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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. Electrical Contractor Magazine calls card counters cheats

    In the October 2010 issue of magazine Electrical Contractor, the following can be found:

    “Casinos have to closely monitor players who may be trying to cheat the system. Some ways in which a thief can threaten gaming integrity are card counting and pinlight devices that trigger credits in a video machine without inserting actual money. Cheating is a big revenue loss to casinos, and video surveillance helps protect against it.”

    The article appears to present a ...
  2. Prof. I Nelson Rose weighs in on the legality of Blackjack Card Counting.

    Prof. I. Nelson Rose, author of <em>Gambling and the Law</em>, wrote:

    "In Nevada, the courts have made it clear that card counting is legal. During a cheating case in 1983, which involved a player who was crimping cards to gain an advantage (definitely cheating), the court made an interesting statement: "By way of contrast, a card counter -- one who uses a point system to keep track of the cards that have been played -- does not alter any of the basic features ...
  3. Man charged with cheating at Horseshoe Casino with card counter hidden in pocket

    Feb. 23, 2014.Let's make it clear, using an optical or electronic device is illegal in most jurisdictions. And, the penalties can be quite heavy. This is NOT what we mean by card counting. In fact, the serious devices used in this manner do not even use card counting in the normal sense of the term. They use combinatorial analysis. An exception is a recent iPhone app, that is not only illegal, but doesn't work.

    Using your head is legal. Using a device is often cheating.

  4. As Descartes once said: “I think, therefore I can’t play blackjack.”

    Taken from a 1997 article by Arnold Snyder on the subject, which you can find at:

    Surprising that so many people still "think" that you can make thinking illegal.
  5. Nevada Supreme Court 1983 Ruling

    The Nevada Supreme Court in the case of Sheriff vs. Martin in 1983 declared that counting cards was not cheating.

    The court held:

    "The attributes of the game - its established physical characteristics and basic rules - determine the probability of the games various possible outcomes. Changing those attributes to affect those probabilities is a criminal act. By way of contrast a card counter - one who uses a point system to keep track of the cards that have been played ...
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