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 and this leaves 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 beliefs, 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 precisely what makes card counting a possibility.
Gamblers who use 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 happens to be 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 game of blackjack that is 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, in the long-run, he or she might break even. Although that does not sound appealing, Blackjack is the only table-game that can give such advantageous odds to its players and incentivize them to employ card counting.
In ordinary terms, 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.
If played correctly, counting cards can improve a gambler’s odds by approximately 1 percent. 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 would enjoy an edge of approximately 1%. Card counters usually watch for specific situations that arise occasionally during the game where the gambler is favored. Once this favorable condition arises, they bump up their bets in an effort 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 favorable situations that can be leveraged. Casinos refer to it as trolling. When the stacked cards are favorable, the trolls will signal a big player to join the favorable table and make large bets. This strategy entails the big player switching tables randomly.
Casinos are all too wary of this kind of strategy, and will not hesitate to remove gamblers for that kind of behavior, irrespective of whether card counting is involved. The house always assumes that most players would not engage in that kind of behavior 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 profits of the casino as it may also steer regular players away from the Blackjack tables. This strategy of card counting can actually 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, although they are not popular as gamblers claim that they destroy the atmosphere of playing Blackjack and are persuaded to play other games. This method essentially makes card counting impractical and the only plays that can be made are choosing between standing or hitting 16 against a 10, under most circumstances. If the deck resets, then the shoe will never be favorable for a player to raise bets.
The casino can make the rules worse to increase the house edge. These worsening of rules include:
- Remove doubling after a split
- Remove late surrender
Regular players know that bad rules equate to lower winnings and this leads 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 that are played before a reshuffle means the opportunity for winning is better.
Casinos are known to interfere with the min/max wager limits on the table, 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 of is counting cards illegal? This is because:
- Casinos may ask counters to quit playing, which makes people believe that this strategy is unlawful.
- They are also at liberty to ban counters, and this again reinforces the belief that card counting is unlawful.
- The general public doesn’t have a good understanding of card counting.
- Many movies emphasize 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 have the freedom to beat the casino’s house edge provided they play within the parameters of the game. The only time that a gambler would participate unlawfully is when they manipulate the course of the game through devious methods such as devices and marking cards.
Casinos have the authority to ban card counting players because they are private businesses that can legally refuse service to anyone, provided they are not discriminating 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 as they have created the idea that card counting is extremely taboo without any legal explanation.
How Do Casinos Counteract Card Counting
In asking, is counting cards illegal, consider that although casinos cannot prosecute gamblers for counting cards exclusively, they do employ a variety of methods to throw suspected card counters off or even remove them from the casino.
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 wary not to single out players incorrectly and must 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.
Casinos often use other measures to effectively neutralize 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.
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 at liberty 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 is counting cards illegal may be no, it certainly feels so when considering all of the options that casinos have at their disposal 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 usually 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 bear in mind that casinos can file your personal 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 though. 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 inadvertent switches of fortune can be ruthless.
Blackjack card counting appears further down the list when it comes to 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 practicing card counting. Because of this, they get a sense of satisfaction from watching their hours of dedicated learning come to fruition and 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 practicing and good luck with your strategy!