The Dangers of Advantage Play - Defeating Casinos and Facing the Consequences
The dream of many gamblers is to defeat the harsh reality that the house always wins in the long run, and for many years, this dream has proven a mathematical reality for those willing to try advantage play and put in the work. Meanwhile, the casino industry continues to blur the line between advantage play and cheating, and anyone hoping to employ effective strategies should first consider the problems and potential dangers inherent to the advantage player's lifestyle.
Brick-and-mortar casinos and their games attract several types of players. From the casual tourist with a few hundred bucks in their pocket for a weekend in Vegas to the professional player with a deep bankroll being invested over months and years across multiple cities, states, and countries. Of these extremes, the former is more welcome than the latter unless the professional player is a true gambler rather than someone who employs any advantage the law allows.
This industry bias towards less-skilled players and the local laws that permit or empower this preference shows how blackjack can be a one-sided game with the casino able to adjust conditions to suit themselves while expecting players to conform to a narrow path of play. Put simply, if you play like a moron, the casino welcomes you with open arms, but if you show any signs of a working strategy, expect to be shown (or thrown through) the door.
Personally, I understand the dangers of advantage play to a casino’s bottom line, and since almost every casino in the world has the right to turn anyone away for any reason, it should seem that the industry is well protected from potential hordes of card counters descending like locusts to strip their tables clean of chips.
In reality, the numbers suggest that for every effective advantage player, there are dozens more who (at best) simply slow their rate of loss or fail completely in the long run, yet the industry remains fearful, combative, and (on rare occasions) even violent against anyone who beats the house.
What You Need to Know before Attempting Advantage Play Techniques
As a potential advantage player, you should consider the dangers of being identified as such and address those dangers from the outset rather than find yourself on a list before your career has even started. Most importantly, you need to know the law wherever you play. I tend to opine on how things should be, and those opinions may be logically or morally correct, but with casinos, even when the law is on your side, the chances are good you might still get blocked, barred, and even robbed despite having done nothing technically wrong in the eye of the law.
In the past, anyone caught working an edge might be in danger of a rough ride from security and casino staff, but even today, players experience unfair, even illegal treatment once identified and are not always backed off professionally. And knowing your rights is not always the best defense when faced with heavy-handed tactics unless you know how to establish and insist on those rights in a way that doesn’t expose you to further abuse.
A great resource for what is actually legal and defensible (in court) is Robert Nersesian’s book “The Law for Gambling: A Legal Guide to the Casino Environment.” which details his experience representing advantage players. Search his name, and you will find interviews where Mr. Nersesian outlines situations common to experienced players when beating the house at its own games.
So, what might happen if you find yourself being asked to step away from the table? First, let’s assume you are card counting or shuffle tracking legally without the aid of a device and without assistance from another player. Nersesian states that team play can get you busted in some states and off-table assistance such as spooking a dealer’s hole cards (sighting cards from a distance being unconsciously exposed by a dealer then signaling those cards to a dealer at the table by visual or electronic means) is going to get you into serious trouble that many attorneys will refuse to defend.
Advantages played single (on your own) and entirely in your mind (such as card counting), using only information freely available to all players is entirely legal, and you are free to process that information any way you, please. Regardless, many casino employees persist in stating - and sometimes believing - that card counting and similar methods are illegal and attempt to enforce these non-existent laws in ways that infringe on your rights. Players have been illegally detained for hours, even physically abused in the process, for reasons either entirely made-up or misinterpreted by security and management personnel.
Players often find themselves forced into the back room for refusing to identify themselves, which in most US states, they are not required to do, even when winning large amounts of money. Players have had their winnings confiscated or refused the right to cash their chips before being forced off the property. Both of these actions are typically illegal, and gaming control officers can be called (by players) to enforce gambling regulations and laws wherever you find yourself tossed onto the sidewalk.
That being said, gaming control agents do not always apply the law correctly and have been known to side with the casino even in clear-cut cases! In fact, their primary duty is (supposedly) to protect the players! Nersesian recounts that even in court, obstinate gaming enforcement employees fail to understand the legal requirements of their role and seem to willfully misinterpret open and shut cases. In a recent interview, English magician and YouTuber Steven Bridges, who documents his card counting exploits on his channel, recalled how a gaming control officer in Las Vegas stated he was not there to protect the player’s rights but to enforce casino policy!
Many card counters have run into problems with local police, called in by casinos to enforce non-existent laws against advantage players, and while there are many well-informed, intelligent officers in any police department, there’s also a healthy supply of dunces in uniform who believe card counting is against the law, forcing players into drawn out scenarios that need a lawyer to untangle. The police have even been called to force players to identify themselves away from the casino property, and information immediately (and illegally) passed to the casino, which no doubt holds considerable political influence in any town.
NOTE: In many states (possibly all), police officers can only insist on identification when they have legal cause to do so, but this does not prevent countless bad arrests when citizens insist on their right to refuse. Be careful when traveling abroad, as those same rights may not apply to foreigners.
A lot of this boils down to the community of misinformed distrust cultivated within the casino industry, and even though almost every major casino has expert staff in terms of the law and advantage play, resentment and dislike for successful players continue to percolate from the security suite to the dealer's pit and that can often lead to players being caught in situations they need to take to court.
As a player, you need to consider all of this if you hope to succeed because with increased success at the table comes a greater chance of trouble away from it. You need to spend time thinking about how you might circumvent casino anti-card counter tactics and avoid being identified as undesirable before you even place a bet. In my next article, we will explore how players try to beat that system.
Casinos continue to petition for stronger laws against perfectly allowable methods of beating their games and are not deterred by the simple logic that forbidding card counting is an attempt to police thought itself. That being said, the casinos really do prefer players to do as little thinking as possible at their tables!
As Mr. Nersesian accurately observes, “Casinos are not the best gamblers in the world, and they have no business persecuting better gamblers than them.”