Could card counting land you in jail? 

When playing blackjack, there’s plenty to enjoy whether you win or lose. However, there are those with a competitive streak who go all out to boost their chances of a win. This sees them looking into blackjack strategies and, initially at least, mastering the basics. This often leads to learning about card counting. But is card counting illegal? 

The thought behind card counting is that it gives you the edge over the casino. If done correctly, the odds are much more favorable. The problem is that many players are not really sure with where they stand when it comes to card counting. While they know casinos certainly aren’t fans of the practice, does this mean that it’s illegal? That’s what we’re going to explore here.

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Is card counting illegal?

So, why do people want to learn card counting?

Before we get into the details of the law around card counting, it’s worth taking a look at why people want to master the skill in the first place. As we’ve already suggested, card counting is used to give players an advantage and to increase their chances of winning. 

In theory, a player’s advantage can be from around 0.5% and go as high as 1.5%. There are some occasions when the advantage over the casino can even go over this level. The way that card counters gain this edge is by assigning values to the sets of cards and keeping a running count. This allows them to know how many cards are left in the pack to be dealt.

Is card counting actually illegal?

The good news is that there are no laws against card counting. In fact, it’s not even classed as being a form of cheating. When you look at the federal state and local laws of the US, it does not outlaw this practice. The only time that it does intervene is if a player opts to use an external card counting device or uses another person to help them.

Given that card counting is not illegal, even if you do get caught, there’s no chance that you’re going to land yourself in jail. However, what you will find is that casinos will have measures in place to make card counting more difficult. You’ll also find that some casinos will ban those who are particularly successful with using the method. 

Why are casinos so against card counting?

While card counting is not illegal and doesn’t even break any blackjack rules, don’t expect a casino to congratulate you when you win using it. The issue for casinos is that card counting swings the odds, a little too much, in favour of the player. Yes, casinos are a place of entertainment, but they’re also businesses and can’t risk losing all of the time!

Card counting allows players to adjust their bet when required. They know when to bet back, and they know when to scale back. This just doesn’t sit well with the financial aspect of running a casino.

What do casinos do to prevent card counting?

As we’ve seen, casinos have a pretty good reason for wanting to discourage card counting. However, they are only too aware of the fact that people are still going to try. While accepting this fact, that doesn’t mean that casinos just lay back and allow it to happen. Here are some of the ways that they make card counting that much more difficult to pull off:

Continuous Shuffling Machines

Referred to as CSMs, Continuous Shuffling Machines are one of the main tools used by casinos in their fight against card counters. With a CSM, a dealer is able to put back the dealt cards so that they can be reshuffled. To a great extent, this reshuffling minimises deck penetration. It becomes all but impossible for players to be able to count the cards.

Something else that a CSM offers is continuous play. The ability to reshuffle, at speed, does away with the need to pause, and virtually all interruptions are gone. This keeps the game being played at speed and it soon becomes a little too confusing for card counters to keep their running counts. 

RFID chips

RFID technology is a major weapon used to combat card counting. It is used by casinos to determine exactly what a player bets. The technology is integrated within the casino’s chips and is coupled with sensors that are under the tables. This allows for casinos to accurately identify the average bet rates. So, how does this help with card counting?

Well, the technology gives real-time data and allows casinos to see the betting patterns of the players. Card counters will adjust their bets based on their counting. This can show up as suspicious betting activity meaning that the card counters can be easily identified.


Something that you’ll notice in land-based casinos as opposed to online casinos is that there are cameras pretty much everywhere. The truth is that there are a lot more than those that you can see: they are installed and mounted in places that give casinos an all-seeing eye.

The cameras are used by casinos to keep watch over what’s taking place. They can identify any cheating or suspicious behaviour. When it comes to card counting, many players give themselves away with their body language and betting patterns. Surveillance cameras mean that it’s not long before card counters are caught and asked to leave the casino.

Is card counting risky?

The answer here is that it depends upon what you deem to be risky. As we now know, as fact, card counting is perfectly legal and you won’t be getting arrested or spending time in jail for it. However, that doesn’t mean that getting caught is free of consequences. It is more than likely that you’ll find yourself being banned and missing out on the chance to enjoy blackjack and the rest of your favourite casino games.

While the rewards may make card counting tempting, only an individual can decide if this reward is worth risking a lifetime ban for. Just remember, the casinos are watching you!

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