CasinoLegalPokerTips and tricks

Is card counting illegal?

Counting cards is a strategy primarily employed in blackjack, where players looking to gain an advantage over the house use it. When performed correctly, it can be a very effective method, which has led some casinos to consider it a form of cheating. Is counting cards illegal? The answer to this question is surprisingly complicated – let’s start by explaining what card counting actually is and how it’s usually done.

What is card counting?

While the method of counting cards can also be used in some other games, the technique is commonly associated with blackjack. This classic game, being hugely based on probability and mathematical principles, lends itself perfectly to such strategies, and the players have been trying to develop the most effective ones right since the beginning of blackjack history. It’s important to know what is counting cards supposed to achieve for the player – the answer being primarily keeping track of high and low cards that have been already dealt. As a result, the player can try to predict the next one with a much higher probability, thus gaining an edge over the house. It’s estimated that a skilled card counter has an advantage in the range of 0.5% to 1.5%, which – assuming a game with no mistakes – can guarantee consistent profits over the long term, which is very rare in the casino world.

How to count cards in blackjack?

Before we proceed to describe the legal status and the casinos’ approach to this technique, it’s worth it to learn how to count cards. There are many various methods, both simple and complicated ones, but they all mostly focus on one thing: memorizing the score of cards that have already been dealt. High values generally benefit the house, while low values tend to benefit the player, which allows an experienced card counter to make correct decisions much more often than when playing randomly.

There is no real trick in knowing how does counting cards work – all methods are based on memorization and understanding the game. The points assigned to each card are supposed to track the ‘effect of removal’; that is, the importance of a given card to the current play. The simplest systems change the number by 0 or 1 after each card is played; incrementing is usually done with a low card, and decrementing with a high card. It’s worth it to explore all the different methods of blackjack card counting – even if you do not plan to use them, they can provide some interesting insights to how the game itself works.

Is card counting illegal?

We know now what card counting means and how most of the systems are set up. With card counting in blackjack providing a statistically significant edge to the player, you probably can’t help but wonder if the technique is allowed. Is it illegal to count cards, and if so, why is counting cards illegal? It’s pretty much impossible to provide a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer – it all depends on what is exactly meant by ‘illegal’.

From a strictly legal point of view, counting cards, when performed by the player without outside help, is not a punishable offense in any country where casinos are allowed to operate. The question gets a bit more complicated when we add other people to the mix, or external devices that help in counting cards. Using such methods is considered an unfair advantage by the law itself, and is usually disallowed.

Casinos’ stance on counting cards

Nevertheless, despite card counting in blackjack not being technically illegal, most casinos don’t appreciate players using such methods. You can often hear even about players getting evicted from the premises for trying to count cards. It all comes down to casinos having their codes and rules – generally, a player can be kicked out whenever the house doesn’t agree with their behavior or methods used in games. However, it can also backfire for some casinos that are too eager to enforce their rules. There’s no shortage of stories of players getting mistakenly banned for counting cards, while in reality they just had a lucky streak.

An interesting tidbit about the legality of card counting is the case of Atlantic City – one of the prime destinations for gambling in the United States. According to a Supreme Court decision from 1979, casinos in the state of New Jersey can not ban skilled players, and counting cards is considered to be a form of skill. As such, this technique is not only legal but protected by the law – it’s worth noting, though, that this rule doesn’t apply to casinos outside New Jersey.

Countermeasures to counting cards

Counting cards, illegal or not, is a huge risk to casinos because it leads to the house losing its edge, which is necessary for casinos to keep operating and making money. As a result, counting cards in blackjack and other games is actively limited by many casinos, even if they don’t directly ban players from using such techniques. Some of the countermeasures to make this method less effective include:

  • decreasing the number of cards dealt,
  • shuffling whenever the casino feels that the player has an advantage due to counting cards,
  • not allowing entry before a shuffle,
  • disallowing the players from changing their bets.

Some casinos also keep track of players who use counting cards and apply special rules to them, such as requiring large buy-ins or limiting their stakes. A common method of detection is looking for unusual plays, which wouldn’t be recommended using a regular blackjack strategy. In several places, automatic and semi-automatic systems are starting to be used to limit the effect of card counting and quickly identify players using those methods.

How to card count in poker?

While card counting doesn’t apply to poker because the games are structured very differently, skilled players can also employ their observation skills to improve their chances of winning. There’s a similar technique that focuses on identifying ‘blockers’ – that is, the cards that can’t be held by other players at the table. Those include both the cards in your hand and the ones on the board.

How to count poker cards? As with every other strategy used in this game, it’s vital to know the possible hands and their values. For instance, if you have an ace of spades, while the board has some of the cards needed for an ace-high flush of spades, you can be certain that your opponents can’t have an ace-high flush. Using this simple method, you can recognize bluffs right away and read the table better, allowing you to make more effective plays.

Is card counting illegal in poker? The situation is vastly different from counting cards in blackjack – in the vast majority of cases, casinos don’t have any problems with poker players employing this technique. It’s the backbone of a lot of successful strategies. Poker is a game where information is crucial, and using all the bits available to you is the only way to increase your chances of winning. Keep in mind, though, that casinos can and do ban players at their discretion whenever they can be accused of any method of cheating – that goes for any game, not just blackjack and poker.


What is card counting in blackjack?

Card counting is a mathematical strategy used in blackjack to determine the likelihood that the next hand will give an advantage to the player or the dealer. Players use this method to keep track of the proportion of high to low cards remaining in the deck.

Is counting cards in blackjack or poker illegal?

Counting cards in blackjack or identifying blockers in poker is not considered illegal from a legal standpoint if done in one’s mind and without the use of external devices. However, casinos reserve the right to ban players who they suspect are using such techniques as it gives the player an advantage over the house.

How are poker and blackjack different when it comes to card counting?

Card counting does not apply to poker as it does in blackjack. In poker, players use observations to identify ‘blockers’ – those cards that can’t be held by others at the table. This includes both the cards in hand and those on the board.

How do casinos counteract card counting?

Casinos have various strategies to counteract card counting, including changing the number of cards dealt, shuffling more frequently, disallowing players from changing their bets or even asking suspected card counters to leave. Some venues also track players who use card counting and apply special rules to them.

What if I mistakenly get accused of card counting?

If you are wrongfully accused of card counting, the best course of action is to speak calmly with the casino staff and explain your play. Remember that casinos reserve the right to refuse service, but they cannot take action that is seen as discriminatory or unjustifiable. It may also be worth seeking legal advice if you feel your rights have been infringed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *