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Is Card Counting Legal

Gambling games have existed since the first dice carved from the anklebones of an antelope were thrown against a cave wall. Card games have existed since the Zhou Dynasty in ninth century China. Casinos date back to 17th century Venice. All games have rules. Violation of such rules is called cheating. But, in the case of a business, like a casino, cheating is a legal term. You cannot bring someone before a court of law on a charge of cheating, unless a legislative body has first defined the term. The term cheating should not be used carelessly.

There exist many types of card games. In matching games, like Gin Rummy, you must match, or meld, your cards in a better manner than your opponent. Generally, this is accomplished by taking turns drawing and discarding cards. Your opponent can take a card that you have discarded. Therefore, you must be very careful to remember any card that you have discarded and your opponent collects or ignores, as this provides information on your opponent’s hand. Remembering discards is of utmost importance.

In trick-taking games, like Bridge, you win by winning hands (taking tricks). Again, you look for clues as to the content of your opponents’ hands. Again, watching the cards that have been played, and discarded, is of utmost importance.

Even in accumulation games, like War, you can improve your odds by discarding your cards in a pattern that you can recognize when they reappear.

In all these different types of games, discards play a central role. The general word “discard”, meaning to get rid of something as no longer useful, has at its origin card games. Only, discards are useful in game strategy.

Blackjack is a comparing game. You win by obtaining a better hand than your opponent and betting more when you are more likely to obtain a winning hand. As in the other types of games, keeping track of discards is all-important. For example, if all the aces have been played, you cannot get a Blackjack. Why would you make a large bet when you cannot receive the most valuable hand? It simply makes no sense. Blackjack card counting is simply a formulized method of simplifying the tracking of discards. Actually, vastly simpler than the task of an expert Bridge player. Card counting is, simply put, the correct way to play Blackjack; just as tracking the discards in Bridge or Gin Rummy is the correct way to play those games.

So, if tracking discards is an integral part of matching, trick-taking, and accumulation games, why would it be considered cheating in a comparing game? The reason is simple. Casinos have, for decades, made a concerted effort to tie the term blackjack card counting to cheating to dissuade customers from using correct strategies. We see this time and again in interviews and articles quoting execs in the casino industry. Oddly, reporters, generally more vigilant in checking facts, appear to pass on such quotes without thought or comment. The fact is that card counting is legal in every jurisdiction in the world. When you think about it, how could it not be? How can it be illegal to think? When you sit down at a Blackjack table, you are not agreeing to terms and conditions that prevent you from using your brain.

So, when in a casino, do not be intimidated into closing your mind off from information. It is not yet illegal to use your brain.

"Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

  1. Edge sorting called cheating by Kansas City Star

    The Kansas City Star called Phil Ivey's edge sorting at the Borgata cheating. But, there are no criminal charges, and the civil suit has just begun. We still have innocent until proved guilty, and a member of the fourth estate should be the first to use the word "alleged" in it reporting." title="Kansas City Star calls edge sorting chearing
  2. Philadelphia Inquirer calls criminals card counters, a web portal for The Philadelphia Inquirer, posted an article titled "Three men caught counting cards are arrested". They were Blackjack cheats and they were arrested for illegal actions. But, they were not card counters. They were marking cards, which is obviously illegal. The conflation of card counting and cheating is common, and incorrect.

    In this case, the article refers to actual cheats as card counters, as opposed to calling card counters cheats. I am not ...
  3. Ohio rules card counting not cheating

    The Toledo Blade quotes the casino commission's statement on card counting legality.

    "If someone is using their mental faculties, and they're able to use them to have an advantage, we do not consider that cheating," Matt Schuler, the Ohio casino commission's executive director, told The Blade on Friday."

    Read more at:
  4. The Atlantic magazine suggests card counting is cheating

    In the April 2012 issue of The Atlantic, an article about Don Johnson states:

    “The wagering of card counters assumes a clearly recognizable pattern over time, and Johnson was being watched very carefully. The verdict: card counting was not Don Johnson’s game. He had beaten the casinos fair and square.”

    They are suggesting that card counting at Blackjack is not “fair and square”. They don’t explain how it is unfair to watch the cards.

  5. Las Vegas TV series calls card counters cheats

    The Las Vegas TV series pilot episode in 2003 was advertised with the following synopsis:

    “Big Ed Deline is the head of the surveillance team for the Montecito Resort & Casino. With his protégé, Danny McCoy, an ex-U.S. Marine and Las Vegas native, they deal with card-counting cheaters, costly streaks of random luck and rival casinos stealing their big-money players.”

    Of course, Blackjack card counting is not cheating as defined by Nevada law.

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