Is it a Crime to Count Cards?

August 2, 2016
Card counting is not a criminal offence in Canada.
Card counting is not a criminal offence in Canada.
  • Card counting is a strategy used in casino card games and the Ontario Court of Justice has ruled that it is not cheating, therefore not illegal.
  •  The goal of the strategy is to figure out whether the next hand will be favourable to the counter or the dealer. Card counting allows the counters to bet more with less risk when the count is determined to be an advantage. Conversely, it minimizes the losses of the counter where an unfavourable count is determined. The counter uses the observation during the game to assess the probability of a card. 
  • In 1995 in R v Zalis, Christopher Zalis, Barbara Josephine Dancey and Karen Fraser Conroy were charged with the offence of cheating while they were playing blackjack at a Casino in Windsor on May 28, 1994. They were charged with section 209 of the Criminal Code which states:
  • Every one who, with intent to defraud any person, cheats while playing a game or in holding the stakes for a game or in betting is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
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  • The Supreme Court of Canada in R v McGarey said this provision is in place when there is some fraud or ill practice that uses some unlawful device in the act of playing. Cheating entails altering the nature of the game and the criteria for winning. Gifted gamers who increase the odds in their favour by card counting are not cheating. On the other hand, if the gamer is engaged in resorting or mirrors, electronic equioment, magnets or other tools and devides that would alter the play of the game to increase the prospects of winning and therefore would be cheating under the Criminal Code.
  • The accused were part of a gambling team that had strict admission criteria.  Each team member was to operate with secrecy by camouflaging their identity and purpose. Team members had to pass proficiency tests in card counting and had to take a lie detector test. The team was operating in accordance with their team manual that was located in their hotel
  • In this case, the Crown conceded that card counting is not cheating. The crown did, however, argue that concealing identity by camouflaging identities. The court held that the accused did nothing to alter the character or play of the game. They were merely trained professionals exploiting weaknesses of the dealer. The advantages the accused has were not due to any physical act or dishonest conduct that led to the cards coming out in a specific manner. The accused were using highly developed skill in a risky venture. The charges against the accused were dismissed. 
  • The court did hold that casinos can take counter-measures against card-counters to prohibit counters from playing, but a criminal offence of cheating does not occur in counting scenarios. 
  • If you have been charged with the offence of cheating under the Criminal Code, it is in your best interests to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer. The penalty for such an offence is up to two years. 
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