Today's Theme: Gambling!


In Vegas, card counters are accusing casinos of "fascist" enforcement tactics. And casinos are accusing card counters of … well, of cheating.

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  1. Next time I’m in Vegas, I wanna check out the Liberace museum. Then I’ll be on my way.

  2. Jack Black, Blackjack is you versus the house. Show your cards to everyone and ask the dealer what they would do. When you win, tip your dealer. They will provide more instruction. Or, place bets for the dealer, where you throw a chip above the circle that contains your bet. With this, the dealer will give you all the advice you need. Its legal and good customer relations. As you learn the game, you will be back more and more to see them.

    Or, get a room at a hotel casino and turn on the TV. They have a channel that teaches you every game and gives you tips on developing a strategy.

  3. Or type “Blackjack” into google. I’m not so sure I’d trust the strategy given to me by the hotel cable…

  4. Can someone point out any casinos that have gone out of business due to skillful players winning too much?

  5. Or you could learn to play a real game, like poker.

  6. Is the issue morality or bad business?

    I agree with everyone else that there is nothing immoral about counting cards. I suspect few outside casino management think otherwise.

    As for the business practice of excluding counters, several have suggested casinos not be allowed to boot them. I counter that if casinos could not police against counters, it would not be long before they would all be broke. All the casinos keep detailed ‘facebooks’ of known counters and will boot them the moment they are identified. A top counter could take the casino for hundreds of thousands over a weekend left unchecked. Do you really want those few counters to ruin the fun for all of us?

  7. I’ve counted cards and it’s not that hard. Just takes a little practice. There are different systems, but all you have to do is keep a running count (which is one number based on the plus/minus factor of all the cards you’ve seen so far) and, usually, a side count of aces. When the count is positive, increase your bet. (But not too quickly or you will be spotted and barred, which the casino has the right to do, just as, say, a grocery store can limit how many on-sale items you buy. The default rule is business owners can bar anyone they choose, which we often forget in our world of all-encompassing civil rights laws.)

    Extra decks? No problem. You simply divide the running count by the number of decks left to get a true count. The real problem is penetration–how far into the decks do they play? In the golden age before they knew about counters, blackjack was one-deck and shuffled to the bottom. The farther in the better, because that’s when the count it likely to be the best (or worst) for you.

    Casinos have taken counter-measures, of course. The most outrageous is barring, but there are other quieter things they do. For instance, many casinos have automatic reshuffling machines which destroy any counting advantage. One- and two- deck games, still done by hand, often have rules that any sharp bet increase means reshuffling. They don’t allow players to enter in the middle of a shoe. They change the rules, such as no soft doubling or no doubling after splitting. And, most common of all, they don’t play very far into the shoe.

    The main trouble with constant reshuffling (though reshuffling machines help get around this) is it slows down play; since most people don’t count–and not all that count count well–the more games played, the more the casino wins.

    Card counters won’t play at tables with automatic reshufflers, and many other players, being superstitious, avoid them as well. Perhaps this is why they haven’t completely taken over yet.

  8. “Alternatively, could grocery stores ban you from bringing a list of prices of goods in other stores so you can comparison shop?”

    i never realised just how many of these things result from market inefficiencies
    if everyone were able to count cards, there wouldnt be casinos. and what of the finance theories that say it’s impossible to beat the market in the long term?

    no wonder people talk about casinos and mutual funds being scams when they’re couched in the language of risk and normally distributed returns.

    i’ve never been in a casino, but i hear that you pretty much decide beforehand how much you plan on losing, and consider that the price of the experience

  9. The efficient market theory relies on the assumption of normally distributed returns, which is not factual. Distributions of stock returns have fat tails.

    BUT: Most mutual fund managers with a good record just happen to have been lucky, and their future performance is a total crap shoot. I’m talking about the guys with 20 stocks in their portfolio. After you factor in the higher fees of the active managers, most investors are better off with a low-cost index fund if they want exposure to the stock market.

    Just to stay on topic, most of the Vegas casinos kick out counters based on a law that says they must offer “games of chance”. They say that counting takes all the chance out of blackjack, so their hands are tied; they have to kick these guys out. And they say these things with a straight face, which is really impressive, actually. 🙂

    I’ve heard of guys being kicked off of the riverboats in St. Louis for playing blackjack as a team. Anybody know how this would be a winning strategy?

  10. Jack Black: I learned from my probability teacher in college. From there it was on to Ed Thorp books and writing my own program to simulate card counting in Baccarat. It was all theoretical, though. When I’m in a casino, I only play the dime slots.

  11. Rob,

    As a team, you could have one player count (or one at each of several tables…), but bet normally and not win; and signal another player who is obviously not counting and playing bad strategy most of the time, so that the non-counting partner can make large bets and play correctly when the count is favorable to the players. So, they would be betting most of their money when they have an advantage.

    But, did anybody actually read the article?

    The counters are complaining because they’re being treated physically roughly rather than being politely asked to leave. This seems like a reasonable complaint to me.

    And the casinos aren’t saying that the counters are cheating. They’re just applying their right to refuse service when they want to. That’s a right most libertarians would agree that they should have. I understand how regulations make this a bit fuzzy, though.

    I think the casinos should back off a bit. They’ve been applying countermeasures to counting for a long time. When they get too severe they lose non-counting business. I can understand their desire to discourage counting, but it’s my understanding that there are so many poor counters (who try to count, but end up losing) for every good counter that the casinos actually make more money because the game can be beaten, theoretically. Counting is hard, especially in a distracting casino environment, and most people can’t do it well.


    It’s not the number of Aces you’ve seen that should affect your insurance-buying decision. It’s the number of ten-valued cards (insurance is offered when an Ace is exposed and the bet is whether the hidden card is a 10-valued card, it pays 2:1). When the ratio of ten-valued cards to non-ten-valued cards in the remaining deck(s) exceeds 2:1, then insurance becomes a good bet. Usually, it’s a bad bet.

  12. Oops, I meant when the ratio of tens to non-tens exceeds 1:2 it becomes a good bet.

  13. Sometimes you can walk out of a casino money ahead. How often can you walk out of a ball game, an opera or a movie money ahead?

  14. The dirty secret of Casino gambling is that you are not allowed to win. Sure anyone who drops a dollar into a slot machine and hits the jackpot is cheerfully paid off, amid lots of hoopla and fanfare. But anyone who is able to sustain winnings hour after hour is asked to leave and their name and face are place in a database shared by all the casinos. It doesn’t matter if you are counting cards or exploiting a statistical anomaly in the video poker payout. If your are caught cheating you will be arrested and prosecuted. But if you are merely winning (for any reason at all) over time, you will be shown the door.

    At issue here is how aggressive casinos can be in combating card-counters. I have to agree that being handcuffed or interrogated should not be allowed. In fact I think it should be considered kidnapping and prosecuted as a felony. What’s more disturbing is the case of “James Carey, who was jailed overnight last year in Laughlin for refusing to identify himself to a Gaming Control Board agent.” This indicates collusion between the casino industry and the state.

  15. Anyone who counts cards in my casino deserves to have his legs broken.

  16. Warren,

    Do you know that first-hand? I’ve always thought that if you’re winning big, and not cheating or counting cards, the casino will kiss your ass and hope to make you a regular. You might come out ahead for one weekend, but if you keep coming back and gambling big, eventually you’ll lose plenty, and the casino wants to be the place you lose it in.

  17. Gene 6-pack – by catching a historic Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds home run ball and then selling it to collectors for big $.

  18. Steve in CA – you are correct. In gambling, there is a chance that you will come out ahead in the short-term, however, as the number of gambles approaches infinite, the likelihood of you coming out ahead approaches zero. In other words, if you are a gambler and you want the best possible odds, what you do is decide beforehand how much money you are comfortable losing. Then you place that amount of money on a single bet. If you win, great, pocket the money and walk away. If you lose, oh well, it was a fun little adrenaline rush for a few seconds, eat the loss and walk away.

  19. Anyone who thinks counting cards deserves a violent response deserves to be jailed when their thugs try it.

  20. Unless you’re counting cards, don’t even consider buying insurance. Insurance is simply a bet on whether the dealer’s hole card is a ten or not, and pays off 2 to 1. But tens are outnumbered 9 to 4 in the deck. And don’t take “even money”–it’s just another way of saying insurance.

    By the way, there have been some riverboat casinos that lost huge when they had special promotions like 2 for 1 payouts for blackjacks. A good player doesn’t even need to count under those condition to win.

  21. “I’ve always thought that if you’re winning big, and not cheating or counting cards, the casino will kiss your ass and hope to make you a regular. ”

    That is correct. I wasn’t talking about ‘wining big’ I was talking about winning small, consistently. The casinos will try to figure out how you’re doing it. (If you are cheating they may even have a couple of uniformed apes tackle you in the casino and will certainly prosecute to the full extent of the law. They want to send a very loud and clear message when it comes to cheating.) But even if they can’t figure out how or why you are winning, if you keep it up, you will be quietly escorted out, it’s simply against company policy to allow anyone to beat the house over time no matter how it’s done.

  22. “Anyone who thinks counting cards deserves a violent response deserves to be jailed when their thugs try it.”

    Anyone who cannot take a joke by another poster deserves a violent response by a potty-mouthed Italian mobster, you miserable little fuck.

  23. “Give me a one-armed bandit anytime over a freaking computer.”

    Slot machines, be they video or mechanical, are all controlled by computers. Random number generators are the @ the heart of modern slot machines.

  24. “What else did you do in Las Vegas, Raymond?”

    “We’ve been counting cards…”

  25. This is like accusing Ted Williams of cheating because his eye sight allowed him to see the way the seams were spinning. He wasn’t cheating, he was just very good at the game.

    When you open an “All You Can Eat” buffet, once in a while a fat guy is going to walk in, skip the dinner rolls, and eat four plates of shrimp. Too bad, work it into your budget.

  26. Counting cards is not cheating, so says the Nevada Gaming board, and so says common sense (it’s all in your head, after all). I have no pity for casino owners; if you cannot defeat a player at the table, on the table, then you should either replace the dealer or not run a casino at all. That’s the game, and the house is not exempt.

  27. I’m inclined to agree. If it’s not cheating to have down the general odds of payoffs and busts, or to memorize rules for when to stick or hit depending on what you’ve got & what the dealer’s showing, I don’t see how it’s any worse to /update/ those odds as the game progresses. If you’ve just seen 12 aces dealt from a three deck shoe, is it cheating if you don’t buy insurance?

  28. So that I understand, the above arguements support the notion that the owner of a casino cannot decide who or who does not play? Is it not his/her casino? If they don’t allow people with cowboy hats, or people with children, isn’t it their prerogative? Do they even need a reason to kick people out? If the market feels this is too draconian, the casino will feel it.

    “Using your brain is not illegal,” Copher says; however, he acknowledges that casinos have the right to refuse service to any player at any time.”

    What right does the card counter claim over the casino? No, it’s not cheating, but that’s not the issue.

  29. If you consider card counting as cheating, then you should feel the same about the six deck shoes the casinos now use.

  30. It is illegal neither to count cards nor to refuse service to card-counters.

  31. The way casinos could do away with this whole “card counting” problem would be to replace all human blackjack dealers with computers that randomly generate cards. That way, prior outcomes in no way impact future outcomes. For example, even if 12 aces in a row have been dealt, the odds of the next card being an ace have not changed. Problem solved.

  32. If the government did not erect artificial barriers to entry to the gambling business, I would not have sympathy for the Green Chippers. As it is, the states (and the sovereign tribal nations) get to say who owns and operates a casino, the % paid back in winnings, what games are allowed, etc. No dissatisfied card counter can storm out and start his own house, catering to players like himself, without jumping through rgulatory hoops, and probably greasing various palms. It would be nothing for a state commission to require the casinos to allow any non-disruptive adult to play, as a condition of their license.

    I’d much prefer a free market in gaming.


  33. Just add more decks to the shoe, am I missing something here? And, casinos need to create reserve loss accounts to manage the risk of sharp minds that can count cards…

    Or the casinos can hope that these individuals sometimes drink way too much at the blackjack table, lose all sense of rationality and then decide to play roulette or craps, which, by the way, has never happened to me.

  34. I would think you’d have to have a phenomenal memory to count cards even from a three-deck shoe, let alone a six-deck shoe. Who can do such a thing?

    How can anybody get any enjoyment out of blackjack with more than 52 cards in play? What could possibly be any fun about a card game where there’s no hope of using any strategy, or even any common sense, to calculate your move? Speaking of which: Computer generated infinities of aces, that sounds like a lot of fun!

  35. If casinos can evict card counters, can grocery stores evict people who come and only buy the loss-leader specials? After all, the stores are trying to get you to come in and see other stuff that you will buy that does make a profit? Alternatively, could grocery stores ban you from bringing a list of prices of goods in other stores so you can comparison shop? I’m all in favor of profit, but if you advertise “gambling” and let anyone in, then you should let anyone in. After, I’m willing to bet (heh) they let in lousy card counters who lose.

  36. Figuring out how many aces are in play, basing your bets on the odds of one being hidden or dealt, and knowing that your opponent can’t get an aces-over full house if you have a pair of aces, is part of the game. Is that card counting?

  37. even from a three-deck shoe, let alone a six-deck shoe. Who can do such a thing?

    They’re called “mnemonics”. Like the bad Keanu Reeves movie.

  38. is the discussion if it is bad business or if it is moral?

  39. Nothing prevents the casinos from developing a policy that has them reshuffle after every play. Post that policy at the table with the rest of the rules and leave it at that. I am not a card counter, but I do have my strategy. A policy like this would seriously affect my strategy and I would either have to change it or not play at all.

  40. The argument that casinos can refuse service to any player at any time is false. No casino in Vegas could refuse service to a player because he’s black. That violates the law. How about this solution: mandate that casinos could not refuse service to patrons who play skillfully.

    Casinos would try to get around the law, but the ensuing lawsuits would probably keep things mostly in check.

    Naturally, such a law would have basically no chance of passage except maybe by ballot initiative.

  41. Brad S:

    Your computer program as dealer plan is not a lot different than dealing from 6 decks or so (until near the end of all the decks, and that’s assuming the counter is indeed the Rainman himself).

    But, I’d never play with a computer dealer, same as I never play video poker. You have no idea if the thing is fair at all (as in random). I’m pretty sure the video poker machines can be programmed to screw you when you’re close to a flush or straight.

    Give me a one-armed bandit anytime over a freaking computer. At least you get to hear the mechanical noise, and plus you can get pissed and kick the machine, and feel better. With a computer, kicking it in it’s guts is not a satisfactory feeling.

    Well, what do I know, I’ve been kicked out of many of these places, so I don’t know what they do in there.

  42. you may not even have to use mnemonics. I have heard of systems were you kepe a running total in your head, and add/subtract from the total based on the amount of face cards, etc. that you see. You can then know when the shoe has a disproportionate amount of face cards, which will tend to work against the dealer (since he has to hit on 16 or lower- getting the face card will bust him out.)

    The big problem that lone card counters face is that their play style makes them easy to spot. They only bet the minimun when the shoe is “cold”, and then suddenly start jacking up the bets to the max at odd intervals. A group of MIT students realized this, and devised a means to circumvent it, which is discussed in the article I put in the URL.

  43. Good Lord, how do y’all know all this stuff — odds, “six-deck shoes,” “aces-over full house,” etc.???

    Seriously — how and where do people learn these things?! When I’m in Vegas, I meekly head for the quarter slot machines. Because I would have no idea, absolutely no idea, what to do at a card or roulette table. It all looks so confusing and daunting.

    Did your dads teach you this stuff? Some wise older friend? Did you read a book? I’m just wondering what part of the life education process I missed, and how I missed it, when for so many others the ins and outs of gambling are apparently second nature.

  44. Brad S:

    I doubt very much that blackjack players (myself included) would continue to bet on a game with computer generated cards. That game already exists; it’s called video poker. Casinos would love this, though. Just think about how much faster they could deal hands of blackjack if it was completely computerized.

  45. to Jack Black: I learned off PC games, they are very realistic and patient with first timers. Also the carribean places are not as frantic as Las Vegas or Atlantic City, at a slow time the dealers will explain the game to you or play a little slower.

  46. I would gladly double the house edge if they would just turn off the artificial noise. Oh, and Canadian casinos suck.

  47. okay, since nobody else referenced it, “i’m shocked to find that gambling is going on here”…

    uh huh.

  48. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/10/2003 09:21:20
    Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are `It might have been.

  49. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/20/2003 11:50:15
    For every action there is an equal and opposite government program.

  50. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/09/2004 11:47:14
    Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.

  51. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/19/2004 06:48:17
    Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

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