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August 24, 2003, 1:25 pm EST

Is Card Counting Illegal?

A few weeks back, we posted a story about a group of MIT students that employed a complex card counting strategy that netted them millions. A debate broke out in the comments section, and the debate was this: is card counting cheating, as the casinos would say, or is it a legitimate piece of strategy?

Compared to other industries, casinos have been fairly lagging into technology that could be used to detect blackjack "cheats." Recently, a technology called Mindplay has been brought into the casinos, in order to try and detect the playing habits of players, and determine whether or not someone is counting cards.

Fundamentally and morally speaking, is there anything wrong with counting cards at a casino? Or is it just being smart? Will the gates of Heaven shut on you if you were found to have counted cards during your life?

Casinos go to great lengths to ensure that there are no card counters at their casinos. They maintain a small advantage over the player, and this advantage dissipates when someone is counting cards. From a business standpoint, there is nothing wrong with them banning players from their casinos who are taking large amounts of money from them; it is their right. But to attach the stigma of being a "cheater" to a person because they count cards; is that right?

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