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Is Counting Cards Legal in Casinos?

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When it comes to table games played in casinos, blackjack tops the list as the most popular year in and year out; and it has been that way for decades.

For the average player, the edge the house has when it comes to blackjack is about 2% statistically. In other words, for every $100 the typical player bets, they will lose $2.

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Players can, however, get that house edge down to about 0.5% by following a consistent strategy, such as knowing when to split, double down, hit and stand (all based on what the dealer has).

While most blackjack games in casinos use multiple decks of cards, there is single-deck blackjack that lowers the house’s edge to about 0.25%, though the game is less common in most casinos. 

So how else can a player get an edge in blackjack? Counting cards. 

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What Does Counting Cards Mean?

Before we get into whether or not is counting cards legal, let’s first understand what it is. While there are multiple systems when it comes to the blackjack strategy, the ultimate goal is determining whether or not the player or dealer has the advantage on each card flip. 

Generally speaking, the player will then bet more chips when they have the perceived (calculated) advantage, and less, if any, when the dealer does. Varying by the system, the basic idea of counting cards is to keep a running count, in the player’s head, of high and low cards dealt by assigning a number to each. 

As an example, every 2-6 card that touches the table would be a +1, 7-9 would be a 0, 10-King a -1, as well as an Ace a -1.

By keeping a running count, a player can then gauge which card will be coming next, and hit or stand accordingly. Most importantly, however, the count allows the player to gauge how much — or how little — they should bet on a given hand. 

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First and foremost, counting cards is not illegal in any jurisdiction across the United States. The perception that it is, however, comes from casinos’ low- to zero-tolerance policy on players they even suspect are doing it — and their ability to bar you from playing at a moment’s notice. 

While casinos no longer take you out back and break your knuckles as they did in the films of the 90s, they can permanently ban you from their property, with any trespassing turning into illegal action.

Despite arguments that counting cards is simply a smart way to play the game, as the expression goes, the hotels on the Las Vegas strip weren’t built on the backs of winners. 

Counting cards is officially legal in every state and federal jurisdiction in the U.S., however, that doesn’t mean casinos can’t stop you from doing it.

While no casinos will knowingly welcome you in to count cards, some casinos, such as smaller outlets without the advanced training required by dealers to stop it, will likely have a higher tolerance than the big boys. 

Casinos backed by the likes of Hollywood Casinos, MGM or Caesars likely have dealers — and especially pit bosses — who are well trained to sniff out people who are counting cards. 

Counting cards is legal because it’s just using your brain and that’s not something that can be easily legislated. Made even more popular by the movie “21,” card counting is no doubt here to stay and while it might not be illegal, casinos are as aware of it as they have ever been. 

It’s also worth noting that the legality of counting cards ins’t all bad for the casinos. They want players to come and play blackjack thinking they can actually perform the mental tasks required to count cards, only to lose. 

Counting cards is likely to remain legal, as it would be nearly impossible to prove in a court of law that someone is actually counting cards since all of the math and strategy involved is happening between a player’s ears.

The use of external devices or other people to assist in card counting, however, is not protected.

While syndicates of card counters are likely to be taken more seriously, most individual card counters are likely to have to leave the casino grounds. 

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