counter. Additionally, the dealer may shuffle earlier as this prevents card counters from getting deeper into the shoe, where they can be more assured in their card-counting prowess. 

Request Identification

The casino may ask for a player’s identification and will likely want to run the gambler’s information for verification. If the person is flagged as a card counter, the casino is free to eject the player from the casino. 

Issue The Gambler With A Ban

Some casinos take a hard stance on known card counters and issue them with either temporary or permanent bans. The casino typically spells out the reasons for banning them. 

How Gamblers Avoid Being Spotted While Counting

While the answer to the question of whether counting cards is illegal may be no, it certainly feels so when considering all of the options that casinos have to maintain their superior house edge. It is, therefore, advisable for gamblers to take the necessary steps to avoid giving away their skills. To camouflage card-counting capabilities, gamblers sometimes use the following techniques: 

  • They work in a team that uses Spotters to identify a hot shoe and signal the main player. This technique eliminates the need to spread bets and can be done covertly.
  • Gamblers employ the Hit and Run method, where they don’t stick at one casino for a prolonged period. This avoids raising suspicions, especially when they are on a hot streak.
  • Players who employ card counting at Blackjack frequent lenient casinos that are known amongst their circles. Some casinos are less concerned with card counting than others, and these remain popular choices for the card-counting community.

Always remember that casinos can file your details into a central database that flags any specific gambler as a known card counter. 

The Bottom Line

Is counting cards illegal? No, it’s perfectly legal and can be learned with lots of practice. It has never been and will never be against the law in the foreseeable future. Gamblers across the globe have the freedom to count cards as long as casinos are not aware of your strategy. It is important to remember that casinos have a legitimate right to eject and ban you from their casino if they discover you are doing this. They derive this right from operating a private business. 

Fortunately, you can equip yourself sufficiently to camouflage your play and lower the chances of being spotted. Basic Blackjack strategy and card counting are difficult skills to master. Even when gamblers are on a hot streak, the profitability from card counting is relatively small, while the accidental switches of fortune can be ruthless. Blackjack card counting appears further down the list regarding the various ways to beat casino games and walk away with your pockets full. If your objective is to gamble with an advantage in a casino, then there are much quicker and easier ways to achieve that than blackjack card counting. 

The flip side, however, is that Blackjack players devote many hours to practising card counting. Because of this, they get a sense of satisfaction from watching their hours of dedicated learning come to fruition, culminating in them profiting from the casino. No other casino game strategy comes close to a Blackjack Card Counter’s satisfaction after a winning streak. Have fun practising, and good luck with your strategy!