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Why Is Card Counting Illegal?

We look at the concept of card counting and explain what it is and where it stands from a legal viewpoint.

You only have to watch a couple of Hollywood flicks to realize how card counting has been made out to be a workable get-rich-quick scheme for anyone with an above-average IQ. However, it’s common sense not to take anything from the movies at face value. Whizz kids trying to beat the house using this age-old technique typically end up in trouble.

Sure, you won’t face jail time or anything like that for counting cards, but most casinos don’t take too kindly to patrons fumbling with their bottom line. This guide will explain what card counting is, whether or not you can do it, and if it’s legal in various jurisdictions.

What is Card Counting?

So, how exactly does card counting work? Simply put, counting cards is a basic strategy gamblers use to keep track of high and low-value cards dealt by the dealer. When counting cards, you assign a point value to each card, for instance, +1 for cards 2, 3, 4, 5. The value 0 is for cards 7, 8, and 9, and -1 for cards J, Q, K, and A.

Poker Table

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk:

Your running count starts at zero. As cards are revealed, you add or subtract from the running count using the outlined point system. Next, you divide the running count by the number of decks to establish the True Count.

The idea is to maintain awareness of the value of the cards in the shoe vs ones already dealt, allowing you to know whether you or the dealer is at an advantage. Players can raise the stakes when the odds are in their favor and lower them when the house is likely to win.

Why Is it Illegal to Count Cards?

Mentally tracking cards may seem like only a basic strategy, but according to casino operators, card counting constitutes cheating. In reality, counting cards is illegal in some jurisdictions and can get you kicked out of virtually all casinos. Here’s why card counting is illegal.

Undermines Casino Profitability

As mentioned, card counting removes the house edge and disrupts the casino’s profitability. This isn’t really a bad thing as far as players are concerned, but gambling establishments reserve the right to enforce house rules. Counting cards reduces the element of luck required to win, and casinos generally penalize such strategies.

Is Unfair to Other Players

Gambling is primarily supposed to be a fun pastime that accommodates all casino patrons. When the playing field is manipulated by a few crafty individuals who count cards, it becomes unfair to other players who rely on luck to determine the outcome. That’s especially true for newbies, as professional card counters have the odds stacked in their favor.

Creates Disputes

Anytime card counting is involved, equal opportunity goes out the window, and disputes arise.  It becomes a warzone when players at the table feel they’re being swindled and may begin acting belligerent. In worst cases, some players start physically assaulting casino employees, which may require police officers to intervene. Such disorderly conduct ultimately tarnished the casino’s image.

Compromises the Game’s Reputation

While some skill is needed to play a card game, such as blackjack, luck also has a lot to do with the outcome. Card counting puts the game’s fairness into question, tainting the game’s reputation and how it’s perceived by gamblers. Worse still, counting cards not only affects the reputation of this card game, but the casino also catches flack and loses public trust.

Causes Collusions

Successful card counters are seldom a one-man show but more effective when multiple players at the table come together to beat the house.  As such, most casinos have security measures to sniff out card counting rings, including high-tech cameras and casino security guards to monitor proceedings and deter table hopping.

What Happens If You Get Caught Counting Cards

Card counting is technically considered cheating by gambling control authorities, and has relatively severe repercussions. If you’re caught counting cards, the casino may take action against you. Below are the most common implications you’re likely to face.

Why Is Card Counting Illegal?

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Get a Warning

Casinos handle card counters differently based on their respective handbooks and security measures. When found card counting at lenient casinos, you may get off with just a verbal warning. However, it depends on the figure involved, and if you’re a first-time offender.

Confiscation of Winnings

If you’re caught card counting, your winnings will likely be confiscated. The casino has you down to rights for breaching house rules. As such, any prior pending payouts will be revoked if the casino can prove that counting cards was at play.

Banned from the Casino

Casinos are technically private property, so they have every right to eject you when caught card counting. Hopping into the next casino may not be an option when you’re caught counting cards, as you can be blacklisted at all other casinos.

Legal Consequences

As mentioned, casinos are technically private property, so you have no recourse if they decide not to serve you. Forcing yourself onto the premises constitutes casino trespassing, an offense that can get you some jail time. You’ll need a criminal defense lawyer on speed dial to get out of this one.

Increased monitoring and surveillance

Some casinos may not ban you from their private property for counting cards but automatically classify you as a high-risk gamer. That means all your future interactions at the premises are taken with a pinch of salt, and you’ll enjoy increased monitoring and surveillance from high-tech cameras.

Disqualified from Clubs, Promotions, and Games

When caught card counting, you may be booted out of Player clubs and lose out on associated lavish perks. You’ll also be prohibited from participating in player promotions and playing certain games that bring out the card counter in you.

Is Card Counting Illegal in Vegas?

Even with card counting considered illegal by casinos, it actually isn’t. As much as gambling control authorities are against it, there are no state laws suggesting that card counting is a criminal offense. You can’t face jail time for counting cards, but other scenarios surrounding the activity may get you behind bars.

Casino trespassing, physically assaulting casino employees, and disorderly conduct will get you arrested. Also, while the law doesn’t mention card counting, it prohibits using electronic and mechanical means to give you an unfair advantage in a casino. You can get away with using your brain for counting cards, but employing other means will get you arrested in most casinos.

Is it Illegal to Count Cards at Online Casinos?

Counting cards is technically considered cheating at online casinos just as it is at land-based establishments. However, online casinos are already one step ahead of casino patrons who count cards. They employ continuous shuffle machines for virtual games, rendering card counting ineffective.

Live Blackjack Game

Live dealer games, on the other hand, may present a loophole for players to count cards. However, the deck penetration, which is the amount of cards the dealer cuts off relative to the dealt cards, is too low for card counting. Yes, you may improve your odds, but increasing your wagers when the True Count is high in a way that’s worth it can be very risky.

Increase your odds over casinoNeeds lots of cash to start
Allow you to place profitable wagersDifficult to master
Not fun
Low returns
You’ll be caught out
You may be banned

Card counting is popular because it works for some players. However, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Let’s walk through the benefits and drawbacks of counting cards.

Improve odds in a game

Card counting players refrain from playing hands when they don’t have a statistical advantage. When done right, it allows you to beat the house edge and improve your winning chances.

Can be a profitable strategy

Players can raise the stakes when the odds are in their favor to boost potential outcomes. For example, if things are bad, they keep the minimum bet at $5. The moment odds are in their favor, they can up the stake to $25 for maximum returns.

Low Profit Margins

Some card counting rings have managed to scoop millions by employing this strategy. However, they are the exception to the rule because profit margins for counting cards are pretty thin. Unless you have a massive starting bankroll, you’re unlikely to get a lot.

Difficult to Master

It takes a certain level of mental aptitude and an exceptional memory to recall values you assign to cards. That’s why you typically see savant-level nerds doing it in the movies, and some players may resort to electronic and mechanical means to count cards.

Need Substantial Cash to Start

If you decide to count cards, you need a healthy bankroll to back it up. You can only tilt the odds in your favor by a couple of percentages. It’s unlikely that you’ll start raking in the big bucks right away, and may have to wait weeks or even months to see any monetary advantage.

Not as Fun

Contrary to popular belief, manipulating a game’s cards to beat the house isn’t all that exciting. With non mechanical cheating, you invest a lot of time to keep track of the running count and work through the card values. Where’s the fun in that?

Legal Casino Strategies Similar to Card Counting

Instead of resorting to card counting, why not adopt unquestionable playing strategies to help your game without having to hire a criminal defense lawyer down the line? Try out the following:

Claim Bonuses

Rather than indulging in non mechanical cheating like counting cards, claiming casino bonuses will get you ahead with no drama. Online casinos are happy to offer lucrative bonuses to boost your bankroll right from the jump.

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Play high RTP games

Being yanked off the casino premises because of cheating can’t be any fun. It’s humiliating and embarrassing. Keep it clean by playing high RTP card games where the odds will eventually be in your favor if you’re patient enough.

Gamble Responsibly

You won’t have to cheat if you simply wager responsibly by practicing good bankroll management. That involves setting a gambling limit, walking away from your losses, and taking a break if the odds aren’t in your favor.

Play Familiar Games

To increase your winning chances, you’re better off playing card games you’re already familiar with. Playing games you know eliminates having to endure steep learning curves that may force you to “get creative” with your gaming strategies and resort to underhand tactics to win.

Pick a Legitimate Strategy

Card games come with all sorts of legit strategies, including the Martingale System, Paroli System, and Fibonacci System. These are above-board card gaming strategies that won’t see you receiving dirty looks from casino employees and other players.

Final Words

To count cards or not? It’s up to you. The ageless strategy has been used by players to tilt the odds in their favor while playing card casino games. It’s very much legal in Vegas, and it works, but it’s still considered cheating because the strategy affects a casino’s feasibility and fairness with other players.

Your chances of becoming a millionaire because of it are slim to zero, as the returns aren’t exactly mind-blowing. Rather, you risk being kicked out of the casino, having your winnings confiscated, and getting blacklisted from gambling for good. Whether you decide to count cards or not is your call, but we reckon you’re better off leaving this strategy to the movie industry.