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Casinos vs. Card Counters: the Law and Reality

In: Business and Management

Submitted By moscone
Words 2907
Pages 12
Casinos vs. Card Counters:
The Law and Reality
Contents

Page Description
3 Introduction
4 Card Counting Systems
4 MIT Blackjack Team
5 Is Card Counting Legal?
6 The Right to Ban Skilled Players
7 Casino Countermeasures
7 Griffin Investigations, Inc.
9 Face Recognition Systems
9 Bloodhound Blackjack Monitoring System
10 Changing the Rules
12 “Backrooming”
13 Conclusion
14 References

Blackjack is the only casino game that when played perfectly has odds in favor of the player instead of the house. The only way to play blackjack perfectly is to use a strategy called card counting, where a player will keep track of the number of high cards and low cards that have been used from a deck to give them a better idea of what card valuesvalue cards may come out next. Because of this casino operators have over the years attempted to get legislation passed to have card counting made illegal, then lobbied to have the law on their side to allow them to barban known card counters from their casinos. Card counting was devised in the 1950’s by a group of blackjack experts and mathematicians. This will swing the odds from 10% or so in the favor of the house to a 2% advantage for the player. Even though it is a very small number of players who can master this very difficult system, the casinos have always attempted to find new ways to make sure that these experts were not able to keep the odds in their favors. The casino considerscasinos consider these players cheaters and want to be able to barban them from the premises.casinos. The players feel like they are doing nothing wrong since they are using nothing other than knowledge and practice to beat a game fairly. The first well known publication that dealt with the idea of card counting was “Beat the Dealer” written by MIT Math Professor Ed Thorp in 1962. Since then there have been a number of people who have tackled this subject and attempted to refine the system to today’s game. Since blackjack is the most popular casino game it was natural for casino operators to begin to worry as more and more players became aware of these systems and attempted to use them. Players with the right credentials could make large sums of money if given enough time to learn the system. There are many different card counting systems used by professional blackjack players. All of these systems involve assigning a positive (plus) or negative (minus) value to every card in the deck. This value system is used to determine whether more high cards (tens through aces) or low cards are left in a deck. The more high cards left in the deck the better the odds are for the player. The reverse holds true for the dealer. A positive running count means that there are more high cards remaining in the deck and it is safe for the player to increase his/her bets to maximize winnings. The most well known and easiest to use system is the Hi-Lo system. Noted professional gambler Ken Uston has come up with at least 3 card counting systems, along with being one of the biggest advocates for card counters in their fight to keep their techniques legal and fight for laws that make it illegal for casinos to discriminate against them. One of the most well known card counting groups is the MIT Blackjack Team, whose exploits were chronicled in the New York Times Bestseller “Bringing Down The House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas For Millions”. The first MIT Blackjack team grew out of an Independent Activities Period class called “How to Gamble if You Must” in January 1979. One of the members of that team, still only known as Mr. M, teamed up with Harvard Business School graduate William Kaplan, who had been running a few blackjack teams in Las Vegas. A team “bank” was created and over the years got returns as high as 250% on their investments. Aside from the book there has also been a documentary on the history channel and a major motion picture in production for future release based on the team. The previously mentioned book covers a time in the mid 1990’s where the team experience pretty much every effort that will be covered later involving methods used by casinos, legal and illegal, to combat card counters. When the media coverage heats up with the release of the new film, I am sure both sides of the argument will take advantage of the publicity to make arguments on the issue. The first legal question that needs to be asked is whether or not the act of card counting is an illegal one. The two capitals of the gambling world are Nevada and New Jersey. Mississippi, Louisiana and Michigan are among the other states that have government regulated casinos, but most other states take their lead from Nevada and New Jersey. Simply stated, as the law is written in both Nevada and New Jersey, card counting is legal. There is no law specifically about card counting, but the law in place in New Jersey defines a cheater as “any person who by any trick or sleight of hand performance, or by fraud or fraudulent scheme, cards, dice or device, for himself or for another wins or attempts to win money or property or a representative of either…is guilty of a crime.” In Nevada cheating is defined as “to alter the selection of criteria which determine: (a) The result of a game; or (b) The amount or frequency of payment in the game”. Since card counter are not doing anything to alter the results of the cards, only counting to predict the result, they can not be considered cheaters under either circumstance. Since card counting itself is not illegal, the casino operators have had to come up with other ways to keep the counters from realizing there odds advantage. Some of these are legal and some are not. There is one area that the law (or case law) in New Jersey and Nevada are different is regarding the ability to bar ban “skilled” players from playing casino games. In New Jersey it is not legal to ban a skilled player from playing a casino game just because they are a winning player. Other countermeasures are allowed that help the casinos, but they can not outright evict a player. In Nevada it has been established through case law that a player may be removed from a casino for any reason the operator deems appropriate since a casino is private property. California and Iowa have clear laws that state that a casino can “revoke license” from any player for any reason. Missouri in the only state with a law that benefits the card counters by clearly stating that “Card Counting shall not constitute cheating” and by requiring “Class A and Class B licensees to permit patrons to engage in card counting in gambling games”. The law in a state either allowed or disallowing a casino to barban players does not stop operations in all states to institute countermeasures to attempt to swing the odds back in the house’s favor even against the most skilled card counters. Being in a state that does allow barring of players only gives you the right, it doesn’t give you the means to actually do it. With the millions of patrons who frequent casinos, it is a daunting task to be able to identify every card counter who enters your operation. As casinos crack down more and more on card counters, the players have come up with more sophisticated way to disguise themselves to keep from being detected. With millions of dollars at their disposal, casinos have gone great lengths to have a system in place to identify and locate known card counters. Griffin Investigations, Inc. is the most used detective agency used by casinos to identify casino cheaters. Since casinos consider card counters cheaters as well (even if the law says otherwise) Griffin is sure to identify card counters alongside actual cheats when reporting to casinos. The infamous “Griffin Books”, now up to 3 volumes, lists over 2000 suspected gambling cheats. It contains color photographs, descriptions, and histories of each player and is updated monthly. Griffin has investigators around the world digging up information on anyone even suspected of being a cheat. If a casino subscribes to its system link technology, video and pictures from casino surveillance can be transmitted directly to a Griffin investigator who will be able to identify a suspect using a number of identifiers ranging from appearance to method of cheating. This service proves to be invaluable to casino operators, who are likely to pay quite a large fee in exchange for the service. The only possible downside for a casino operator in using this agency or any other like it would be the possibility of a lawsuit. Since the agency is acting as an agent for the casino the casino can be held liable for any negligent action done by the agency. Prior to 1998 there are only two cases that have been brought against the Griffin agency and neither went to trial. It is suspected that both cases went away as a result of an out of court settlement. Face Recognition Systems (FRS) are a technology that is not yet widely used in the industry, but as the technology improves can make life even harder for card counters and casino cheats. FRS is one of the many technologies that fall under the larger technology group called Biometrics. Other technologies in this group consist of iris recognition systems and fingerprint recognition systems. While FRS manufacturers claim that this technology can pull faces from video footage, determine the position of the head, face and pose then translate this into a code that can be compared to a database to find a match. This technology started to get a lot of media coverage after the events of 9/11, as airport security and police forces were looking for a way to find possible security threats before they were in a position to do any harm. This technology has not proven to be productive as of yet. The Tampa Police department discontinued the use of FRS in October of 2003 after two years because not one person who was being pursued by the department was recognized. Due to the flaws that still exist in the system casinos now only consider FRS technology as an additional tool to help in the fight, not the final solution. Another technology used to identify card counters are blackjack monitoring systems. One such system is the Bloodhound Blackjack Monitoring System by Shufflemaster, Inc. The monitoring system is voice activated. An operator watching a game from the “eye in the sky” narrates every step of the game (wagers, cards dealt, player decisions) into the system. The system will then analyze the action and see if the play occurring matches the play of known card counters. The system can keep records on particular players and analyze how much money per hour a player stands to make if he/she continue to play the same way. This system seems to be very effective, but the issue of manpower to monitor each and every game continuously to catch the random card counter does not seem to be a good cost benefit. While casinos spend a significant amount of money developing technology to assist them in identify card counters in hopes of banning them from their property, the most cost effective way to neutralize card counters may not be to ban them, but to change the rules of the game to make the card counting systems less effective. The most basic act that a casino and dealer can take to neutralize card counter is the make “selective” or “preferential” shuffles. Since the whole card counting system relies on keeping track of what cards have been played and what card remains in the deck, the act of shuffling will force a card counter to start all over again. Some casinos use a set number of hands in scheduling a reshuffle (most use three). Some have dealers shuffle if a large number of small cards have been dealt, knowing that players will now have the advantage of knowing high cards should be coming. Dealers can also be instructed to shuffle if any player has a sudden increase in the amount they are betting. This is one of the most elementary signs that someone is counting cards. As the remaining cards in the deck tilt in the favor of the player, a counter will increase his/her bet to maximize the payout. There are other rules that can be implemented in between hands at the same table in the middle of the same deck if the casino so decides. When a casino suspects a card counter at the table the following rules can be implemented: 1) Limit a particular player to play only a single hand at a time; 2) Change the table minimum or maximum by merely posting a sign and "announcing the change to patrons who are at the table;" and 3) Allow some players at a table to have a higher maximum wager than other players.
The last rule is clearly directed at the card counter and is not meant to be subtle. If a player is ever at a table and it is announced that he/she has a maximum bet significantly lower than every other player at the table it is time to pack up and go home. “Backrooming” is an older term for the harassment that was used in the past by casinos when there was almost lawlessness in the industry. “Backrooming” usually refers to the holding of a suspected cheater in a back room area by security. After taking the patron to the back they can be held for an extended period of time, interrogated, identification taken, chips confiscated, arrested and in rare occasions these days beaten. Since card counting is not illegal the casinos do not have a right to hold a patron they suspect of doing so. Due to the threat of lawsuits this tactic is not thought to be used as much today, but it has not been totally eradicated. Casinos have been taken to court over these issues and lost. The lawsuits covered areas from false imprisonment, assault to the illegal seizure of chips. In separate instances casinos had to make amends with players they held illegally. A card counters illegally held and assaulted by the New Frontier Casino was awarded over $100,000 by a jury in 2005. The MGM Grand casino was ordered by the gaming commission in Nevada to return chips to a number of gamblers who they had confiscated them from, claimed they was no proof that these men had won the chips they were cashing in. Confiscating chips for this reason is one of the ways casinos attempt to keep card counters from cashing in on their winnings. While casinos in Nevada may have the right to bar or ask skilled players to leave their casinos it does not give them a right to falsely imprison them or seize their winnings. In the casino industry it is always in an operator’s best interest to keep the odds in his/her favor for the well being of the business. Since the casinos are such a vital part of the economy in these cities that they are located it is understandable that the government and courts would want to make sure that these operations are given the best chance for long term survival and growth. That being said it seems unreasonable to have it clearly established that card counting is legal, but that a casino may take measures to ban or discriminate against a player they suspect anyway. Unless player decides to spend the time, money and resources to continue this fight through the courts against the casinos then it is unlikely that the law will change in their favor. Until that time does come you can be sure the casinos will continue to develop ways to identify and neutralize the card counters to keeps the odds in their favor.

References

Benston, Liz and Richard N. Velotta. (2005, August 19) Regulators side with gamblers in cases of confiscated chips. Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved April 4, 2007 from http://www.lasvegassun.com

Electronic Privacy Information Center. (2003) 2003 Privacy Year in Review. Retrieved April 4, 2007 from http://www.epic.org

Grochowski, John. (2005, January 11) New Wrinkles on Blackjack. Retrieved April 4, 2007 from http://www.casinocitytimes.com

Gros, Roger. (1996) How To Win At Casino Gambling. London, England. Carlton Books Unlimited.

Grover, Garima. (n.d.) Face Recognition System. Retrieved April 4, 2007 from http://www.espresscomputeronline.comhttp://www.espresscomputeronline.com

Judge Jackie Glass doesn’t allow jury to consider punitive damages in false imprisonment case. (2005, September 30) Retrieved April 4, 2007 from http://www.thebeargrowls.com

Rose, I. Nelson. (1998) New Jersey Declares Open Season On Cardcounters. Retrieved April 17, 2007 from http://www.bjrnet.com

Rose, I. Nelson and Robert A. Loeb. (1998) Blackjack and the Law. Oakland, CA. RGE Publishing.

The Mere Act of Shuffling is a Casino Countermeasure. (2006, November 6) Retrieved April 4, 2007 from http://www.top-online-casinos-ranked.com

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...Functions of Money (1) Medium of Exchange Cures two problems with bartering: Double coincidence of wants, e.g. you have a horse you want to trade, and you want a cow—now you need someone who has a cow, and wants a horse. Depreciable commodities (2) Store of Value Money may be used as a store of value. Not all stores of value are money. (3) Unit of Account Unit in which prices are stated and accounts maintained. (4) Statement of Deferred Payment Measure of what must be paid in long-term transactions like loans and annuities. What is Payment Systems? Concerned with the law governing the payment component of commercial transactions. This is the law applicable not to money itself, but to the various substitutes for money. Payments law is not derived from principles of “higher law.” Instead, it is instrumental—designed to facilitate commercial transactions. One way to view payment law is as creating a set of default rules. These rules are designed to establish what the parties would otherwise do for themselves, if they were able to bargain about what the rules would be. Presumably, people would like to reduce transaction costs. So how do we determine what the parties would have chosen? We engage in a “thought experiment” and imagine what kind of bargain parties would strike. Self-interested parties prefer more of a good thing, so most bargainers would agree to a rule that makes them both better off. They prefer lower costs over higher costs, so as to increase......

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