Are Counting Cards Considered Illegal in Casinos?

Counting cards in blackjack image

📖 Published on: March 19th, 2024

✍️ Updated: March 21st, 2024

⏳ 8 mins read


If you’ve ever seen the Jim Sturgees movie “21,” then you might be fooled by the riveting journey of being a professional card player. Well, as the ending of the film shows you, it’s a story that dazzles the average Joe - but it’s also one that never ends well when you want it to. No, Laurence Fishburne won’t beat you into submission and arrest, but someone from security is bound to catch you. And the classic moral of the story always rings true: crime definitely doesn’t pay!


So what’s the simple and direct answer to the query “Is counting cards considered illegal in casinos?” The answer is no, but it takes away from the house edge and no one likes to feel cheated, especially casinos. Let’s break down the concept of card counting, the legalities in the US, and how players incorporate the strategy without breaking any rules.


Is counting cards illegal? What to Know About Card Counting in American Casinos

If you’re curious to learn about the ins and outs of card counting in US casinos, here is some crucial information you should remember - but a word of caution, ladies and germs: take them with a grain of salt.


There’s no law against card counting in the US.

Surprising as it may seem, there are no federal or state laws classifying card counting as illegal or as an offense, so you can exhale now. While it’s technically not illegal though, most (if not all) casinos in big states like Nevada can refuse anyone under the sun when they think you’re doing something suspicious.


Although, like most laws, it also can also vary in other states. New Jersey, with backing from the Supreme Court, goes by the ruling that it doesn’t discriminate against players on their playing skills even if the players are spotted counting cards in gambling hub Atlantic City. However, since casinos are run as private businesses and equities, the power is still in their hands at the end of the day. So, getting banned from the casino for suspicion of card counting can definitely happen to anyone.

Jim Sturgees from the movie 21 image


How does card counting technically work?

While we don’t condone card counting in any game of Blackjack, we do want you to understand where the lines get blurred and how it works as a strategy. So, why do Blackjack players even attempt to count cards? Simply because it gives them more advantage over the house, from 0.5% to 1.5%. Now, having a deck filled with potential wins like 10, jack, queen, king, and ace is ideal and often favors the player - which is what card counters try to manipulate in a game. Having low cards to play like 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 makes it easier for the dealer to give the house their edge. So, when the ratio goes the way of the card counter, they end up betting more money, and when it shifts to the dealer’s favor, card counters tend to wager in less.


How do casino staff and security regulate counting cards?

Pit bosses exist for a reason, and part of their responsibilities is to manage dealers and operations on the casino floor. This means for sure that you’re being watched by someone who knows how the games flow and go. That said, be cautious about how far you want to stretch the rule when counting cards ‘cause you don’t want to be singled out and given the whole spiel: “We appreciate your business, but you will have to stop playing blackjack here. Feel free to play at other table games close by.


Legitimate Reasons Why Casinos Ban Card Counting

Aside from the fact that counters hurt casino businesses, here are a few more reasons it's highly frowned upon in any gambling hub.


1. It discourages new players to even try Blackjack.


Counting cards can bring you an edge, but it removes the community aspect of the game which often spoils the inclusivity of the game. New players or casino goers are always eager to try out new games - and if you’re out there hoarding the wins all cause you were counting, the more like these new players feel cheated - and no one wants that kind of spoiled fun, you know?


2. They wish to protect Blackjack’s reputation as a table game.


While blackjack can technically be played anywhere and still requires lady luck to make things interesting, casinos that host blackjack table games still want to protect the game’s reputation. No one wants to play at a table with shoddy reviews and an equally shady reputation. It’s never a good idea when hearsay impairs the fairness of the game.

Private casinos aim to provide the best experience for newcomers and frequenters alike, which is why maintaining public trust is essential and definitely why they ban counting cards in both low and high-stakes tables.


Counting cards image


3. Casinos want to remain legally abiding institutions.


While many people mistakenly think a lot of illegal happenings take place in casinos, most reputable casinos do everything it takes to adhere to legal requirements under state and federal umbrellas.

The act of counting cards can easily be seen as a manipulative tactic that alters the outcome of a game, which technically breaches gambling laws but not state laws. The best way to avoid any misdemeanors is not to cut through the red tape and stay within proper gambling etiquette and rules.


4. It lessens general conflict in an overtly guarded setting.


Casinos, in general, can be a highly stimulating and tense place. Adding to the heavily secured location and organized set-up by pit bosses and casino crew, people who intend to enter casinos and cheat can cause disputes over dealers and players, and eventually the house. These are situations casinos don’t like dealing with and this entails method questioning and even legal battles that could stain their brand image.


5. It maintains the house edge.


The statistical house edge that casinos work tirelessly to maintain over players exists for a reason. Card counting is a definite culprit to its success and long-term profitability. If there’s one thing the house hates, it’s improving your odds as a player by counting and cheating on the game. So, don’t be surprised counting cards is explicitly banned in high-stakes tables. Someone has to protect their business model, right?


Count Sheep Instead


There’s no doubt that casinos will always lay it down hard for people who want to cheat the system and bend the rules. So, as far as general discretion goes, the best approach to playing Blackjack is by letting luck and strategic sense take the lead. Counting cards isn’t ideal, and while it may work, it’s also bound to be a habit that many pit bosses will likely catch. So, be smart and stay objective while having fun at the table, and who knows, maybe you’re a card and a blow away from beating 21. Get more insight on iGaming, sports betting, and social casinos from our resources at GambleSpot today.


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