Culture and Society

Is card counting illegal?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Counting cards was originally developed by mathematicians and analyzed in academic journals. However, there are simple card-counting systems that nongeeks can use. The most commonly used card-counting system is to give a value from -1 through +1 to a card.

    • Twos through sixes have a +1 value.
    • Tens through aces have a -1 value.
    • Sevens through nines have a 0 value.

    Starting from zero, keep a running count of the cards no longer in play. The higher your count, the more low cards have been discarded. So this means the odds are greater that the next card will have a high point value. The lower the count means most of the high cards have already been played. You can use this information to make good bets based on the likelihood that you can pull a winning hand.

    Since blackjack is based on the odds of certain cards coming up, counting cards is a natural extension of basic blackjack strategy. Casinos have tried to have card counting made illegal, but the courts have disagreed. Still, that doesn't mean casinos have to like card counting. Casinos are private property and they can throw you out if they like. If a casino thinks you're winning too much, regardless of whether they can attribute that winning to card counting, they can toss you out. If you get a bad enough reputation, casinos might circulate your photo to other casinos and they'll all ban you.

    A recent court decision in Nevada upheld casinos' rights to ban card counters. A man named Steven Silverstein sued Harrah's after he was escorted from the blackjack table of one of the company's Las Vegas casinos in 2009 [source: Chereb]. Silverstein admitted to counting certain cards, and Harrah's said it bans card counting in its facilities. The state Supreme Court upheld the casino's right to deny a person access to the gaming property's company, regardless of whether card counting is legal. One card counter said that pretending to be slightly drunk and having enough fun to apparently not care much about winning helps card counters stay in the game longer [source: Haney]. Others resort to disguises so they won't be recognized by pit bosses.

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