COMPUTER POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!
LEGAL ISSUES: CONTENTS
| Why I'm Suing in Nevada
(Uston's account of his beating at the
By Ken Uston
| Interview with Bob Nersesian
| It's Not Paranoia If...
(Comments on JG's successful
lawsuit against Imperial Palace)
By James Grosjean
| A Nevada Court Victory for Counters
By Robert A. Loeb, Attorney at Law
| Missouri Outlaws Barring, Institutes
By Robert A. Loeb, Attorney at Law
| How Not to Launder Money And Get
Caught Doing It
By L.J. Winsome
| Fake I.D.: A Consumer's Guide
By Arnold Snyder
| Phony I.D. = Real Risk
By Andrew S. Blumen, Attorney At Law
| Blackjack Computers, Your Ticket to
the Big House (Part I)
By Thomas B. Duffy, Attorney At Law
| Blackjack Computers, Your Ticket to
the Big House (Part II)
By Thomas B. Duffy, Attorney At Law
| Is Spooking Legal?
By Arnold Snyder
(with commentary by Stephen R.
Minagil, Attorney at Law)
| Nevada Attorney Interviewed
By Arnold Snyder
| What To Do If You Are Barred
By Robert A. Loeb, Attorney At Law
| Is Card Counting Legal?
By Arnold Snyder
FROM ET FAN:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
…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
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
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…”
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Thomas Hyland?” the cop asked Tommy.
am,” he acknowledged.
we were surrounded by cameras and reporters. A plain clothes officer flashed a
badge at Tommy.
under arrest for violating Canadian immigration laws,” he said.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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
September 8, 1995, Judge Saul Nosanchuk rendered his
decision on Zalis, Dancey and Conroy.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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.
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.
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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