As far as I can see, a card counter is still subject to the same mechanic as any other players, but they are able to perform better then most people within these confines. So why is card counting a justification for casinos to kick people out? Obviously, a card counter will cost them money, but if that is the only justification, then it's like the casino is cheating- they only allow sucky players to play. If you are too good you get thrown out. Is that all there is to it, or is there a valid gameplay justification for this?

  • Actually, it is not the "mechanic," that makes for card counting. What card counters (mostly) do is to vary their bet sizes in their own favor. See my answer below.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 1:07
  • Well, the very odds of the game are per se in the casino's favour -- it turns out they're not a charity :) If you want to play a fair game, simply don't go to a casino in the first place... Commented May 6, 2014 at 0:18
  • @NeilCoffey: What you said is basically true, except that the best players can beat the game by varying their bets at appropriate times.
    – Tom Au
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 14:33
  • @TomAu But isn't that essentially if "the appropriate times" are derived by "card counting" or methods that the casino decides "aren't fair" (on their scheme of making a living off an unfair game)? Commented May 6, 2014 at 22:55
  • @TomAu (Or by "beat the game" do you mean beat the other players? I was under the impression that if all players play by what the casino deems are the accepted rules, then statistically, the players collectively are essentially bound to lose to the house.) Commented May 6, 2014 at 22:57

4 Answers 4


Card counting isn't considered illegal. Casinos have the right to deny service to anyone, and of makes sense to deny players from playing a game in which they have an advantage versus the house. This isn't cheating in any sense of the word. 994 P.2d 1151 (2000) CHEN v. NEVADA STATE GAMING CONTROL BOARD and Monte Carlo Resort & Casino:

This case presents a conflict between two inconsistent public policies that have developed over the years with regard to the gaming industry. On one hand, gaming establishments have the unquestioned right to protect themselves against so-called "card counters" who have developed expertise in the game of "blackjack" ("twenty-one"). On the other hand, neither card counting nor the use of a legal subterfuge such as a disguise to gain access to this table game is illegal under Nevada law.

cheat transitive verb

  • 1 : to deprive of something valuable by the use of deceit or fraud
  • 2 : to influence or lead by deceit, trick, or artifice
  • 3 : to elude or thwart by or as if by outwitting intransitive verb 1 a : to practice fraud or trickery b : to violate rules dishonestly [...]
  • I'm still not convinced. "gaming establishments have the unquestioned right to protect themselves against those who have developed expertise in the game" So basically you are not allowed to become skilled in the game. Casinos pretend that they let you gamble in a game that has certain rules, but if you use skill to win, then you are not allowed to play, even if you play within the confines of those rules. Sounds like fraud to me. Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 7:14
  • @EpsilonVector actually, according to Wikipedia, casinos in Atlantic city can't kick you out for skilled play Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 14:44
  • @EpsilonVector: If casinos took bets where they didn't have an edge, they'd go out of business. (Yes, even if the game was precisely even; the mathematics is interesting). Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 0:01
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    @TimLymington: If casinos were "even money" against a handful of "best" players and favorites against everyone else, they'd be ok.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 22:36
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    @TomAu well that's how many policies are created Commented Mar 23, 2013 at 3:50

Just a little addition to the previous answer: Imagine you have the opportunity to play blackjack against a thousand people. You have a few advantages, but also have to play by strict and predictable conventions, but the thousand can play in any manner they choose.

You also know that one of those thousand is capable of card-counting. You wouldn't risk your money betting against someone with such an advantage would you? You'd stick with the odds, and play only the other 999. A perfectly sensible and logical position, which is, in essence, the same position the casino takes.

  • OK this actually makes sense. As a slightly off topic followup, do casinos typically let you keep what you won if they do catch you card counting? They may have the right to choose not to play with you, but the games in which they did play with you should be considered legitimate, right? Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 7:22
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    I believe that if you have won it legally, they cannot take it back. (Only if you've used a counting device, or properly cheated etc, but then they also throw you in jail after taking back the money :) ) Of course, there's nothing to say you aren't going to suffer a few accidents "falling down the stairs" on your way out of the casino.... Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 7:25

Card counting ISN'T illegal. (Unless you use a "device" such as a computer to do so in Nevada, which is a felony under Nevada law.)

Card counting is frowned upon because it violates the UNWRITTEN "law" (that the casino is supposed to have the edge). From the CASINO's point of view, it is a case of "if this isn't illegal, it ought to be." Hence they take measures such as barring, or harassing card counters, which go to the border (and sometimes beyond) the law. But Nevada courts do tend to side with the casinos for economic reasons.

If a player played "Basic" (optimal) strategy, and "flat bet," (bet the same on every hand), the casino would have an edge of about 1%. What card counters do is to watch for a handful of situations that come up occasionally, where the player is favored. Then they "jump" their bets by five or ten times to take advantage of these situations, and bet a "basic" unit at other times, shifting the odds in their favor.

A variation of this is "team" play, whereby a team of counters will "spread" among the tables, watching for favorable situations, and making a minimum bet of say, $10 a hand. This is a form of "trolling." When the cards get "good," they will signal a well dressed team mate called a "big player" to come to "their" table, and make "outsized" bets of $50 or $100, or even $500-$1000 (these situations are rare enough that you will seldom have two "good" tables at a time). This strategy calls for the big player to "table hop" in a seemingly random fashion (but actually based on signals from his teammates).

Needless to say, "trolling" and "table hopping," whether or not for the purpose of making money, while not illegal, are socially gauche. So casinos will eject players for that kind of behavior alone, whether or not connected with card counting. (And the assumption is that most people would not engage in that kind of behavior unless they are card counting.)

Card counter Kenny Uston won a court case in New Jersey that prohibits Atlantic City casinos from barring or harassing card counters. They are allowed to take "defensive" measures such as shuffling up after every deal.

  • I heard that the house edge on a person playing by basic strategy was much lower than that; an eight-deck game with no additional rules benefiting the player (like hitting split aces or dealer must hit soft 17) has a house edge of about .65%. This is further reduced with fewer decks in the shoe. But, the house still wins the longer you sit; you're expecting to lose a nickel a hand betting $10. As entertainment goes, not bad.
    – KeithS
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 18:34
  • @KeithS: The house does have an advantage over the player on PLAYING. But card counters overcome this advantage by betting big on certain "good" hands and betting small on (most other) "bad" ones. That's the point of counting cards. Meaning that if card counters were forced to "flat bet," they would lose.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 20:38
  • I understand that. My point was that you said there was a 1% house edge against a player using only basic strategy, which is a little high.
    – KeithS
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 21:23
  • @KeithS: It used to be more like 0.6%. Then the casinos reduced the payouts on blackjack from 3 to 2 to 4 to 3, in some cases even 5 to 4, which took their edge above 1%.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 22:34
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    @TheChaz2.0: The historical house edge is 4-5 percent against the "average Joe" (who plays poorly). It is some fraction of 1 percent (depending on house rules) against a "skilled" player who plays optimally but doesn't vary his bets based on card-counting. That's just a theoretical construct. It is negative against a skilled card counter who varies his bets. So "bet management" is a key skill in the game.
    – Tom Au
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 17:24

Card counters exploit a flaw in the game implementation which is not actually part of the rules of the game. The rules of blackjack say nothing about dealing multiple hands from the same pre-shuffled stack - but that's exactly what makes card counting possible.

This flaw (and thus card counting) can actually be neutralized in two ways:

  • Shuffling manually after each hand - but that slows down the game and thus reduces casino winnings on the game that already gives them a rather small house edge. Not gonna happen.
  • Continuous shuffling machines - but players and dealers hate those, claim that they destroy the atmosphere, etc. Some casinos use them, but most seem to prefer making a fuss about card counters.

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