Is Card Counting a Sin?

If you didn’t know, I run a blackjack team and teach people how to count cards for a living. I am also a Christian. Some people have a problem with those two things being together. Lucky for me I have a brother-in-law who, I would consider to be theologically astute, and is also fancy dancy when it comes to making videos. So here are two videos he made a while back and since I am always telling people to watch them I figured I may as well post them here.


19 thoughts

  1. Ah, Ethics!

    I’m unsatisfied with the section “It Associates You with Casinos that Exploit People/Card counting hurts Casinos.” I don’t think the examples parallel. I think what the video is talking about is more than an “association” – it sounds like essentially doing business with the casino. I don’t know about most people, but if I know that a business is exploiting the poor, I do my best to boycott. From my ethical perspective, card-counting shares responsibility for the casino’s exploitation of the weak, poor, addicted. I think to convince me otherwise you would have to prove that casinos do not exploit.

    The argument that card-counting “hurts” the Casino just makes it sound like another predator on a food chain. I believe there is still ethical responsibility for where that money is coming from.

    I might be cool with a Robin Hood approach to card-counting which donated a percentage of the earnings to help people recovering from gambling addictions.

  2. Hey Lu,
    thanks for your response. I think you bring up some good points. I completely agree that casinos exist off the exploitation of others. I guess I have 2 questions for you, based upon your response:
    1. If you knew that you could legally and ethically take money from an entity that was harming(exploiting) others would you?
    2. In your post you state that we have an ethical “responsibility to know where (the) money is coming from”? What is the extent of that responsibility? Does it go beyond how we acquire it? As an example: If you saw a dollar bill on the street that you knew was used to buy a sex slave would you leave it or do you think that the possibility to redeems it exists?

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

  3. 1.
    Ideally, no. I know that I am white, American, Christian, drink Coca-Cola, shop at the mall, drive a car, etc., so I am complicit in exploitation of people and the earth at every turn. But I hope that I do the best I can to stand against exploitation with the understanding and awareness that I have been given. It is a case by case learning and struggling process.

    I think that this is an interesting question, because you say legally and ethically. Something might be legal, but that doesn’t mean that it is ethical. I think this is an important distinction. Law is the black and white, bare minimum, absolutely essential rule of behavior, but I believe Christian ethics have no limit. I believe new life in Christ and the Spirit goes above and beyond lawkeeping to make the Kingdom here and now. Systems of exploitation have no place in the Kingdom of God.

    I think it would be naive to think that finding a dollar bill on the street is the same thing as entering a casino and card-counting.

    The key issue is not holding tainted money in your hand, it is aligning oneself with a system of exploitation. I believe entering a casino and card-counting is participating in, depending upon, profiting from, a system of exploitation. The card-counter may be unresponsible for the initial exploitation, but I think there is a kind of adjacent responsibility that comes from not speaking against it, taking advantage of it, depending upon it.

    You speak of redeeming money- I strongly believe that a Christian’s first and only priority with regard to a casino and its customers should be to fight for the redemption of the mental health and freedom of addicted individuals and their families.

  4. Lu, the rabbit hole goes deeper…
    1. Judging from your answer, I think you may have misunderstood my question. My question was not “would you take/buy product” from a company, which in turn would “support” it. BUT would you “take money” from a company therefore making it more difficult for that company to survive. In one sense, this scenario is “make believe” but I think it is a good one to process. Also, no assumptions should be made that I am saying that card counting is legal OR ethical, yet. But for the sake of this discussion let us pretend that there is a very giant company that is destroying our world by the exploitation of people. If that company offers you money in a manner that is legal AND ethical….in turn taking that money from their payroll/advertisting/product developement etc…..and also in turn making the “expoitation of people” more difficult………would you take that money? Keep in mind, I am also not denoting what you would do with that money. In your first post you implied that you might be cool with a “Robin Hood” type of approach, implying that where the money ends up may make the origination of the money somewhat redeemed.

    2. As far as your second point is concerned I feel like there is a major clarification that must take place. I am going to explain very succinctly how casino economics work especially in regards to card counting. This is an economic break down and in NO WAY takes into account ethics.

    A. Casinos take money from people (quite often these people are the poor and disenfranchised).

    B. This money then goes towards the casino’s bottom line. The bottom line could include but is not limited to: payroll, advertising, expansion plans

    At this point I would like to interject myself and state and A & B all happen regardless of of card counters. In fact you can see how they feed off of each other. The more A increases, the more B increases and vice versa. Another way to phrase it is that one causes the other or there is a cause/effect relationship. Now let us introduce the 3rd observation.

    C. Card counters take money from the casinos bottom line.

    Now I know that the first response is to say that because both A and C occur in the same flow they are related in a cause/effect way. Although they are related the cause/effect assumption is simply not true. The easiest way to see this is by removing a variable. If you remove B, A and C stop existing. If you remove A, B and C stop existing. If you remove C not only do A and B continue to exist they continue to exist in a more prosperous manner. This is evidenced by the fact that card-counters are considered undesirables by casinos. Casinos understand that card counters are taking from their bottom line (B) and will therefore make their ability to fulfill A more difficult.

    These clarifications are important because when it is stated that card counting is “aligning oneself with a system of exploitation” this is simply not true in an economic sense. This is very clear to casinos when they ask you not to play blackjack.

    It is with this understanding of how the dollar flows that I believe that the question of finding a dollar on the street is still applicable. When you pick up the dollar you are not contributing to “A” or the exploitation of sex slaves. When one walks into a casino the act of “picking up the dollar” is equally disconnected to “A”…..UNLESS

    you think that walking into a casino or being in that environment is inherently wrong/sinful/leads to sin etc. Or if you think, as you stated, that “depending” upon or “taking advantage” of it is inherently wrong or that the dollar is inherently “tainted”.

    Speaking personally, the ironic thing about this whole discussion, is that I personally hate casinos and what they do more than any person I know. I have business and personal agendas against them and while my initial motive for learning to count cards was not to reduce this impact, I would say that one of my greatest pleasures in engaging in this system is that I can say that I am doing something about A and B or the “casino problem.” I would challenge most anyone with who thinks that “doing nothing” is better, or of course if someone has any better ideas on how to lessen the casino’s impact on our culture let me know.

    I am not saying that everyone should count cards.

    This response was too long. Do any of these clarifications help?

  5. Wow, great discussion going on in the comments of this post.

    I can understand where Lu is coming from, in that by just being in the casino you are a part of the ‘exploitation system’. But I am more on the side of Ben in that by pulling from the casino’s bottom line you are inhibiting their ability to function. (Be it only a very very small amount in relation to what even small casinos take from the naive).

    As for the ‘Robin Hood’ theory, isn’t card counting just that? Taking back from the exploiting prosperous casino, to put money back into the pockets of the exploited? I like the idea of donating into some sort of Gambler’s Anonymous but I would say that Ben is already doing that through his business. It provides for many families and allows them the freedom that ‘normal jobs’ otherwise wouldn’t.

    I do have to ask Ben though, how much have you hindered the bottom line of casinos in your personal career? 😉

  6. I think once you can discern that card counting is not an alliance with the casino, then you can see how you could be in the casino while not being of the casino industry.

    What, as Christ Followers, should be done with money taken from exploiters? This is a great question which I hope continues on this comment thread.

    But I am interested in the suggestion that card counters should give back to gamblers.

    Is there a biblical mandate to specifically give to problems we experience in our most immediate environments over any others (like a card counters giving to gambler’s anonymous)?

    Is there wisdom or an inherent godliness in doing so? I think there could be an good argument made here on this point.

  7. I think once you can discern that card counting is What, as Christ Followers, should be done with money taken from exploiters? This is a great question which I hope continues on this comment thread.
    *Some say it’s blood money so money won should be given back to the casino. I don’t think you can simply deduce that the casino is just the exploiter.
    They offer excessive amount of fun and thrill for a quite a large number of people, which can be classified as being the entertainment ndustry. However, the dangerous of it lies in its addictive nature. Card counters rdeucing some of their profit don’t have much in common with dealing with such root cause of the problem gamblers.

    But I am interested in the suggestion hat card counters should give back to gamblers.
    *Giving back money to gamblers for them to lose more money will not put them out of their destructive loop. One of the alternative or effective method is to caste out the spirit of gambling out of them. i.e. it is not a financial problem.
    The rich should give to the poor, however, you are not going to help the poor drug addict by giving them some money to buy more drugs, or to problem gamblers likewise.

    Is there a biblical mandate to specifically give to problems we experience in our most immediate environments over any others (like a card counters giving to gambler’s anonymous)?
    *How about a card counter teaching problem gamblers to count cards?

  8. “Is there a biblical mandate to specifically give to problems we experience in our most immediate environments over any others (like a card counters giving to gambler’s anonymous)?

    Not that I know of – bnc

  9. The amount of money made by the counter would be negligible compared to the casino, so they have greater repsonsilitity than the counter. IMHO the govenment who legalises gambling ought to handle the issues related to problem gamblers, such as creating laws that will limit them from continue playing at the casino under certain conditions.

  10. from the viewpoint of it its addictive nature like alcohol and drugs, card counting can become an addiction and thus an idol!!

  11. It seems to me possible to argue the the entire “industry”, as it were, of card counting has actually ultimately helped the casinos’ bottom line. Yes, it’s true that the legitimate card counters are to some small degree hurting the casinos’ bottom line (although I would argue it’s negligible). On the other hand, everyone knows that the card counters are (to a negligible degree) beating the casinos at their own game, and the generally dispersed knowledge that this is possible actually encourages more non card-counters or non-professional card-counters (that is, the ones who really don’t have a clue, and thus will lose) to gamble. By providing a token resistance, card counters in a sense actually help make the problem of the casino industry’s existence bigger. I totally bet a lot more people play table games in general, and blackjack in particular, now than did in say the first half of the 20th century to some extent BECAUSE of the token resistance of card counters.

    It’s kind of like the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. The U.S. was trying to help, but their shitty brand of help actually enlarged and prolonged the problem, making life much worse for everyone. Same for card counters and the casino industry. Sure, card counters may be totally against the casino industry, and hate them, and be doing everything in their power to hurt them, but they’re really just enlarging/prolonging the problem.

    I’m not saying I totally believe this whole argument. I’m just saying that this argument makes sense to me.

    Maybe this story I’m telling is part of why I was so miserable as a card counter. I can see how if I had the story you (Ben) tell above, I’d have been much happier to be a card counter. It’s important to me to know that what I’m doing as a human being is having a net positive effect on the world.

    1. I think it’s a bad argument. Silly even. That’s like saying that illegal drugs are worse because of anti-drug campaigns.

      The only sillier notion I can come up with is: “Card-counting is a sin.”
      Anything can become an idol… sex, alcohol, going to church, building churches, tearing churches down, scrabble, blogging, whatever.
      Idolatry is a sin.

  12. Sol,

    I’m fascinated. Are you familiar with trends regarding relative prevalence of “soft” vs. “hard” drug use, relative cost of “soft” vs. “hard” drug use, global profit of the illegal drug industry, etc. etc. before, during, and after Reagan and company’s so called “war on drugs”? I think the comparison is apt, but rather strongly favours my argument. Try googling “Did the war on drugs work” and read some of the opinion out there–the majority of even those who instigated and carried out the war on drugs now pretty much admit that it exacerbated rather than improved the overall picture. Thoughts?

  13. I think sol just got served.

    Hope you don’t mind me citing the youtube videos for an opinion reference on a term paper. Writing a term paper on the ethics of card counting and this thread has been thought provoking.

    Thanks for sharing

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