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by Basil Nestor


Basil Nestor is author of "The Smarter Bet Guide to Craps," "The Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack," and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? Visit and drop him a line.

I was at a party a few years ago when someone I know pulled me aside. I’ll call him Beach Dude because he was blond and suntanned. BD also liked to play blackjack. He’s not in my circle of friends. The guy is more like a friend of a girlfriend’s friend, so I’d seen him a couple times and he knew about my work as a professional gambler. We talked about strategy, always very level-headed discussions. But this time he was breathless with excitement. He cornered me and jabbered with exhilaration, "I have a perfect way to win a ton of money at blackjack. I want your advice."

Sounds intriguing, right? I smiled and nodded my head. "Wow! Please tell."

"I met a guy who has a computer that goes into your shoe. You use toes to work the controls. It helps you count cards, flawlessly. Imagine the profit! He wants $5,000 for it. I’m trying to decide if I should buy it, or maybe you know somebody who makes ‘em cheaper." Then there was a pause and his eyes got a little wider, sort of a pleading look... "If I buy it, I was hoping you would go in half with me."

My jaw dropped as he spoke.

"Pretty cool, huh?" BD nodded his head expecting me to agree with him.

"No, not cool." I replied. "You know that’s cheating, right?"

His head tilted sideway, kind of like a confused doggy.

"Wha…? Counting is okay. You said that in your book."

"Yes, counting is okay. But using a mechanical device to count is most definitely, absolutely cheating."

"Ya… If they catch me then they kick me out. I need your advice about which casinos would be least likely to catch me."

I shook my head. "No… dude… cheating… it’s against the law. Nevada statutes and the laws in other states are very clear about this. You cannot use a device for counting. If they catch you, they won’t eject you. They’ll arrest you and put you in jail."

I watched his face change as the reality slowly sank in. There would be no pot of gold using a gambling computer.

What is Illegal?

Some tactics are unwelcome and unwanted in casinos, but they're legal. Counting cards is an example of a tactic that’s legal. Shuffle tracking is also legal. Signaling is legal (in blackjack, but not in poker). Hole-carding is legal. But crimping cards is illegal. Using a blackjack computer is illegal. Marking cards is illegal. What’s the difference? How can you know if a tactic goes over the line?

Let’s look at the law to find where the line is. We’ll use Nevada statutes as an example. Laws in other states tend to be similar, but keep in mind they’re not necessarily identical.

According to Nevada statute 465.075, "It is unlawful for any person at a licensed gaming establishment to use, or possess with the intent to use, any device to assist: (1) In projecting the outcome of the game; (2) In keeping track of the cards played; (3) In analyzing the probability of the occurrence of an event relating to the game…"

And the previous section, 465.070 tells us, "It is unlawful for any person: (1) To alter or misrepresent the outcome of a game or other event on which wagers have been made after the outcome is made sure but before it is revealed to the players. (2) To place, increase or decrease a bet or to determine the course of play after acquiring knowledge, not available to all players, of the outcome of the game or any event that affects the outcome of the game…"

Then paragraph 7 of 465.070 delivers the coup de grace.

[It is unlawful for any person:] To manipulate, with the intent to cheat, any component of a gaming device in a manner contrary to the designed and normal operational purpose for the component…"

The ellipses indicate that the statutes go into much greater detail, but you get the idea. Physical manipulation of the game (beyond what is explicitly allowed in the rules) is unlawful. Players cannot use mechanical devices. The law does make an exception for devices "permitted by the Commission." Nevada gaming regulations define these as "handwritten records of the cards played at baccarat" and "handwritten records of roulette results." Faro is also mentioned, but blackjack is not on the list, for obvious reasons.

Besides prohibiting mechanical devices, the law makes it clear that you cannot do things that alter the game. These include switching cards, marking cards, or changing previous bets after the outcome of a contest is determined.

Too Close to the Line

Of course, there are gray areas. You’re allowed to use "public" information from a dealer who flashes his hole card. But obviously, you’re not allowed to rest your head on the felt waiting for the flash. Somewhere in between is a line, and if you play too close to that line, you may get burned.

Here’s a real-world example… What I told BD is technically incorrect. Using a blackjack computer is not technically cheating because cheating is legally defined by Nevada law as altering "the elements of chance, method of selection, or criteria which determine the result of the game, the amount or frequency of payment in a game, the value of a wagering instrument, or the value of a wagering credit." Nevertheless, a blackjack computer is still unlawful because it’s a prohibited "device." I used the word "cheating" as a shorthand term to help BD quickly understand. But anyone playing word games at this granular level, parsing legal terms hoping to justify particular tactics, is probably playing too close to the edge.

The best approach is to avoid being seduced by a frenzy of competition to the point where one loses sight of the boundaries of the game. That’s what happened to BD. When you play according to the rules, the worst that should happen is that a casino will eject you. The house is essentially saying, "You're too clever. We don't want to play with you anymore." No harm, no foul. Though realistically, in some extreme situations, you may be incorrectly arrested even when your actions are legal. That’s a subject for another article.

But breaking the law is a different issue. Remember that any player can draw suspicion simply by winning too much. The size of your bets is out there for everyone to see. So what happens if you get a tap on the shoulder?

It’s better to be pointed toward the door, than be cuffed at the wrists.

Play well.


© copyright 2012 Basil Nestor

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