header banner

Although it is legal, counting cards is not

Table of Contents

    QUESTION: When it comes to blackjack, why is counting cards considered a form of cheating? I see it as a case of  someone being  very good at the game. In my view, it's no different from a poker player who is skilled at bluffing and reading the body language and facial expressions of  others at the table. — Gary P.

    ANSWER: When it comes to counting cards,  you don’t need to be a math whiz. All card counting does is establish mathematically the degree to which the as-yet-undealt deck favors the dealer or  the player. Counters do this by tracking the changing imbalance of big and little cards in a diminishing deck.

    Card counters theoretically have an advantage of anywhere from 0.5% to 1.5% over the casino. A deck rich with high cards (10, jack, queen, king, ace) favors the player, whereas an excess of low cards (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) favors the dealer. When that ratio favors the counting player, he or she bets more money; when it favors the dealer, the counter bets less. 

    Your implied assertion, Gary, that counting cards is considered a form of cheating is erroneous. Card counting is NOT illegal under federal, state and local laws in the United States as long as players don't  use any external card-counting device or people who assist them in counting cards.

    In their effort to identify card counters, casinos can ban players believed to be counters — sort of. It depends on where you are playing. 

    For instance, in Atlantic City, casinos  will let you take a whack at counting cards — again, sort of. The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that players cannot be discriminated against because of their playing skills (counting), even if they're detected.

    As a result,  Jersey shore casinos  employ countermeasures to hinder card counters. They try to impede a  card-counting blackjack player by using eight-deck shoes, shuffling at will to thwart bet variance and instructing the dealers to move the cut card near the top of the shoe.  

    In Nevada, before you sit down at a blackjack table, you're expected to  check your brain at the door. There, laws allow casinos to operate somewhat like a private club, so plan on being asked to leave for using your cerebral matter. 

    Though counting isn't technically illegal, casinos  in Nevada   bar counters from playing blackjack by backing them off  games. Counters can  expect a pit boss to come up to them and unsympathetically say: “We appreciate your business, but we are going to ask you to stop playing blackjack here. Feel free to play any of the other table games that we offer.” Translated, that means go play any other game that has a much higher house edge.

    Mark Pilarski is a contributing editor for numerous gambling publications. E-mail questions to [email protected].


    Article information

    Author: James Johnson

    Last Updated: 1703343841

    Views: 782

    Rating: 3.6 / 5 (74 voted)

    Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

    Author information

    Name: James Johnson

    Birthday: 1945-10-30

    Address: 3723 Jacobson Locks, Lake Roberto, WV 04302

    Phone: +3767404598628794

    Job: Article Writer

    Hobby: Gardening, Beer Brewing, Fishing, Skydiving, Table Tennis, Cocktail Mixing, Playing Chess

    Introduction: My name is James Johnson, I am a striking, cherished, dear, bold, skilled, frank, unswerving person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.