First, the record needs to be set straight. Contrary to what some circles might like the world to believe, card counting at Blackjack is not cheating. There is no law against it in any jurisdiction. No matter how many casinos may seem to treat it as such, card counting is not illegal. It is not a crime. It is just a strategy that reduces the house edge. But of course casinos don’t like that, so they may eject a suspected card counter from the pit area, innocent or not.
On the other hand, there are many very real forms of Blackjack cheating that can get a person thrown in jail, not just banned from the tables. And perhaps surprisingly, a great number of cheats are not players. They are casino employees. It is in the Blackjack player’s best interests to be aware of the many ways rules are purposefully broken in an attempt to profit without putting in the required work. At least one of the can cost a player money.
Because dealers handle all of the cards, not just their own hands, they have the greatest opportunity to manipulate the game. For example, some have been caught marking a deck with tiny, almost invisible pin pricks that only they can feel in order to identify cards. Using tiny ink dots may serve the purpose, if only the dealer knows what to look for.
Knowing what cards are coming up doesn’t really benefit the dealer, of course, unless he/she has an accomplice on the other side of the table, someone who can use the information to an unfair advantage. An expert dealer can switch cards, dealing from the bottom of the deck in a single deck game or dealing “seconds” (the card beneath the top card) from a shoe. Helping an accomplice win and sharing the gains latter is the most common type of dealer cheating.
Players need not be too concerned about this. The house already has a built-in advantage, so dealers have no reason to cheat players. If a dealer did help another player, it would have little or any effect on the other players’ hands. Casinos themselves are the ones who need to be wary, so they screen prospective dealers carefully and keep a close eye on their employees for cheating.
On the flip side of the table, players have been caught trying to mark cards by creasing their corners or using their fingernails to cut tiny slits into their edges. Daubing the backs of cards with a substance that can only be seen through special sunglasses has been tried, too. This is done primarily in an attempt to know the dealer’s down card or the next card to be dealt and again has little if any effect on the other players.
A player with very quick hands might try to remove a card and conceal it for later play—a practice called “palming a card.” Or when playing two separate hands, some players try to quickly switch cards between the hands to improve their values. And past-posting is not uncommon—trying to slip an extra chip or two into a winning stack at the end of a hand to increase the payout. All of this is caught on the surveillance cameras of the casino’s “eye in the sky,” and not much escapes the watchful eyes of security.
High-tech cheating may involve the use of calculators, cell phones, computers, or other electronic devices, all of which are prohibited at the Blackjack table. “Shiners” are not allowed either—any reflective device, such as a mirror, used to cheat by getting a glimpse at the dealer’s hole card as it is dealt. And team play is also against the rules, where two or more players and/or accomplices share information about the hands.
One type of cheat that can affect players directly is the “snatch.” When a player looks away momentarily, perhaps because of an intentional distraction, a bystander will grab a few chips from the player’s stack, hoping they go unnoticed. Again, surveillance usually catches these thieves, but it is never a bad idea to guard one’s chips at all times.