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by Joe Pane

Joe Pane is a skilled advantage blackjack player, and an experienced tournament player who has won lifetime over a million dollars in blackjack tournaments, including his recent first and third place finishes in tournaments sponsored by the IP in Biloxi, MS. Joe is the #1 ranked tournament player in the country and was named 2007 Player of the Year by Las Vegas Advisor publisher Anthony Curtis. In Joe's last 11 tournaments in 2007/2008, he made the final tables eight times and won two of them for an impressive 73% final table appearance rate with just over $240,000 won in the past 12 months. Joe is also the Assistant Director of Tour Operations for the Ultimate Blackjack Tour (UBT), as well as the Team UBT Coordinator. His peers consider him to be one of the strongest blackjack tournament players on the circuit.


Editorís Note: I first met Joe Pane at a blackjack tournament several years ago. I had heard from some of my blackjack buddies that he was a "pretty good tournament player." Are you kidding me? Joe happens to be one hell of a tournament player, who is on one hell of a current hot streak (in the last six tournaments Joe has played, he made the final tables five times, finished first two times, and had total winnings of $240,000). Joe is big and brawny just like a cop. In fact, he was a cop in New York no less, who got interested in blackjack tournaments, and eventually settled in Las Vegas to play them more or less full time. Joe has tutored many students in tournament play including yours truly. He is also an advocate for playerís rights as you will see when you read his article.


A few years ago the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce launched a TV ad campaign that boasted to all potential visitors the now famous phrase, "What Happens in Las Vegas Stays in Las Vegas." However, there was one problem with this catchy phrase: it was already a steadfast practice of the Las Vegas casinos, and their Nazi-like security force, for many years prior to this TV campaign to bring new and uneducated gamblers into town to be slaughtered by the casinos that lay in waiting, just like the lions of the jungle that hide in the bushes waiting for the next meal to walk by.

You see, prior to the Internet if you happen to miss reading your local newspaper or the nightly news, the events of the day were hard to follow, and the Las Vegas casinos used that to their advantage as they went about their business assaulting, illegally detaining, and robbing customers on a freighting basis. Now, this didnít happen every day, but it happened more than it should have ever happened in the first place, especially when the casino customer was in no way committing any crime, whatsoever.

What caused this illegal, and sometimes barbaric conduct to exist, was the deaf ear and blind eye of the Nevada court system where a violated customer couldnít even find an attorney to take his case against the powerful casinos because they had every Las Vegas politician and lawmaker in their hip pocket. This was a "Good Old Boys Town," and no one, or nobody, was going to change it.

When the Las Vegas casinos and their money making machine are the major source of tax revenues for the city, they were all but given a free pass in their conduct, even when sometimes they were criminally and civilly irresponsible. No Judge would ever have the nerve to rule against a casino because it would be political suicide for them, and their future endeavors here in Nevada.

When the Nevada Gaming Commission was established, along with their gaming agents who were out in the field, their job was to make sure that the casinos were conducting themselves in a manner that is fair to both the customers and the casino. The only problem with this scenario was that a lot of agents who retired from the gaming board suddenly found work with the same casinos that they were hired to police and fine if rules and laws were broken. This was a clear conflict of interest and one that was never policed. The Good Old Boys Network was in place and spinning like a top for many years. The customers, for the most part, were coming out on the short end of the stick on most rulings.

A few years ago, two patrons at Binionís Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas were beaten so badly by Binionís security guards that they had to be rushed to a hospital where they spent almost two weeks to recover from the vicious attack that was administered to them by a few over zealous Binionís employee. The beatings were so bad and malicious that even the political machine and court system that the casinos had in their back pockets could not help Binionís out of this mess. Binions were forced to settle out of court because they knew that even the Good Old Boys Network could not turn their head on this fiasco since it was big news for days here in Las Vegas, and it wasnít about to go away. If you are wondering what these two customers did to warrant this beating, all they did was use an advantage play called "Hole Carding." Thatís when a player sitting on a game of blackjack can get a glimpse of the dealerís hole card because of a sloppy dealer who was not properly trained nor supervised by the casino. Most dealers are taught and trained properly on how to protect the game they are dealing, especially when it comes to accidently exposing their hole card. Itís the sole responsibility of a casino to make sure that all their dealers are trained in this function. Itís not illegal for a player, who sees a hole card as a result of a sloppy dealer, to use this information to his advantage. The player, in fact, may even signal another player at the table what the hole card is that he saw.

If you donít believe me that seeing a dealer hole card is totally legal, you can check the Supreme Court case of Einbinder/Dalben. If you still are not sure that this advantage play has been ruled totally legal, go to and search for "Einbinder/Dalben," and you will see that the Supreme Court ruled that what they were doing with this available information was well within their rights.

(Editorís Note: I was asked that same question on a Travel Channel Show on gambling and I responded exactly as Joe said: it is not illegal).

The casinos would like the unsuspecting general public to believe that card counting, shuffle tracking, and hole carding are illegal actions, when just the opposite is true. I have sat at many blackjack games in my life, and yet when you ask the average John and Jane Doe whether card counting is legal, they will almost always say that it is not. They have fallen for the casino propaganda that card counting is illegal. Card counting is just using your brain while playing the game of blackjack. Itís similar to bridge players who use the knowledge of cards that they have seen to determine how best to play the cards that are left in their hands. Same strategy, only different game.

I have never seen a sign outside of any casino that says please check your brain before entering and playing one of our card games. The casinos have a built in mathematical edge to every game that they offer, which guarantees they will win money day in and day out from 99.999 percent of their customers. But no, thatís not enough for them. They want to slaughter every last customer (even the ones with brains) that walks past their fountains, flashing neon lights, and dancing showgirls.

We know that the vast majority of casino customers will lose to the casino in the long run. Lady Luck will always pop her head in every now and then and guide the ploppie (i.e., unskilled player) to a winning trip, but over time the math of the game will just wear him down. But thatís not good enough for the greedy casino; they want to slaughter everyone who walks through their doors, and they figure that if they canít beat you at the tables, they just might resort to beating you in the back room.

If I owned a business that made money from 99% of my customers all, or most of the time, I would be one happy camper. Remember, no one twisted the casino ownerís arms to get in to the gaming business; they chose this business themselves. Even though casinos have a gaming license, the possibility always exist that they could lose money in the short term, but this should not be a reason for them to violate, beat, and illegally detain winning customers.

But, dear readers, all this has changed in the past eight or so years, and Bob Nersesian, a local lawyer in Las Vegas, is the catalyst for a lot of the recent success of legal actions brought against the illegal and wrong doings of casinos located here.

Nersesian recently won two major cases against the Imperial Palace and Caesars Palace, where his client James Grosjean was awarded over $400,000 in the Imperial Palace case for being illegal detained while just walking through the casino. Get this: he wasnít even playing, but once again the poorly trained and over zealous Imperial Place security staff, acting on false information from the Nevada Gaming Commission, illegally detained Grosjean and roughed him up. In the Caesarís Palace case, Nersesianís client was jailed for four days for hole-carding, when in fact Caesarís knew hole carding was not illegal. Instead, Caesarís informed the Nevada gaming agents and the Las Vegas police that they had information from the infamous Griffin Detective Agency that Nersesianís client, along with his companion, were known card benders (card bending is a felony in the state of Nevada). The false charges were eventually dropped, and both Caesarís and the Griffin Detective Agency were sued. The jury ruled against Griffin and Caesarís lawyers, and after seeing how bad the case was going, they decided to settle before the jury came back with a verdict. I guess the $400,000 Imperial Palace case was in the back of their minds.

There were two real crimes that were committed here: one was the false dissemination of information about card bending and cheating on Bobís two clients that the Griffin Detective Agency supplied not only to Caesarís Palace, but also to all casinos that pay them for this information. The second crime was Griffin Detective Agency conveniently claiming bankruptcy to try to avoid paying the settlement that was awarded to the two advantage players through the judicial system that is set in place to make sure citizenís rights are not violated. It sure does seem that any one connected with the casinos, or the casinos themselves, are not able or willing to accept losing fair and square. If they canít beat you legally, they will perform illegal actions both in and out of the casinoís back rooms. But with Bob Nersesian on patrol, and access of the Internet for all to read, things in Las Vegas are no longer driven and buried in the desert. The days of the Good Old Boys Network are long gone.

Iíve also had more than a few horror stories (that someday I will share in detail with you in a future articles) about being backed off, barred from tournaments, refusing to cash my chips, threatened with physical harm, even escorted out of a casino restaurant while in the middle of dinner by the now famous Nazi-like casino security guards. Who, by the way, are paid about $10 an hour, are poorly trained, and are making overzealous decisions for billion dollar companies that are eventually costing their company millions of dollars in lawsuits. But let me share one right now. Back in 2002 a friend asked me if I would play a round for her in a slot tournament at Green Valley Ranch (GVR) Casino. It was an invitational event for out of town players only GVR knew that I was a local player because I played every Wednesday in their weekly blackjack tournament. So I asked my friend to get clearance for me to play as her substitute in the slot tournament. She did and even gave me the host name that she cleared it with. When I arrived at GVR, everything was set in place, or at least I thought so. I reregistered and picked the machine that I was going to play on; so far so good. While waiting to play, another host, who knows me as not only a local player but also as an advantage player, approached me and asked to see my ID. He knew full well who I was but this was his attempt to harass me. I asked him why he needed to see my ID since I hadnít won any jackpots, and furthermore, I wasnít legally bound to present my ID to a casino host, or for that matter any casino personnel. He stated that he had to verify who I was. I refused to show him my ID because I had already done so when I signed up for the tournament. He persisted and was in fact, in my face, demanding to see my ID (this is a true example of casino Nazi-like tactics). I held my ground and refused.

A number of casino suits and security guards swooped in and the final outcome was that I didnít have to show my ID and I went on to play the round for my friend. I filed a complaint with the host supervisor and he promised to look into the matter. Four days went by and no return call from the supervisor or anyone at GVR. I called the supervisor again and he seemed shocked that I still wanted a final resolution to this incident. I told him that I at least expected a return phone call concerning this matter. He promised to get back to me in 48 hours.

Seventy two hours later and still no phone call from him. Now I know Iím being stonewalled and that this is going to be just another case of a casino trying to sweep this wrongdoing under the rug and hope I go away.

They got the wrong guy because I was going to get an answer and solution to this problem one way or another. I didnít know then that this would wind up on TV with GVR and a few key members of their staff painting me as a cheater on national TV. Hereís what happened.

The following Wednesday I went to GVR to play in their tournament, just like I had been doing for the past two years. Out of the blue I was approached by the casino manager and shift manager telling me that they didnít want me playing in their casino anymore. While they were telling me this, it was being filmed with hidden cameras and shown on the TV show American Casino without my consent (including the part where they called me a "cheater").

In fact, the exact statement that was said by the casino supervisor on national TV was, "He is a cheater, mostly for card counting, and he is in the Griffin Book." Now, the last time I checked the law books of Nevada, cheating in a casino is a felony, and if I was in fact a cheater, why didnít they arrest me when I walked in the door every Wednesday afternoon for the past 99 weeks? Talk about an abuse of power. I eventually hired Bob Nersesian, who filed a lawsuit against GVR, the network that aired the show, and the employees that slandered my name by calling me a felon and an undesirable.

Iím legally bound not to disclose how much the settlement was for, but let me just say that I was extremely pleased with Mr. Nersesianís work on this case. The Good Old Boys have lost another one to us law-abiding citizens. Now, what happens in Las Vegas can, and will, be seen by all.

In an upcoming BJI House of Pane column I will sit down and interview Bob Nersesian about our rights as a player in a casino. If you have any questions that you would like me to ask Bob, please email them to me at

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