Blackjack Card Counting, Will It Work for You? It’s Not Easy, Here’s Why

The purpose of Blackjack card counting is to know when the shoe decks at the table contain cards that are favorable to you, the player, thereby knowing when to make a larger bet.

Many casinos now use continuous shuffle machines (CSM’s), where the cards are automatically shuffled after each hand. It is impossible to count when these contraptions are used.

The movie 21, Starring Kevin Spacey, is a dramatization of a true story about a group of six MIT students that beat Vegas casinos for millions by mastering card counting techniques while playing blackjack. It gives a pretty good account of how the system works. The movie is based on the book, Bringing Down the House, by Ben Mezrich.

The Objective of Card Counting

As per the aforementioned, the objective is to know when the decks contain cards that are favorable to you, the player, thereby knowing when to make a larger bet.

You would do this by mentally assigning a point value to the cards being dealt and keeping track. Even if you are math skilled and are able to hold a running count in your head, there is still no guarantee. If the shoe is favorable, it may be the other players at the table or even the dealer, who are dealt the better cards.

Contrary to what most people think, card counting is not illegal. However, if caught you will be asked to leave the casino. Their personnel, advantaged by the eye in the sky view, pit bosses, floor persons, and dealers are all trained to spot counters.

Count Strategy

A simple strategy works like this: Assign the following point value for reach card dealt: any 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are (+1). 7, 8, 9, are considered neutral, so do not count them. 10, J, Q, K, A, are (-1). Do the mental tabulation. If the count is +4 or higher, it means that lower value (unfavorable) cards have been dealt and higher (favorable) cards remain in the shoe. The opposite is true when the count is below +4 or in the minus field. Mentally continue the accumulative running count after each hand until the next shuffle. This many sound easy, but the rapid pace can be confusing. One mistake could blow the count in the wrong direction. If you still think you would like to try your hand at counting, here are some helpful tips:

First learn simple basic strategy. Without it counting is meaningless.

Practice. Practice. Practice. Try it at home with multiple decks first. Try counting in groups of 3 or 4 cards each to represent individual players. Tabulate up to 20 to 30 cards to simulate a full table of seven players per round. Speed is important.

When you’re ready, choose the right table. Look for the slowest dealer, a table with favorable rules, and a shoe game with the least number of decks. Sit down to buy in at a fresh shoe immediately after the shuffle. Note that some casinos do not allow mid-shoe entry into a game.

Favorable rules for the player are: Blackjack pays 3/2, split any pair, double down on any two cards, double after split allowed, and dealer stands on all seventeen’s.

Don’t get greedy. Keep your bet spreads low, to a range of 5 times the table minimum. For example, at a $10 table, never bet more than $50 on a favorable count. If you keep jumping from $10 to $100, you will get caught.

Don’t be obvious. If you try to act like the World’s dumbest blackjack player while playing perfect basic strategy, you will get caught. Remember, practice, scout, select, play, and have fun.

Taxes on Your Gambling Winnings – You Owe Uncle Sam a Piece No Matter How Much You Won

When you’re gambling at a casino, you may win a few bucks here and there and leave with more dollars than you brought with you. It may be as little as $20, or as much as $1,000. When cashing out you were never presented you with a form to declare your winnings to the IRS. If you think you’re home free, think again. As a U.S. citizen, you owe Uncle Sam a piece of the action regardless of the amount. Many players think that just because they were not given a tax form there’re home free. Not so.

So, what does get reported to the IRS? Larger amounts that are won at gambling establishments such as casinos, lottery retailers, horse race tracks and off-track betting parlors. They will issue a form W-2G, one copy to you and one to the IRS. Here are some details:

Machine Games

$1,200 or more won at a slot machine, video poker, video keno, video blackjack, etc. This only applies to a single jackpot payout amount. Accumulated credits are credit meter wins and do not count.

$1,200 or more won at a live bingo game will also trigger a W-2G, and $1,500 or more at a live keno game (minus your wager amounts).

The casino will not withhold any gambling taxes from awards in the $1,200 to $1,500 range provided you present a valid photo ID and social security number. If you do not provide this information, 28% will be withheld.

Live Table Games

Winnings from live table games are not reportable on a W-2G, except if there is a very large prize amount offered for a small wager, such as a dollar bet for a shot at a progressive table jackpot, where the winning odds are over 300/1 and the win is more than $600. For example, Caribbean Stud offers a huge progressive jackpot for wagering only $1, if you’re lucky enough to hit a Royal Flush.

If you win $600 or more in any other wagering game, such as horse, dog racing or sports betting, and the amount is at least 300 times your bet minus your wager amount, the establishment will gift you with a W-2G. If your winnings exceed $5,000 and the amount is more than 300 times your bet, 25% will be withheld. The same withholding percentage also applies to any cash prize of $5,000 or more in poker or other card tournaments minus the buy-in amount.

Winnings on state lottery games such as lotto, numbers, scratch-offs, etc. can be collected at your local retailer up to $600. Any more and you’ll have to visit the main lottery office in your community, where a W-2G also awaits you. This information is from the New York lottery. Other states may have different rules.

Winnings on Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) contests at this time are considered games of skill. DFS sites will issue a 1099-MISC, not a W-2G for winnings of $600 or more.

Video Lottery Terminals (VLT)

$600 or more in winnings from any class II ​Video Lottery Terminal game will also invite a W-2G. This includes any winnings on machines at jurisdictions that are operated by a state lottery. For example, New York State has nine race tracks with VLT’s that are pseudo slot and video poker machines.

Deductions

The good news in all of this is that gambling losses are tax deductible but only up to the amount of your winnings, and only if you itemize deductions on your tax return.

The IRS wants to make sure that you indeed lost what you claim you lost, so a record of all your losses is required. Win- loss statements are available from most major casinos at the end of the year, provided you used your player’s club card when playing machines. Save those losing scratch-off tickets, Lotto, Powerball, and Mega-Millions tickets, daily numbers, Quick Draw, OTB, etc.

For losses on Daily Fantasy Sports contests, the IRS position at this time is unclear. Because of the skill factor, your winnings are in the hobby category. Therefore, any losses would not be deductible, although this situation could change at any time.

You don’t have to record the tickets on your tax statement, but they may be necessary if you are audited. All the IRS wants to know is the type of wager, the amount of the bet and the date of the transaction.