Proof That Card Counting is Legal 

Card counting, a technique used by skilled blackjack players to gain an edge at the tables, has long been a subject of controversy in the casino industry. Some casinos view it as a threat and have taken measures to deter or penalize card counters. However, an important legal precedent was set in a case that unfolded in the Nevada Supreme Court. This landmark decision affirmed the legality of card counting and underscored the importance of understanding the boundaries of fraud in the world of casino gaming. Read more: Card Counting is Legal. 

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Card Counting is legal

The Legal Facts of the Card Counting Case

In April 1997, Richard Chen, a known card counter, engaged in a blackjack session at the Monte Carlo casino in Las Vegas. Chen initially bought in for $29,000. As he was already on the casino’s watchlist for card counting, he presented a fictitious passport from Burma under an assumed name when asked for identification. Later that evening, he bought in for an additional $15,000 without providing identification.

The Casino’s Response

At some point during Chen’s play, a pit supervisor identified him as a card counter and halted his participation. Chen was then taken to the cashier to cash out his winnings, where he again used the false passport as identification. The casino recognized the discrepancy and reported the situation to both casino security and the Gaming Control Board.

The Gaming Board’s Actions

Carl Vidano, a Gaming Board agent, interviewed Chen, who admitted to using the fake passport and provided his true identity. The casino corrected the cash transaction report to reflect the accurate information. Vidano instructed the Monte Carlo to hold onto the chips and give Chen a receipt for the full $84,400, pending a review of surveillance tapes and a criminal investigation.

The Legal Dispute

After a review of surveillance tapes showed card counting but no cheating, Vidano directed the casino to release the money to Chen. The casino, however, refused to comply and initiated a patron dispute case. Vidano issued a formal decision directing the casino to pay Chen the $84,400. The casino again refused, leading to an appeal to the Nevada Gaming Board. Although it was noted that Chen had committed a misdemeanor for possession of false identification, the primary dispute revolved around the $40,400 in winnings.

On the Legality of Card Counting

The Nevada State Gaming Board ruled in favor of the Monte Carlo, allowing them to keep Chen’s winnings. The board concluded that had Chen provided his true identity, he would not have been allowed to play. They also determined that Chen’s use of false identification was a fraudulent act to gain access to the game.

The District Court in Las Vegas upheld the Gaming Board’s decision, which allowed the casino to seize and retain Chen’s winnings. This legal battle eventually led to an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.

The Player’s Side of the Case

The Nevada Supreme Court’s primary role was to review the lower court’s decision. They assessed whether there were any legal errors in the conclusion that the casino had the legal authority to confiscate the chips and whether Chen had committed fraud in acquiring the chips.

Chen’s attorney, John Hawley, contended that no law or administrative rule granted the casino the right to seize chips in this manner. It was also argued that the profits resulted from Chen’s legitimate blackjack play, not from the false passport. Furthermore, they emphasized that a Cash Transaction Report (CTR) was not a prerequisite for playing blackjack.

The Casino’s Side of the Case on the Legality of Card Counting

 The casino framed the legal issues in a manner that could have had chilling implications for players. They asked whether a gambler could present false identification under a fake name to play blackjack and whether the Nevada State Gaming Control Board had the authority to use common law principles to protect the integrity of gaming in Nevada.

If the court had ruled in the casino’s favor on the first issue, it would have allowed casinos to demand legal identification from any player. On the second issue, it could have established that the use of false identification constituted fraud, leading to the seizure of profits upon detecting fake identification.

The Decision: Why Fraud Was Not Proven

The Nevada Supreme Court found that the Monte Carlo did not prove that the casino detrimentally relied on the misrepresentation of the false passport. The court emphasized that the identification requirement was meant to comply with a government requirement related to cash transaction reports, not as a prerequisite for purchasing chips. Additionally, the casino did not have a policy instructing its employees to cross-check a player’s ID with a list of card counters who might not be allowed to play.

The court’s crucial finding was that the false passport did not cause Chen to win; it merely allowed him to buy $44,000 in chips. Thus, the court determined that the Gaming Control Board’s claim that Chen committed fraud was legally unfounded.

Other Observations of the Case on the Legality of Card Counting

  • Legal Implications Beyond Card Counting: The legality of presenting false identification was not the central issue in this case. Instead, the court focused on whether the seizure of the chips was justified.

  • Lack of Criminal Charges: Notably, no criminal charges related to the false identification were filed in this case, and the court did not address this aspect. This should not be interpreted as a legal endorsement of using false identification.

  • A Landmark Decision: The decision’s significance lies in its affirmation of the legality of card counting, which was not in question but was reassuringly reaffirmed.

  • The Role of the Griffin Book: A different decision could have conferred semi-official status to the Griffin book, potentially making it a legally recognized tool. However, this case did not lead to such a result.

Final Thoughts

The Nevada Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the card counter Richard Chen had far-reaching implications for the legality of card counting in Nevada. The court’s ruling established that card counting is legal and clarified the limits of fraud in acquiring casino chips. This landmark case sets a precedent for future disputes between card counters and casinos, ensuring that the rights of players who employ legitimate gambling strategies are protected under the law.

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