In one of the most bizarre news that hit the newsstands in recent history, Ben Affleck (of “Gigli” fame, and future Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel) has been banned from playing blackjack in Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Apparently, casino management thought that the actor was “too good at the game.” In essence, this means that they were basically accusing him of card counting. This event didn’t seem to unfaze card game master Ben though, as he was recently spotted burning his way through the local poker scene in Detroit while shooting for his Batman movie.
But why in the world is card counting illegal? These players are, in essence, not cheating at all. It seems kind of irrational that people should be punished for being legitimately skilled in a game.
Let’s first take a look at the definition of card counting (also known as “card reading”). Card counting is a playing method used primarily in blackjack, wherein players keep the game’s house edge down to a minimum by memorizing and tallying (in their heads) all the cards that they have seen throughout the course of the game. When odds are favorable, a player increases his or her bets and vice versa. It’s a skill that requires one to have near savant-memory skills and to be particularly adept at the game.
Here are a few reasons why casinos consider card counting as a no-no and why they have the right to just bar customers:
1. Casinos will always try to make money off you; this is a given and is the whole point of their business. Those hotshot poker players that rake in the millions have done so at the expense of other players, not on the establishment (casinos always take a cut out of players’ winnings). This is a problem in blackjack, since players will be playing against the establishment itself and not with other fellow players.
2. Casinos have every right to evict advantage players from their premises simply from the fact that the house is going to lose money with them. It’s not that card counting is considered as “cheating” per se- in fact, the Nevada State Gaming Control Board has officially and legally stated that card counting shouldn’t be treated as cheating. They are a private business after all, and it’s their discretion on which people they will allow to enter their doors.
3. Imagine you’re at a blackjack table. Would you still want to play knowing that someone in your table has a tremendous advantage over you due to his/her immense memory skill? Most probably not. Card counters discourage casual players (i.e. unskilled to moderately-skilled players that casinos make the most money out of) from playing.
Should you be worried that you’ll be accused as a card counter?
Well, card counting is a skill- a very hard-to-acquire one at that. You need to have exceptional memory abilities, and a knack for computing probabilities in your head. Card counters often have specific betting behaviors that correspond to the probabilities they have computed in their heads- and casinos catch on to these behaviors easily.
Unless a person has really studied and practiced it, average players are very unlikely to be called out as card counters.