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Counting cards: When is it, or is it not, illegal?

| May 17, 2021 | Casino Crimes

If you love to play Blackjack, one of the tips that some people will try to teach you is how to count cards. This is simplest with a single deck, but it’s also possible to count cards among multiple decks.

There are times when counting cards will lead to trouble in a casino, though. While manually counting cards in your head is not something someone will be able to stop you from doing, there are other forms of counting cards that are widely considered to be against the rules. These methods are seen as ways of cheating. Even if counting cards is not illegal, fraud and theft is.

There is a gray area with the legality of counting cards

Card counting is such a serious matter in casino gambling that cases involving this issue have gone to the Supreme Court. There have been some rulings to help clarify what players can or cannot do, but counting cards is generally still a gray area.

Professionals who count cards defend it by saying it’s a skill. They keep track of the cards in their head and are able to make decisions about plays by remembering what has already been played and which cards may come next. This in itself isn’t necessarily against the rules.

Using mechanical counters, though, is usually seen as illegal. Using a computer, for example, to track cards is illegal. Players have, in the past, been prosecuted successfully for using mechanical tracking and counting systems.

An older court case addresses card counting

There are cases as far back as 1979 that address card counting. One famous counter and author, Ken Uston, won his case in the Supreme Court of New Jersey after he was kicked out of the casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for counting cards by memory. In the ruling, the court said that the casinos couldn’t simply ban people for counting cards in the way that he had.

Card counting can get you into trouble in some cases, but if you’re just a good player, it’s very different than using mechanical means to beat the game of Blackjack. If you are kicked out of a casino or have your winnings taken, you may have a case.