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This article reports on the trial of the Tommy Hyland blackjack team in Windsor, Ontario. The article documents how three Las Vegas casinos influenced Windsor authorities to prosecute. Professional gamblers believe the casinos were trying to get a legal precedent finding blackjack team play and ace location strategies to be cheating. Arnold Snyder was an expert witness for the defense in the Tommy Hyland team trial, and the judge quoted him extensively when ruling that the Hyland blackjack team players had not cheated.
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The Tommy Hyland Team Trial in Windsor

 
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LEGAL ISSUES: CONTENTS
Las Vegas casino politics and Glitter Gulch Park Why I'm Suing in Nevada
    (Uston's account of his beating at the
    Mapes Casino)
    By Ken Uston
Casinos try to frame Tommy Hyland blackjack team players for cheating Interview with Bob Nersesian
    By RWM
Hyland blackjack team It's Not Paranoia If...
    (Comments on JG's successful
    lawsuit against Imperial Palace)
    By James Grosjean
Windsor casino and card counting in the courts A Nevada Court Victory for Counters
    By Robert A. Loeb, Attorney at Law
Hyland blackjack team players beat Windsor casino in court Missouri Outlaws Barring, Institutes
    Countermeasures
    By Robert A. Loeb, Attorney at Law
Hyland blackjack team court case in Windsor How Not to Launder Money And Get
    Caught Doing It
    By L.J. Winsome
Casino politics in Windsor, Ontario and the Hyland blackjack team Fake I.D.: A Consumer's Guide
    By Arnold Snyder
Las Vegas casinos reach to Windsor, Ontario to try to frame blackjack players for cheating Phony I.D. = Real Risk
    By Andrew S. Blumen, Attorney At Law
Tommy Hyland blackjack team players win in court Blackjack Computers, Your Ticket to
    the Big House (Part I)
    By Thomas B. Duffy, Attorney At Law
Ace sequencing and ace prediction win in Windsor Casino court case Blackjack Computers, Your Ticket to
    the Big House (Part II)
    By Thomas B. Duffy, Attorney At Law
Tommy Hyland team and ace prediction or ace tracking Is Spooking Legal?
    By Arnold Snyder
    (with commentary by Stephen R.
    Minagil, Attorney at Law)
Las Vegas casinos team up to frame blackjack players for cheating Nevada Attorney Interviewed
    By Arnold Snyder
Tommy Hyland blackjack team court case What To Do If You Are Barred
    By Robert A. Loeb, Attorney At Law
gambling in Las Vegas and the law Is Card Counting Legal?
    By Arnold Snyder
 
 
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Card Counting in the Courts: Caesars and Circus Try to Frame Hyland Team Players

By Arnold Snyder
(From Blackjack Forum XV #4, December 1995)
© Blackjack Forum 1995

The initial news reports on the arrests of Tommy Hyland blackjack team members Christopher Z., Barbara D., and Karen C. came to the Blackjack Forum offices from newspapers all over the U.S. and Canada. On May 28, 1994, the three were arrested at the brand new Casino Windsor and charged with cheating at blackjack.

The initial cheating charge was based on use of a “device”—pop-off beads the two women players were wearing to count the percentage of aces they had successfully tracked with an ace prediction strategy. When it turned out there was no law against players using a device in a casino in Canada, the province charged the players with fraud for use of signals at the table.

The Oakland Press (Michigan) reported: “While Chris Z. played the actual game, Barbara D. and Karen C. watched the cards. The practice is called ‘counting cards.’ … Keeping track in your head is OK. Using anything else is not. Dancey and Conroy used beads concealed in their clothes to count the cards…

All three are charged with conspiracy to cheat at play and cheating at play, both of which carry two-year prison sentences… Gaming officials said they expected cheaters would test the dealers at Windsor, hoping to find inexperienced people manning the tables.”

The Detroit News quoted Sheri Buoncompagno, a local dealing school operator, “Card counters aren’t welcome anywhere that I know. Each casino handles them differently, but they are usually encouraged to play fair or leave. It’s really a shame someone is already trying to take advantage of a new casino, but that’s the way it usually goes. Someone new opens up and somebody is going to challenge them right away.”

The Las Vegas Review Journal’s report was more succinct: “Three people won more than $100,000 over three days before they were stopped and accused of cheating at blackjack… One gambled while the other two sat at the table and used a bead system to illegally count cards…”

Many of the news reports mailed and faxed to me after the arrest implied that there was something “unfair” about card counting itself and characterized the casinos as “victims” of these sneaks. Most reports stated that it was the “bead” system that made the Windsor trio’s activities illegal, not the card counting itself.

A few months later, I was contacted by Tommy Hyland. The arrested trio were members of his blackjack team. He asked me to be an expert witness in this case.

Although I had never met Tommy Hyland, I’d spoken with him over the phone on various occasions in years past, and had also corresponded with him. I knew he was involved in New Jersey gaming politics, because on his advice I had sent letters to every New Jersey legislator in 1987 in an attempt to kill the anti-device legislation pending at the time. In spite of players’ efforts, the legislation passed in 1988.

I knew at that time that Tommy had been running both card counting and blackjack computer teams for a few years, and that his was widely regarded as one of the more successful team operations. To my knowledge, he always ran 100% legal operations. I couldn’t fathom what he could possibly have been doing with beads in Windsor that would have justified the arrest of his players.

When I received the complete investigation report a few days after my conversation with Tommy, everything was clear. I fired off a letter to Don Tait, the Windsor attorney who was defending the accused players. A very short excerpt:

Dear Mr. Tait:

I have read all of the documentation provided to me, which consists of the 166 pages of the Casino Investigation Unit report in the matter of Regina vs. Chris Z., Barbara D. and Karen C… Based upon the documentation provided to me, I have formed an opinion of what occurred on or about the 27th and 28th days of May 1994 at the Windsor Casino. I believe the documentation supports my opinion beyond any doubt.

Virtually all of the witnesses who observed the play of the defendants state that defendant Chris Z. was varying his bets widely, from a single hand of $100 or $200 to two hands of $2500 each (table limit). This is stated by Casino Shift Managers Bacharow and Davenport, as well as Surveillance Officers McDonough and Bell.



Davenport states he “became suspicious of his (defendant Zalis’) erratic play. Chris Z. would bet one hand at $100, then two hands at $2500. His betting strategy also indicated ace location play.”

…These observations, taken at face value, indicate to me that defendant Zalis may have just been an erratic bettor; …he may have been counting cards, though this also appears to be unlikely; and he was most likely using “ace location” play as his primary method of attempting to obtain an advantage over the house.



…It must be noted that the ace location player will not always win with his big bets, nor will he always get the predicted ace. Less than perfect dealer riffles, cards of the same denomination and suit as the key cards—which simply happened to be located in proximity to the actual key cards, etc.—make ace location play both difficult and risky.



…The inexcusable ignorance of the casino personnel with regard to ace location strategies is not limited to the Windsor Casino personnel, but is also evident in the testimony of Joanne Vroom, who is identified as being “…in charge of the card counting team at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City.” Ms. Vroom was apparently shown tapes of the defendants’ play, then asked to comment on “…the use of beads and their possible uses as far as counting cards or whatever their possibilities are…”


I find the testimony of Joanne Vroom particularly disturbing, as she was apparently called in by the Windsor Casino as an outside expert to render an opinion. As the Windsor Casino was such a new operation, the game protection personnel might be forgiven for some amount of lack of knowledge when it comes to advanced playing strategies—though it is still difficult for me to imagine an operation of such financial magnitude not spending the relatively small amount of time and money necessary to properly train and educate their personnel…

If, in fact, the Windsor Casino personnel were such rookies that they did not recognize a legitimate blackjack strategy that had been in use for more than a decade, and which had been discussed not only in the more esoteric professional players’ literature… but also in the casino industry’s publications, such as Bill Zender’s Card Counting for the Casino Executive, and even in the mainstream press (New York Times), then their calling in an outside gaming expert of more experience is laudable.

But where did they get this Vroom? I have never heard of her. I do not believe she has published anything that would qualify her as an expert—though she claims to have written the “manual” that is used by the Claridge Casino in Atlantic City to train personnel to recognize card counters…

States Ms. Vroom on pages 56-57, when asked what the confiscated beads could be used for: “For tracking the aces. Keeping a count of them so they know when there is an excess of them in the deck or the shoe, it helps them in adding to the true count to give them an overall advantage on the house. Their accounting system as far as their being able to be paid by the team. Um, also tracking possibly 10’s and 5’s locations around the deck.”

On page 58, she then states: “Accounting purposes would be they’re using a multi-level system of card counting so with so many things to memorize they’re using them to track and keep an accurate record of the amount of aces that have been played, how many are left in the shoe so they’d be able to use it to their advantage in counting…

They have two sets of beads on them. One set of beads is for the accounting purposes. The other set of beads is actually for tracking the aces. So you’re actually having a two level system going on at the same time. One is their pay system, the other is the amount of aces coming into play.”

…On page 58, Ms. Vroom states the players are “tracking the aces,” but also speculates that they are using the ace count simultaneously as a traditional side count to adjust the player’s “true count.” This is absurd, and indicates to me that Ms. Vroom has a very limited and erroneous knowledge of how location play works.

…On page 60, when questioned about why the keygirls were “breaking off” the concealed beads, Ms. Vroom does admit to being perplexed at this as the keygirls did not appear to be breaking off the beads at the beginning of the playing session. She speculates that at the beginning of play: “…they could be using any form even memorization um, I can deep count of aces plus keep running count true count without using any other device…”

She offers no explanation as to why the keygirls would be able to “keep count of aces” at the beginning of a session but not at the end.

…On page 65, when asked to clarify her previous remark about using beads as a “two level system,” she now expounds that the system in use was “…between a two and three level system. One for counting for their bonuses and ace tracking and third beads may be possibly be for a secondary count the primary beads would be for the aces coming through the other may be for second plugs throughout the shoe because they’re looking to cut the tens and aces to the front of the shoe and they’re tracking the aces as they come out of that section. The secondary beads would be used to track another plug throughout the shoe.”

This is pure gobbledygook, and indicates to me that Ms. Vroom has absolutely no idea what these players were doing. I defy her to take two sets of detachable beads and demonstrate how she would use these beads to locate aces from one shoe to the next. I can conceive of no way in which concealed detached beads could be used to identify or remember key cards, nor to indicate locations of aces or any other cards in a stack of cards.

Furthermore, she ignores the fact that if these beads were used in order to side count the aces in the more traditional sense for the sole purpose of true count adjustments by the player, it would be necessary for the keygirls to reattach all of the detached beads in between shoes, so that the fresh shoe would begin with a fresh count!

…Keying the aces is a visual strategy that requires concentration and a good memory. If Ms. Vroom can use concealed beads for this purpose, I’d like her to demonstrate how.

…The purpose of the beads, in fact, is described in detail in the Hyland team’s General Policies manual (page 119): “All KG’s will wear 3 strings of beads. One string signifies bets, another signifies pointers (aces), and the third string signifies your own pointers. One bead should be disconnected every time a bet or a pointer occurs…” Disconnecting a bead each time an ace is dealt is therefore called for in the team policy manual, but this is not done for any strategic purpose at the table.

On page 124, we learn that the keygirls’ pay rates are based upon the ratio of pointers/bets, which can be determined by the bead counts at the end of the playing sessions. This use of the beads, as described in the Hyland team player’s manual, does make sense.

The beads simply provide a method of determining how much each of the keygirls will be paid based on their success at keying the aces—after the play is over and the players have returned to their room. The beads are not used for counting the cards, side counting the aces for use with a card counting system, adjusting the true count, or any other such function at the time of playing.

…The theories of sequential tracking, the effects of the common shuffle actions of riffling and stripping the cards, and the utilization of key cards to locate aces/tens, are not well defined in the materials confiscated from the defendants. But these concepts would not be difficult to explain in court—even to the unsophisticated—as it is not difficult to demonstrate these concepts with actual cards.

…I feel certain that video footage would totally discredit the casino “experts” in this case, and would prove that the defendants were playing precisely according to their own manual’s instructions and not using any illegal cheating techniques. The defendants themselves could describe and explain every bet made and every signal passed on the videos, as per their General Policies manual.…

The casino “experts” are grasping at straws to build a cheating case. I sincerely hope the casino personnel are thoroughly embarrassed at the hearing by their own ignorance, and their shameful treatment of skillful professional players who were totally acting within the law.

I find the treatment of skillful professional players as cheats and criminals very despicable. After discovering that no electronic computers were in use—as the casino security personnel allegedly suspected at the time the defendants were arrested—the casino management should have apologized to these players and extended every courtesy to them. Instead, they fabricated this bead “device” to be some new cheating method, then publicly slandered the reputations of these talented players whose only crime was that they were smarter than the casino’s “experts.”

I find the casino’s actions in handling this matter, and the analyses of their game security personnel and their hired “card counting expert” to be so ignorant that it is difficult for me to believe that any of these “experts” are doing anything other than purposefully manufacturing a phony case against the defendants in order to hide their own stupidity, and the public embarrassment of having been taken to the cleaners by three skillful players who simply accepted the Windsor Casino’s public challenge to beat them at blackjack, and who did so successfully and legally…”

In December of 1994, Don Tait informed me that he had made portions of my comments (including portions not included in the excerpt above) available to the prosecuting attorney, in an attempt to get the charges dropped. He also told me that theprosecutor would soon be making a trip to Las Vegas in order to discuss the case with some of Nevada’s gaming executives and attorneys. Tait was still feeling fairly confident that the charges would be dropped, and that the trial—now scheduled for January 1995—would never occur. My feeling was the same.

I knew that the Casino Windsor was run by a conglomerate of casino megapowers that included Caesars, the Hilton Corporation, and Circus Circus. In my opinion, these corporations had been around long enough to know that, based upon the evidence collected, it was irrefutable that the players were simply employing a legal shuffle tracking strategy.

I was talking regularly with Tommy Hyland about this matter over the phone. More than anything, he just wanted the whole thing put to rest. He did not want a trial. He did not relish the public exposure. And his players just wanted the nightmare to end. Chris Z. was a salesman who lived in New Jersey and had never been arrested for anything. Karen C. was a Pennsylvania school teacher, recently married, who also had never been arrested. Barbara D. was a grandmother who lived in a suburb of Detroit. She had formerly worked as a Sheriff’s Deputy in California.

All had been recruited and trained by Tommy Hyland because they seemed to him to be intelligent and honest. All knew that they had been breaking no laws. Now, all three had been arrested, taken away from the casino in handcuffs, strip-searched at the police station, spent a weekend behind bars, had all of their personal property and money in their possession at the time of arrest confiscated, had been reported in newspapers all over the U.S. and Canada as cheats and criminals, and they were potentially facing up to two years each in a Canadian prison for their “crime.”

To the dismay of both Tommy Hyland and his attorney Don Tait, when the prosecutor returned from his Las Vegas fact finding foray, he decided to pursue the cheating charge. Curiously, the prosecution agreed to stipulate that the players were using the beads legally, as per their manual. The prosecution also agreed to stipulate that my analysis of what the players were doing to beat the casino (sequentially tracking the aces) was accurate.

The province had probably discovered by this time that it was not a crime in Ontario for a player to use or possess a computer or other device at a blackjack table. There is a gaming regulation that prohibits the casino from allowing players to use such devices at the tables, but there is no criminal offense by the players involved.

So, the beads were suddenly no longer an issue, but the cheating charge was not going away. According to Tait, a new rationale was being formulated. The prosecutor now contended that “team play” constituted fraud.

Tait said that the prosecutor, Dennis Harrison, was an experienced and respected attorney. These new grounds for pursuing the charge of cheating, following the prosecution’s consultations with Las Vegas attorneys, seemed to indicate that these U.S. casino powers had decided to test in Windsor whether or not casinos could prosecute card counters whenever blackjack team play or shuffle tracking was suspected.

It seemed unlikely to me that such a prosecution would ever be attempted in Nevada or New Jersey, as there was such a long history of blackjack team play in these states. But in a new venue, like Windsor, the casinos were gambling that a successful prosecution might be possible. And, although Canadian law would not get written into the U.S. law books, a success in Canada could certainly influence a U.S. court to consider hearing such a case, and similar prosecutions in the U.S. could follow.

This, to me, was ominous. The potential repercussions of this trial could affect blackjack players all over the world. It was an attack on a skillful method of play and valid, legal strategies that had been in use by honest players for decades.

As is often the case in court proceedings, legal sparring delayed the trial for another six months. The trial itself, which lasted four days in July 1995, was a media circus. Both sides went all out to impress not only the judge, but the newspapers and TV reporters who filled the courtroom. At every break, TV cameras converged on the attorneys, the players, and the officers of Hyland’s team who had flown in from as far away as Hong Kong to testify, if need be.

The prosecution showed videos of the players in action, displayed the confiscated team documents, called as chief witnesses the Casino Windsor shift manager, Ken Davenport, formerly with Caesars World in Atlantic City, and Terry McIntosh, the detective constable with the Ontario Provincial Police, who made the arrests.

Don Tait lived up to his reputation as a brilliant defense attorney from day one. He made mincemeat of Davenport, who turned out to be more a witness for the defense than the prosecution.

I was on the witness stand for a day and a half--longer than Davenport and McIntosh combined. Prosecutor Harrison had a difficult time with me because he did not understand the math or the theory of blackjack with any depth at all. He did not have much grasp on gambling as an occupation either. He repeatedly attempted to get me to say that shuffle trackers removed the element of chance from the game, and made other players at the table lose more.

Aside from the fact that he was mistaken about these concepts, I could not understand why he even pursued them, since the whole issue of legality, as I pointed out, should be decided on whether or not the players did anything more than observe the game and use their brains to made decisions. How can making a decision based on your intelligent use of the information provided by the casino be illegal?

Even if a player could remove all element of chance from a game, and win every hand, this could not possibly be illegal if he accomplished this by simply using the information available by observing the game to make his decisions. By the time Harrison had finished grilling me, and Tait completed his cross-examination, I felt confident that the defense had made every point that needed to be made.

On the last day of the trial, as I had done all week long, I had lunch with Tommy at a café across the street from Don Tait’s office, a few blocks away from the courthouse. We had met briefly with Tait and we were all feeling cautiously optimistic. Walking back to the courthouse after lunch, eager to see Don Tait’s closing arguments, we were stopped in front of the courthouse by a uniformed Ontario police officer. I was about to learn what it meant to play hardball with the casinos.

“Are you Thomas Hyland?” the cop asked Tommy.

“Yes, I am,” he acknowledged.

Even now, we were surrounded by cameras and reporters. A plain clothes officer flashed a badge at Tommy.

“You’re under arrest for violating Canadian immigration laws,” he said.

Tommy protested. “What are you talking about?” he asked, incredulous. “I’m a U.S. citizen. I have my passport. I came here legally. I’m due in court in about five minutes.”

The immigration officer pulled out his handcuffs. “You can explain it to immigration officials at your trial,” he said. “I’m under instructions to place you under immediate arrest.”

The front page of the Windsor Star on the following day had a huge photo of Tommy Hyland being led from the courthouse in handcuffs, with the headline: “Blackjack Team Leader Arrested.”

Tommy learned from Canadian immigration officials that afternoon that he had been arrested because it was discovered that he was a “convicted felon” in the Bahamas ten years earlier (1985). As an alleged “ex-convict” in another country, he was not allowed into Canada.

Tommy explained that in 1985, while playing blackjack in the Bahamas with a concealed computer, he was arrested. There was no law banning blackjack computers in the Bahamas at that time, but the casino refused to drop the charges. They offered Tommy two options: pay the $2100 fine and leave the country, or go to trial and tell it to the judge. The trial date would be set six months later and bail would not be allowed, as Tommy was considered a “flight risk.”

Tommy paid the fine and left the Bahamas on the next flight out. He was not about tosit in a Bahamian jail for six months to save $2100, all of which would undoubtedly be spent on legal fees anyway. Now, Canadian immigration officials had dredged up this ten-year-old fiasco to prosecute Tommy Hyland as an illegal immigrant to their country!

Hmmm, was it possible that the casino powers had anything to do with this new harassment against Tommy Hyland? Was it curious that Tommy was arrested in front of the courthouse where his attorney had been shredding the prosecution’s cheating arguments for 3 ½ days?

Don Tait was quoted by reporter Roseann Danese in the Windsor Star the following day as saying, “Tommy Hyland is being held captive in Canada… It’s another means of trying to harass these people.”

According to Tait, Canadian immigration laws state that a person can only be deported if the action for which he was convicted in another jurisdiction is also illegal in Canada.

“They’re trying to deport him from this country for something that is not an offense in this country,” Tait said, adding: “I’m embarrassed to be a Canadian right now. I’m asked by the defendants, and I keep telling them we are basically a gracious people. Yet, ever since these people stepped into the casino, they have been continually harassed… The casino and prosecutor are trying to convict them because it’s an offense to use your brain. That means it’s cheating to think. Because that’s all you’re doing with card counting or shuffle tracking, using your brain.”

Tait added that Tommy was arrested “…because casino don’t want people to come in and play intelligently.” He pointed out that Tommy’s arrest occurred the day after Tommy had appeared on local radio and TV news shows explaining the concept of professional blackjack play.

The following morning, the judge announced that he would render his decision on September 8, some six weeks in the future. I couldn’t get a flight out that evening, but I felt I wanted to get out of Canada as quickly as I could. The arrest of Zalis, Dancey and Conroy in May of 1994, and their subsequent indictment and prosecution for cheating, were not technically actions of the Casino Windsor, but of the provincial police and government of Ontario. This new arrest of Tommy Hyland was not technically a casino action, but an action of Canadian immigration officials. It stunned me.

It appeared that the Casino Windsor, which was netting more than a million bucks a day, was running the local Canadian government. Were the interpretation and enforcement of laws in Ontario being dictated by three casinos in Las Vegas? Were the Ontario Police, the provincial court system, and even the border guards now taking orders from Circus Circus?

As I write this article, Tommy Hyland has been officially deported from Canada and is not allowed into that country. He has appealed this decision of the immigration authorities, and has retained Don Tait has his attorney. I have been retained as an expert witness, should this matter go to trial.

On September 8, 1995, Judge Saul Nosanchuk rendered his decision on Zalis, Dancey and Conroy.

To quote from his judgment:

The accused, Christopher Z., Barbara Josephine D. and Karen C., are charged with the offence of cheating at play while playing blackjack at the Casino Windsor



To reverse the odds that favour the Casino the concept of card counting was introduced in about 1962. Card counting systems have been written about extensively since 1962 in many books on sale in casinos and elsewhere throughout the world… A card counter uses his or her powers of observation during the play of the game to assess the probability of a ten valued card or an ace being dealt. The card counter places a larger bet when he or she believes that it is more likely that an ace or ten will be dealt. The prosecution in this case concedes that card counting is not cheating…


On May 28, 1994, the date of the alleged offence, the accused, Chris Z., was involved as a player in a game of blackjack at Casino Windsor. The accused, Karen C. and Barbara D., sat on either side of him and appeared to be simply watching him as he played.

In fact, Barbara D. and Karen C. were members of a professional gambling team trained to observe the cards as they were dealt, played and shuffled. Their purpose was to try to predict the arrival of aces and to give covert signals to their team member, Chris Z., at the appropriate time.

What they were doing has been described as key-carding or ace-locating. Key-carding or ace-locating involves carefully observing the shuffling, playing and discarding for the purpose of keying in on where the aces are expected to be located. Zalis, Dancey and Conroy were operating in accordance with a team manual that was located in a Windsor hotel room in the course of a search that followed the arrest of the accused.

The manual confirmed that the members of the team had to operate under the utmost secrecy. They were required to camouflage their identity and purpose. Each team member had to pass proficiency tests in basic strategy and card counting. Each member had to understand shuffling techniques. Each member had to take a lie detector test.

Extracurricular activities were restricted, with financial penalties for their violation. There were rules in the manual as to casino comportment; betting guidelines; accounting; security and quality control; scouting the casinos; scouting key games, cutting of the decks and shuffling.

Nowhere in the manual were there any instructions to suggest that the members become involved in any collusion with any dealers. There were no suggestions that there should be crimping or marking of cards; there were no instructions as to the use of any devices in the course of participating in the game or as to any other deceitful activity to be exercised in relation to the cards to be dealt or the play of the game. The camouflage of the members was of course part and parcel of their team instructions, as were other techniques involving the exercise of skill.

Each team that went on the road had a player called the big player, or B.P., and two keygirls, called K.G. Chris Z., at Casino Windsor, was the B.P., and Barbara D. and Karen C. were each K.G. players.

The prosecution argues that Chris Z., Dancey and Conroy were cheating by camouflaging the identity of Barbara D. and Karen C. as simply observers when they were indeed assisting Chris Z. as a member of the gambling team. Counsel for the Crown argues that keying the cards and signaling the information secretly with a view to having Chris Z. increase his bets constitutes cheating.

The defense, on the other hand, contends that Chris Z., Barbara D. and Karen C. were not cheating, but in fact were skillfully observing the shuffling and discarding in order to obtain an advantage, and in order to implement the key-carding tactics successfully.

The question to be determined is whether the prosecution has established beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused were cheating within the meaning of the Criminal Code of Canada. Section 209 of the Criminal Code of Canada provides that, “Everyone who, with intent to defraud any person, cheats while playing a game… or in betting is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not to exceed two years.”



Section 197 of the Criminal Code provides that game means “a game of chance or mixed chance and skill.” It is common ground that blackjack is a game of mixed chance and skill.

In R. v. McGarey, 1974, 6 C.C.C. (2d), AT P. 525, the Supreme Court of Canada heldthat the gist of the offence of cheating was perpetrating some fraud or ill practice or making use of some unlawful device in the act of playing…

In Lyons v. The State of Nevada, 1989, 1065 N.R., p. 317, the Court of Appeals of the State of Nevada overturned a cheating conviction against an accused who had been handle-popping a slot machine. Handle-popping involves a process of handle manipulation that enables a player to exploit a mechanically vulnerable slot machine.

The Court of Appeals referred to Nevada Statute, N.R.S. 465.015, which was enacted to prevent persons from taking unlawful advantage of Nevada’s Gaming Industry by cheating. That statute declares that, “To cheat means to alter the selection of criteria which determine (a) the result of the game or (b) the amount of frequency of payment in a game.” The Court of Appeal in Nevada stated at page 121 that the Nevada Statute addresses, “Knowing, purposeful, unlawful conduct designed to alter the criteria that determine the outcome of any lawful gambling activity.”

The Court pointed out that the statute clearly applied to a person who tried to enhance his chances of winning by any activity such as crimping cards, which made it possible to identify certain cards. By doing this, the player was able to supplant elements of chance with actual knowledge that substantially altered both the nature of the game and the criteria for winning. At page 321, the Court of Appeal of Nevada pointed out that examples of conduct that fall within the definition of cheating involved conduct such as,

“Resorting to mirrors, confederates, electronic equipment, magnets, tools or other devices that alter the play of the game or alter a machine to increase the prospects of winning.”


On the other hand, the Court stated that, “Gaming patrons who are especially gifted and can increase the odds in their favour by card counting, or perhaps a patron who notices and takes advantage of a dealer’s habit of play that will occasionally provide an unintended view of the dealer’s cards, are not cheating. The casino management might take measures to deny them the right to play but no criminal offence of cheating would have occurred. In either case, the players are simply exploiting what their skills and the play of the game afford them.”

In the case before the court the accused, Chris Z., Barbara D. and Karen C., were doing nothing to alter the character or play of the game. They were trained members of a professional gambling team making an effort to exploit the weaknesses of a dealer. They were trying to obtain an advantage for which there was no guarantee. Indeed, there is evidence that in one two-hour-and-45-minute session the team lost $15,000.00.

The court agrees with the contention of the defense that the advantage that the accused could gain was not caused by any physical act or dishonest conduct that caused the cards to come out in any particular way.

The court accepts the testimony of Mr. Arnold Snyder, a world famous blackjack consultant and writer on the subject, who testified that key-carding or ace-locating is a form of card counting. According to Mr. Snyder, the advantages to a player from key-carding or ace-locating are generally the same as those gained from card counting, except that the camouflage aspect will allow the player to remain in the game longer.

Mr. Snyder testified that key-carding is a difficult and risky business and is always done in the context of a team. It is a discipline that takes an immense amount of study and patience. In the opinion of this Court, the fact that Zalis, Dancey and Conroy operated as members of a team camouflaging their identity does not constitute cheating, within the meaning of 209 of the Criminal Code.

It must be noted that the team concept was first written about in 1962, and in fact teams have operated extensively since that time all over the world. Mr. Snyder placed in evidence excerpts from 25 books on blackjack, each available through public distribution and each of which dealt with various aspects of team play tactics. Mr. Snyder was not aware of a single prosecution in any jurisdiction anywhere in the world against card counters or team players.

Of course, that fact does not oblige this Court as a matter of law to conclude that cheating did not occur in this case. It confirms to the court that what counsel for the accused aptly described as a “cat and mouse game” is expected to occur at a casino. While the players are covertly signaling in the course of a team play, and using their card counting and key-carding strategies, the casino is operating is own surveillance on a 24-hour-a-day basis.

It must also be observed that it is open to the casino to take countermeasures against the card counters and key-carders or team players. The use of an automatic shuffling machine would probably solve the problem card counting presents to the casino. But, of course, such a machine is not an attractive proposition to many players and the casino would lose such players.

Cutting the deck in a different place could reduce the player’s advantage. Taking more time to riffle the deck would cut the advantage. Reshuffling the deck at any time would of course destroy the advantage. But none of the foregoing approaches are attractive to the casino because of the time that would be lost in implementing them. And, of course, time means money to the casino.

Finally, the casino may exclude card counters if authorized by the Gaming Commission in the jurisdiction of the casino. The exclusion of card counters is the procedure used most often by casinos.

In conclusion, this Court has determined that the accused were not cheating contrary to Section 209 of the Criminal Code. They were indeed highly trained professionals using highly developed skills in an extremely risky venture. The court finds considerable astuteness and wisdom in the testimony of Mr. Arnold Snyder that the explosion of the casino industry and growth of casinos came about because of the publication of so many books on casino skills. Many people have read the books but few have had the patience or determination or bankroll to implement the skills.

Finally, the Court accepts as valid Mr. Snyder’s testimony that the Casino will make much more money from players attempting card counting or key-carding than it will ever lose from such tactics.

The charge against the accused, Chris Z., Karen C. and Barbara D., is dismissed.

According to Ivan Sack, in the October issue of Canadian Casino News, an industry trade journal, the province is not planning to appeal Judge Nosanchuk’s decision. ♠

For more information on Blackjack Hall of Fame player Tommy Hyland and his blackjack team, see Interview with Hall of Fame Blackjack Player Tommy Hyland, and Team Attack 1: Conversation with Tommy Hyland and Hyland Team Members in the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library.

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