As you may know from various books and movies about card-counting in blackjack, casinos don’t usually allow card-counters to continue their ingenious practice once it is discovered. You cannot be kicked out of a casino for counting—card-counting is legal as long as you do not use any mechanical or electronic devices to aid in tracking cards. However, practically all casinos worldwide are private businesses which can restrict patronage for any reason. You’ve seen the signs, “No shirt, No shoes, No service…No card-counting .” If you are asked to leave a casino for counting, off the table or out the door you go.
To a card-counter, there is a distinct difference between being “backed off” from playing blackjack versus being banned by the casino. Both result in your inability to play at that casino, but the distinction regards if/when/how you are able to return for more glorious blackjack action on future visits. When you are “backed off” by a pit boss or casino manager, it means he or she wants you to leave the table or casino immediately. Usually, you get a courteous tap on the shoulder, “Excuse me sir, your action is no longer welcome here.” Or, you may be told, “You are welcome to play any game in our casino except blackjack.” I’ve even been told, “You can play blackjack here if you like, but you cannot alter your bet” meaning—you cannot use card-counting to your advantage so the house still maintains an edge over you, shithead! You may be able to return on a different shift, a different day, or six months down the line without being noticed or hassled. It all depends if your identity has been compromised and recorded by the casino staff. Since I began counting cards in January 2001, I have been backed off from approximately 20 different casinos. In downtown Las Vegas in 2007, I was backed off from five different casinos in a three-hour stretch. I suspect that some of the staff might’ve been talking to each other about me on the phone. Plus, it was the middle of the night and I was wearing a bright yellow T-shirt. Not very conspicuous, “Hey Frank, be on the lookout for Tweety Bird.” At one time or another over the past five years, I have returned to all of those casinos without being backed off again.
When a card-counter is “banned” from the casino, there usually involves formal documentation restricting the player from ever returning. For instance, when I was banned from the Sandia Casino in Albuquerque in May 2008, I was required to sign a document acknowledging that I would be trespassing if I ever returned to the casino, hotel or golf course. (The golf course restriction hurt the most, since Sandia had an incredible 18-hole layout!) I recall the form that I signed had a photo of me sitting at the table in my dingy Denver Broncos hat. My rugged, handsome identity was definitely compromised. I’ve never been banned from a Las Vegas casino, but I‘ve heard stories of players being detained for countless hours while the paperwork was prepared. I’ve also heard that chips were taken back from the player prior to showing him the exit. Once banned from a casino, it is difficult and impractical to attempt a return. Unless it is the only game in town, the hassle is not worth the benefit.
Last Monday, I experienced a backing off in Las Vegas which may be more serious than the usual backing off. I had been playing at a $50 table at the Bellagio for approximately two hours. My wife and I were staying in the hotel and I was using an M-Life player’s card to earn comps, so I made no attempt to conceal my identity. I had a good session after a string of increased bets and multiple hands due to a large true count. The casino manager, who resembled the character on Seinfeld who told George Costanza, “Yeah, it’s a money thing” when George was using a jackhammer to drill the streets of NYC, approached me from behind saying, “Mr Wiggy, can I have a word with you?” He had a security guard on his side. I responded sarcastically with a lighthearted smile, “That’s not necessary. I know that you want me to leave. I just wish you had told me ten minutes ago before I lost that last shuffle.” The manager responded with a sarcastic smile of his own, “I don’t give a shit!” At that point, the lightheartedness was over. I gathered my chips and started walking quietly toward the elevator. The casino manager also stated, “You can play any game you want on our property, but not blackjack.” I figured that, but I didn’t anticipate what he said next, “…this also applies to all M-Life properties.” Ouch. There are dozens of hotels in Vegas operated under the M-Life umbrella, many of which offered me comped rooms and meals, and sometime show tickets. I had never been backed off at an M-Life property previously.
The big questions are: Will I be banned if I try playing again at the MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, New York-New York, Aria or other M-Life properties? Will I be recognized at any of those places if I don’t use a player’s card? Will the marketing departments and VIP hosts for those hotels still send me promotional offers? Will I be able to accept? Will I be recognized by the same casino manager and staff at the Bellagio six months from now? (Which I will obviously try, just for the sport of it!) Is this what happens to famous blackjack authors? Is this what happens to less than famous blackjack authors named Wiggy? Stay tuned as the situation develops.