Is Counting Cards Illegal?

Counting cards is a controversial topic that has intrigued both professional gamblers and casual casino-goers for decades. The practice involves keeping track of the cards dealt in a game of blackjack to gain an advantage over the house. However, the question remains: is counting cards illegal? In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the legalities surrounding card counting, its history, techniques, and the consequences one might face when caught. So, grab a deck of cards, and let’s dive into the world of card counting!


The Origins of Card Counting

Card counting as a blackjack strategy has its roots in the early 1960s when a mathematics professor named Edward O. Thorp revolutionized the game with his book, “Beat the Dealer.” Thorp’s research and calculations provided players with an advantage by keeping track of the cards remaining in the deck. This groundbreaking work paved the way for countless players to attempt to beat the house.


The Birth of a Strategy: Edward O. Thorp

Edward O. Thorp’s book, “Beat the Dealer,” became an instant sensation upon its release in 1962. Thorp’s strategy involved assigning values to different cards and mentally keeping track of the overall count. By doing so, players could determine the proportion of high-value cards remaining, which increased their chances of winning.

Thorp’s work was considered controversial by casinos, leading to an ongoing battle between gamblers and establishments. However, his contributions to the field of blackjack strategy cannot be denied.


Early Detection by Casinos

As word of card counting spread, casinos began to take notice and implement measures to protect their profits. Pit bosses and dealers were trained to identify card counters based on their betting patterns and behavior. Casino surveillance teams also became more vigilant in detecting suspicious activities at the tables.


Understanding Card Counting

To fully comprehend card counting, it is essential to grasp the basic techniques and the more advanced systems employed by professional gamblers.


Basic Card Counting Techniques

Basic card counting methods involve assigning values to cards and keeping a running count as they are dealt with. The most common system is the Hi-Lo count, where cards from 2 to 6 are assigned a value of +1, cards 7 to 9 are neutral, and cards 10 to Ace have a value of -1. By keeping track of the running count, players can adjust their bets accordingly and make more informed decisions during the game.


Advanced Card Counting Systems

Advanced card counting systems, such as the Omega II and Wong Halves, take the concept further by assigning fractional values to cards. These systems require more extensive memorization and mental calculation but offer a higher level of accuracy in determining the true count. Professional card counters often utilize these advanced systems to gain an edge over the casino.


The Legality of Card Counting

The legality of card counting varies from country to country and even from state to state within a country. Let’s explore the different perspectives surrounding the practice.

Legal Perspective: Is It a Crime?

In most jurisdictions, counting cards is not considered illegal. It is considered a skill-based strategy rather than cheating. However, casinos have the right to refuse service to anyone they believe is gaining an unfair advantage, including card counters.

The Casino’s Perspective

From a casino’s standpoint, card counting is often seen as a nuisance that disrupts the natural flow of the game and reduces its profit margins. Casinos are private establishments and can establish their own rules and regulations, including banning individuals suspected of card counting.

Lawsuits and Court Decisions

Over the years, there have been several legal battles between casinos and card counters. In some cases, courts have ruled in favor of the players, stating that card counting is a skill and cannot be considered illegal. However, other courts have sided with casinos, upholding their right to protect their business interests. The legal landscape surrounding card counting remains complex and varies based on specific circumstances.

Card Counting Detection Methods

Casinos employ various methods to detect and deter card counters. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common techniques used by casinos worldwide.

Pit Bosses and Surveillance

Pit bosses, responsible for overseeing the gaming floor, are trained to identify suspicious behavior and betting patterns. They closely observe players and communicate with surveillance teams to ensure fair play. Sophisticated surveillance systems, including high-resolution cameras, help identify potential card counters.

Automated Card Shufflers

To combat card counting, many casinos now use automated card shufflers. These machines randomly shuffle the cards after each hand, making it impossible to keep an accurate count. While automated shufflers make card counting significantly more challenging, skilled players can still utilize other strategies to gain an edge.

Facial Recognition Technology

In recent years, casinos have started using facial recognition technology to identify known card counters and individuals on exclusion lists. This technology compares the faces of players against databases and alerts casino staff if a match is found. Facial recognition adds an extra layer of security for casinos against skilled players.


Consequences of Getting Caught

While card counting itself is not illegal, getting caught counting cards can have severe consequences for players.

Expulsion from Casinos

If caught counting cards, players can expect to be banned from the casino where they were caught. In some cases, this ban can extend to other casinos within the same network or jurisdiction. Casinos share information about suspected card counters, making it difficult for them to find a venue where they can continue their strategy.

Sharing Information among Casinos

Casinos actively communicate with each other to identify and track card counters. They share information through databases and networks, making it challenging for individuals to go undetected. Once a player is blacklisted, their chances of successfully counting cards in any casino significantly decrease.

Legal Ramifications

In rare cases, casinos may take legal action against card counters, claiming that their activities constitute fraud or cheating. While these instances are relatively uncommon, players should be aware that they could face legal consequences depending on the jurisdiction and specific circumstances.



  1. Is card counting considered cheating?

No, card counting is not considered cheating. It is a skill-based strategy that utilizes one’s memory and mathematical abilities to gain an advantage over the casino.

  1. Can casinos confiscate your winnings?

Casinos cannot confiscate your winnings solely for counting cards. However, they can ban you from their premises and refuse to provide services, including paying out your winnings.

  1. Are there legal ways to gain an edge in blackjack?

Yes, there are legal strategies that players can employ to improve their odds in blackjack. These strategies include the basic blackjack strategy, which focuses on making statistically optimal decisions based on the player’s hand and the dealer’s upcard.

  1. Do casinos use multiple decks to prevent card counting?

Yes, many casinos use multiple decks to make card counting more difficult. By increasing the number of decks in play, it becomes harder for players to keep an accurate count.

  1.  Are there any successful professional card counters?

Yes, there have been successful professional card counters who have made substantial profits from their strategies. However, becoming a successful professional card counter requires extensive knowledge, practice, discipline, and the ability to adapt to changing casino conditions.

  1. Can card counting be used in other casino games?

Card counting is primarily associated with blackjack due to its favorable odds for players. Other casino games, such as baccarat and poker, have their strategies and techniques that differ from card counting.



In conclusion, card counting is not illegal, but it is frowned upon by casinos. While players can employ card counting techniques to gain an edge, they must be aware of the potential consequences, including being banned from casinos and facing legal action in some cases. It’s essential to understand the legalities and risks associated with card counting before attempting to use it as a strategy. Ultimately, the decision to count cards rests with the individual player, weighing the potential rewards against the potential risks.


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