The Casino’s Take on Blackjack Card Counting

Question: How is it that casinos feel like it is acceptable for them to ban individual card counters? I'm not talking about actual cheaters or team counters like in that movie, 21, I mean normal people who simply use their brains to give themselves a bit of an advantage. What do casinos really think about card counters, and what are they legally allowed to do to them?

Blackjack card counting is one of the hottest topics among casual casino players who see it as some sort of holy grail where you can beat the casino legally, using only your intellect. And while this vision of David beating Goliath through superior strategy is something quite romantic, the reality is that good card counters are fairly rare and usually don't make it very far.

A card counter tracks all of the cards which have been played in a shoe, and adjusts his bet based on the cards remaining. If a large portion of the cards are high cards (aces and face cards), this is good for the player and he bets more. If the cards are mostly low cards (under 7) then he bets the minimum to avoid losing too much A talented card counter with lots of practice and patience can then swing the odds in his favor, up to about a 1.5% advantage.

While card counting is technically legal, from the point of view of the casino these people are costing them money. As with any other business, casinos don't want people to take advantage of them and they feel perfectly justified in running off card counters as a way of protecting their business.

Not everyone agrees, though. Individual card counting is extremely difficult to do consistently, and only the very best card counters are able to use their ability to make any profit. It has been argued by some in the gambling industry that card counting should be allowed, as the money lost to those few people who do it well will be recouped through all the undisciplined amateur card counters who end up losing more than they would have if they had just played normally. For most people, it is far better to simply master blackjack basic strategy, which preserves the house edge but drops it to less than 0.5%. And no one can ever get run off for playing basic strategy.

That being said, it remains the opinion of just about every casino manager on earth that card counters should be run off as soon as they are identified. However, depending on the jurisdiction, card counters may enjoy certain protections and cannot be banned for counting.

In Nevada, card counters have a rough time as state law allows casinos to ban any player at any time for any reason. Although you may hear stories of card counters in Vegas being taken to a back room and threatened, that is just a myth. In reality, the pit boss will very politely and happily inform you that, “You are a valued customer and you are free to play every other game in the casino, but unfortunately we cannot let you play blackjack any longer.”

Things are a little different in Atlantic City, where New Jersey state law prohibits casinos from preventing card counters from playing blackjack. But that doesn't mean that Atlantic City is a card counter's dream; casinos employ all manner of tactics to discourage card counters. These can include adding extra decks to the shoe, cutting the shoe very early, and shuffling at will, while the increasing use of constant shuffle machines makes Blackjack card counting next to impossible.

About The Author

Insider casino expert Mark Pilarski worked nearly every job in his 18 years in the casino industry, from dealer to cashier to shift manager. Armed with that experience, he created the legendary Hooked on Winning casino advice audio series and he currently lectures and writes gambling columns for various websites, newspapers, and magazines.

  • "Bets must be made before a new blackjack hand is dealt. You cannot place a bet or change your bet once the dealing starts, so remember to pick up any winnings before the next hand.'

  • "The roulette wheel is always kept spinning at a constant rate, even if no one is currently playing. The ball is spun in the opposite direction in order to ensure more randomness in the result."

  • "Make sure you know what the betting limits are before you sit down at a blackjack table. Each table has a small placard telling you the minimum and maximum bets for that table."

  • "In order to keep the house edge, casinos offer games where they win outright more often or they offer games where the player may win more often, but doesn't get paid the true odds."

  • "Even if you have huge amounts of money to bet, only bet amounts that you feel comfortable with. If you bet more than you're comfortable with you'll make mistakes. If you want to bet less, bet less."

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