Gaming Strategies

Card Counting: Is It Really Cheating?

Gaming Strategies and Tips


The first thing that comes to most people’s mind when it comes to beating casinos is blackjack card counting. The practice of card counting has been popularized into the culture by movies such as 21, which portray the act as a high stakes risk with big, glamorous reward.

Few really know the facts about card counting, and many new players have misconceptions about how the process works.

Card counting is a strategy where players keep mental track of the cards that are played during a card game. It’s been used by many professionals, most notably Blair Hull and Ed Thorp. And with all that being said, the question remains– is counting cards legal?

If you’re looking to start teaching yourself card counting, read on. We’ll walk you through the legality of card counting, and what you need to know if you plan on employing the tactic.

Counting Cards Isn’t Technically Cheating

Card counting is using your brain. It takes skill and focus to be able to learn, but at the end of the day, it is simply a mental skill that is based on calculating mathematical odds.

All counting does is track the changing imbalance of big and little cards in a diminishing deck. It’s just one of many poker or blackjack strategies one can employ.

It’s true that counting cards properly can give the counter an advantage over the casino.

Card counters have an advantage of anywhere from 0.5% to 1.5% over the casino. A deck rich with high cards favors the player, and an excess of low cards favors the dealer. When that ratio favors the counting player, they bet more money. When it favors the dealer, the counter bets less.

With that in mind, there is no way to label counting cards as an illegal practice. The illegality of counting cards would mean penalizing rational, mathematical thought. There are no federal, state or local laws that forbid card counting in the United States. The practice is not illegal, and that is the bottom line.

What is illegal, or considered cheating, is using any sort of external counting system, including another person, to help count cards at the table. This kind of external assistance can get you kicked out of a casino and in some legal trouble fast.

Most people think card counting is illegal due to heightened portrayals of the act in film and television. Card counting, if performed properly, is a totally legal act and should find the counter faced with no legal repercussions.

Casinos Still Might Ask You To Leave

Just because card counting is legal doesn’t mean casinos have to like the practice. The casino doesn’t like anything that turns the odds of any game against itself, and therefore many have attempted to take a stance against the practice of card counting.

Some casinos won’t bother card counters but will employ a number of practices to prevent the effectiveness of the method. They can impede a skilled card counting system by employing random shuffles, using eight-deck shoes, or mess with cut card placement.

Some places take more severe steps to dissuade card counters. In Nevada, for example, casinos are treated more like private clubs. Casino owners can ask guests to leave at their own personal discretion. This means if you’re caught counting cards, you’ll likely be asked to leave, despite your actions being completely legal.

Some casinos may not ask you to leave the building entirely, but will ask you to refrain from playing at the blackjack tables in the future.

If you’re planning on counting cards in poker or blackjack, your best bet is to keep switching tables and to build your winnings slowly. Casinos will quickly go after players who are successful, and hiding your hot streak can let you last longer without feeling the pressure.

Depending on where you go, you may not see any repercussions for your card counting. Because the act isn’t technically illegal, different casinos will deal with the threat in different ways. You should be ready for anything.

Reasons To Avoid Counting Cards

The practice of counting cards can seem very attractive, but there are a number of realities prospective players should be aware of.

If you haven’t yet learned how to count cards, you should be warned that the practice itself is incredibly hard to learn and do properly. Even getting down basic strategy rules for Blackjack means memorizing 250 different playing decisions. And that doesn’t cover the many changes and twists an operating casino might throw your way.

There’s also a large misconception that if employed properly, you can make hundreds of thousands of dollars counting cards. This is, for the most part, not true.

Counting cards only gives you a slim advantage over the house. Though this means you’ll likely win more hands in the long run, that isn’t a guarantee.

Professional card counters talk in terms of tens of thousands of games played in order to see the odds work out in their favor. And even if you do follow through that much playing, the winnings you manage to take home probably won’t amount to the pile of money many would-be card counters see in their heads.

This is all on top of the risk of a casino booting you temporarily or even permanently from their tables. Card counting can be an attractive, even exciting prospect, but those looking to learn the art should be aware of the many potential drawbacks.

Otherwise, you may be facing a harsh reality and a lot of time and money wasted.

The Truth About Card Counting

Mythic tales of counting cards abound from casinos and gambling houses around the country, but the truth in these stories is often hard to find.

If you’re looking to learn card counting, it’s important to understand that the practice is NOT illegal, but comes with its fair share of risks and obstacles regardless. If you’re getting into card counting, it’s important to educate yourself on the reality of the practice.

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