Is Counting Cards Illegal and What You Should Know About It
Is Counting Cards Illegal and What You Should Know About It
Since the early days of Atlantic City and Las Vegas, blackjack has always been one of the most popular card games in America. The game has also spread to a great extent to casinos in Europe and some venues in the rest of the world.
Unlike many other casino games, blackjack is not a game with a huge casino edge. If they play their cards right, players can reduce the house advantage to as low as 0.5% in a classic blackjack game.
However, during the 1960s, mathematicians and blackjack players realized that blackjack was a game that could be beaten.
The first card counting systems were invented, and the casinos did not look favorably upon this.
In the early days, everyone was wondering, is card counting cheating? Since then, multiple court decisions in different states have decided that it is not illegal to count cards, but card counting is still shrouded in a veil of mystery.
I will talk about the legality of card counting and what could happen to you if you employ this strategy in the casinos, but before I do that, let’s talk about what card counting is and why it’s such a big deal.
What is Card Counting, and How Does It Work?
Card counting is a relatively simple strategy that you can employ in any version of the game of blackjack. Card counting does not require any tools or special aids, with your brain being the only thing you will need to use.
The fundamental card counting strategy is very simple. While playing, you need to be counting and following the number of big and small cards remaining in the deck or shoe.
In the simplest card counting system, you would add +1 to your count anytime you see a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 while subtracting -1 anytime you see a T, J, Q, K, or A. Whenever a 7, 8, or 9 is dealt with, the count does not change.
The reason this system works is hidden deep within the rules of blackjack. When all the mathematics is done, having more big cards in the deck favors the player more than it favors the house.
The increased probability of making a blackjack on the first two cards (which pays 1.5:1) is all the advantage you need to turn things around and make yourself a favorite against the casino.
Without going into the details of how a positive count favors the players, the fact is that a good counter can have an edge of as much as 1.5% over the house. This is more than the casino normally has over the players.
Is Card Counting Illegal in America?
Now we get to the key question; is card counting illegal or not? Of course, this is a matter of local laws in each country, but for the most part, card counting is not illegal in any major jurisdiction.
The casinos in both Nevada and New Jersey have tried repeatedly to outlaw the practice of card counting, but with little success.
The reason for that is very simple. The courts could not find any proof that card counters were in any way cheating.
Since the only tool used by responsible counters is their eyes and brains, there was no way the practice could be deemed as illegal.
However, there is a catch. If you are trying to count cards in casinos, you need to make sure you are not using any external tools. You are not allowed to write down the numbers, use a calculator or another electronic gadget, or the help of other players.
Card counting is often done in teams, and if you try to team count in one of the casinos in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, you may get into trouble.
On the other hand, if you count cards alone and change your bets, there is nothing a casino can do legally. That does not mean there is nothing they can do at all, and you can expect them to act the moment they notice you counting.
Since casinos are private entities, they have every right to ban anyone from playing any particular game or even entering their premises without really needing an excuse.
In Las Vegas, a casino can easily ask you not to play blackjack or not to visit them anymore. Atlantic City is slightly different, as New Jersey courts decided the casinos don’t have a right to discriminate against players who are not cheating.
In either case, don’t be too surprised if the casino staff asks you not to play blackjack anymore or to vacate their premises.
Finally, there are tribal casinos. I would highly recommend you do not count cards in tribal casinos. These operate by their own rules, and whatever they do, there is no one you can ask for help. The police won't come if you call them and the only court you could sue them in is the tribal court.
For this reason, the tribal casino staff can get rough with you, they can confiscate your money, and they can toss you out of the casino even if you were not cheating.
The best bet for card counters at this time is Atlantic City, the one place in the world where the casinos actually have a reason to let you keep playing while counting.
How to Count Cards the Right Way
The main question I wanted to answer was: is it illegal to count cards? In the vast majority of the cases, I found that there was no legal obstacle to counting cards. Not only in the USA but also in Europe, Australia, and the rest of the world, card counting is not considered cheating.
Despite that, casinos in most places won't let you count cards for too long or at all if they can detect you. This is why a card counter's main job is not to get found out.
The first thing I would say you can do to avoid getting caught is changing casinos often. If you are playing in Atlantic City or Vegas, you can easily do so as there are hundreds of places you can play blackjack.
In other parts of the world, your options will be more limited, so you will have to do your best not to draw too much attention to yourself.
I would recommend avoiding making super fancy plays that add only a tiny shred of expected value in the first place, and certainly, avoid making massive bets after betting small for a while.
You should have a consistent spread of bets that don’t differ too much. If you start out with a $5 bet, you may want to bet $10 when the count is +1 and $20 when the count is +2. However, if you start betting $200 all of a sudden and then switch back to $5 after one hand, you may easily get asked to leave.
Before you ask yourself, is card counting illegal or not, you should also make sure you know how to play blackjack as well. Learning to count cards without learning the optimal blackjack strategy for actual gameplay will result in nothing, as you will still not have the edge over the house.
To sum it all up, you should find a casino that spreads blackjack with optimal rules for the player, learn how to play the best possible blackjack, and keep to yourself as much as possible so as not to tip off the casino staff or other players to the fact you are counting.
Summing Up on Card Counting Legality
You asked the question, is counting cards illegal, and I did my best to answer it. In very simple words, card counting is not illegal anywhere in the western world, and you should not worry about getting into trouble with the law over it.
However, keep in mind that counting cards with the help of others or any electronic or other aids will be considered cheating.
What’s more, the casinos will not be happy about you counting cards on their floor and will try to punish you in any way they can. Usually, they will tell you to get out as soon as they realize you are counting cards, and you may get a ban in multiple casinos owned by the same group.
As long as you are willing to take such risks that don’t involve any jail time or loss of your gambling bankroll, you can go right ahead and try your card counting skills in any casino you choose. Just don’t be too sad if you get caught within half an hour.
Card Counting Legality FAQs
What is card counting?
Card counting is a technique that skilled players can apply in the game of blackjack. The technique relies on keeping track of the number of big and small cards in the deck at any given point since the higher number of big cards gives the player an advantage over the house.
Is card counting illegal in the USA?
No, card counting is not illegal on the federal level or in any of the states. However, card counting is frowned upon by the casino owners and staff and may result in other forms of punishment, including bans from casinos where you try to apply the technique.
Is it illegal to count cards in other countries?
In most countries of the world where gambling is legal, card counting is not considered illegal or cheating.
Why is card counting illegal anywhere?
Card counting is now mostly legal in all major jurisdictions, but it used to be considered cheating for a long time. The reason is that it gives players an edge over the house, which can immediately be associated with cheating. However, there is nothing wrong with card counting, and it's not cheating in any way.
What will happen if I get caught counting cards in a casino?
In Las Vegas, you may be asked to leave the casino or told you cannot play blackjack anymore. In Atlantic City, there is not much they can do since they are obligated not to discriminate against skillful players. In a tribal casino, you will certainly be tossed out, and it will likely not be the most pleasant experience you have had in your life.