Every blackjack player knows, or should know, that a large gray area exists where the subject of card counting is concerned. The casinos would prefer that everyone think card counting is illegal, but is this really so? Card counting when playing blackjack is a matter which has been debated in the very halls of the Supreme Court of the United States. While some rulings have helped to clarify the matter, the legalities of card counting are still very much in question.
Professional card counters have championed the rights of the blackjack player with some success, claiming that card counting is a skill like any other. As such, they claim that the casinos cannot infringe upon the rights of a card counter. One thing is for certain. The battle between the casinos and the players over the legalities of card counting has not seen its final battle yet.
Is Card Counting Illegal?
Counting Edge must state up front that we are not attorneys, and in no way is the information presented on this website to be construed as legal advice. If you find yourself in a legal matter arising from your card counting activities, you should seek the advice of an attorney who is experienced in gambling law.
Answering the question Is card counting illegal? is somewhat difficult, but the most appropriate answer at this moment in time is: as long as a card counter is only using his intellect and nothing of a mechanical nature to count cards, the act of card counting is not illegal.
The defining line thus far has been the use of any type of computer or mechanical device to assist in counting cards. Using a device most definitely is illegal according to the courts. Some professional players have been caught using wearable computers and prosecuted with success.
If you are only using your mind to count cards then the current law does not regard this as illegal.
How Do The Casinos Get Away With Banning Card Counters?
If card counting is not illegal, how do the casinos get away with banning a suspected counter from their property? They can do this because in the eyes of the law a casino is private property. Think of the casino as you would your own home. Because you own your home, you have the right to exclude anyone you choose from being a guest. The casino has the same right. It is their house and they can decide who is welcome and who is not. Some would claim this is discrimination, but it is not because the casino does not automatically ban or refuse everyone of a specific group.
If you enter private property after you have been asked not to, this is criminal trespassing. Trespassing can be successfully prosecuted. If you have ever been banned from a casino for card counting, returning to that casino does indeed break the law and you will be charged with trespassing.
A technique that was used for many years by the casinos was called “backrooming.” Backrooming was the practice of forcibly detaining a suspected card counter for the purposes of intimidation. Few casinos use this practice anymore because it is illegal to detain someone unless they have been charged with a crime and the casino is waiting for the police to arrive. The casino cannot legally force you to a backroom for questioning on the suspicion that you are a card counter.
Ken Uston’s Legal Victory
Ken Uston is fondly remembered for all of the contributions he made to card counting through his books, but one thing many people may not realize is that Ken Uston was responsible for clarifying the legality of card counting in New Jersey.
The year was 1979 and Ken Uston was leading one of the most successful blackjack teams in the history of card counting. Uston’s team won millions of dollars, primarily in the casinos of Atlantic City, New Jersey. As good as Uston was at card counting, he was very unskilled at avoiding detection. Uston was banned from many casinos for counting cards.
When Uston got banned in Atlantic City, he chose to challenge the casino’s actions in a court of law. The case went all of the way to the Supreme Court of New Jersey who ultimately ruled in Uston’s favor by declaring that New Jersey casinos could not legally ban card counters from playing blackjack. The court’s ruling states in part that “the state’s control of Atlantic City’s casinos is so complete that only the New Jersey Casino Control Commission has the power to make rules to exclude skillful players.”
It was a victory indeed for card counters, but the casinos were not going to back down without a fight. In response to the decision of the Supreme Court, the Atlantic City casinos introduced many new elements to the game of blackjack which were specifically designed to make the game more difficult for card counters. These elements included more decks, different shuffle points, and even automatic shuffling machines. All of these actions by the casinos are perfectly legal.
The Nevada Courts And Card Counting
Gambling in Las Vegas has always been a different world when compared to other gaming jurisdictions. Largely built by the mob, it is only in recent years that Las Vega s has made an effort to separate itself from its nefarious history.
Being caught counting cards in Las Vegas in the old days was sure to result in immediate justice delivered by casino heavies who were not afraid to break bones in order to make their point. This doesn’t happen in the Las Vegas of today, but card counters are still harassed by the casinos.
Take the case of Richard Chen, for example. Chen was a known card counter in Las Vegas. His picture was even in the famed Griffin Book, a book maintained by all of the casinos to spot suspected cheaters. Chen managed to evade detection through a variety of disguises and phony identification. On one such occasion he was asked for identification from the casinos and presented a bogus passport from the nation of Burma which no longer exists. Chen had a winning session, scoring over $40,000 in profit, but the casino eventually caught on and when he attempted to cash out his winnings were seized by the casino.
Chen took the case to court and the courts ruled in his favor, ordering the casino to return the amount of Chen’s buy-in to him. The Monte Carlo casino, however, was allowed to keep the profits Chen had won. On appeal, the case was heard before the Nevada Supreme Court who ruled that Chen had not fraudulently beat the game of blackjack even though the identification he produced was false. Chen ultimately was the winner of his legal case.
Your Legal Right To Count Cards
If you want to be a card counter there is nothing in the law which says you cannot. In the eyes of the law using your mind to count cards is not cheating and you cannot be prosecuted for it. You can, however, be refused entry into any casino at any time because the casino is a private establishment and you are considered a guest. The best way to avoid any hassle is to keep your sessions short, spread your play among several casinos, and do everything else you can to avoid card counting suspicion.
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