Professional gambler discusses how card counters can protect themselves from casino heat and countermeasures.
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A Guide to Managing Casino Heat

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Paranoia 101

By 98%
(From Blackjack Forum Volume XXII #3, Fall 2003)
© 2003 Blackjack Forum

Friends of mine who are not among the professional gamblers community often tell me that I am needlessly paranoid. Some blackjack players have even told me the same, sometimes going as far as laughing at my refusal to walk into a casino in their presence.

Perhaps they are right to make light of my paranoia, but I think they are wrong. In fact, I often wonder if I am paranoid enough about casino heat to make it in this business for long.

When I walk into a casino under the guise of a gambler who is relaxed and comfortable in his environment, I am on high alert, looking for any signs of trouble. Awareness is one of the most valuable weapons in any advantage player’s arsenal and it should be honed to a preternatural level by anyone who intends to become serious in his casino exploits.

Many of the ideas in this article have been discussed previously in the vast body of blackjack literature, but, in light of seeing many players in action in the casinos failing miserably to remain aware of their surroundings, instead becoming lost in their own worlds, I was inspired to reiterate some of these ideas and, in some cases, delve into them a little more deeply.

Recognizing Casino Heat

Many threats await an advantage player in the casinos, the most widely-discussed of which is casino heat. Heat is unavoidable once a player reaches a certain level of play, but its repercussions can be minimized by the aware player.

The first sign, especially when playing in a place where you should not be known or where you should be well-liked, is any sign of unfriendly recognition on the part of the security guards right when you walk in the door. Unless you have had interactions in the past with a guard that would warrant her remembering you, you should see no hint of recognition of you on her part.

If you do see unfriendly recognition, then that is a good sign that you could be in for some trouble if you elect to pursue your financial gain in this establishment. Recognition by a guard is only one potential threat here, as there is always the chance the eye has already picked you up from the moment you hit the property.

If one or more guards begin to follow you or start speaking into their headsets when you walk by, it is time to make for the door, because you are far too hot in this particular establishment to try and make any money. The wise decision is to leave and find a more welcoming house and give it some time before attempting to return.

Assuming you make it safely into the casino and into the table games area, then you can at least take some solace in the knowledge that you are not so well-known in the casino that everyone is looking for you.

Now, there are two cases that must be analyzed, the case that you are a known player and the case that you are unknown. In either case, the first thing you should do is attempt to locate the shift manager. She is your number one enemy on the casino floor, despite how well you think she likes you. It is of utmost importance to be mindful of this person’s whereabouts for the entire time you are in the casino. If you are going to be playing large, this will be easy to do, as she will, in all likelihood, be camped out at your table, especially if the wins or losses begin mounting.

After you have made a note of the shift manager’s location, it is time to proceed to the table and get down to business. You will, undoubtedly, be greeted or noticed by a floorperson at some point, probably when you buy in. Take a look at her face and her expressions. Is there any recognition? Is there any concern? Does she go to the phone and make any calls? Or, in the case that you are a regular, is she all smiles?

This is really the first big test, as most floorpersons are instructed to contact a higher-up should a known offender take a seat at a table. It will be immediately obvious if you have a big problem and you can then decide whether to take a backoff or make for the door.

After you have determined that playing is safe and that you are a welcome guest, the next few minutes will be quite instructive as to how you should proceed. If the phone starts ringing off the hook and the pit fills up with suits with concerned expressions on their faces, you might have a problem.

If they pull out their mug books and start flipping through them furiously, you might have a problem. However, if they cannot find your picture and cannot accurately evaluate your play, you stand a chance of making some money. It all depends on whether the chance of a barring is worth the expectation you figure to earn.

I recall one time in a casino where I ended up playing a three-hour session with most of the casino’s suits swarming the podium closest to my table. Their weighty mug book was out in plain view, and pictures were being passed this way and that and the phone did not stop ringing. Two suits, one of whom was the pit manager, had taken up a permanent post at my table.

It was clear they were very uncomfortable with my play, but they never made a move, and the opportunity was too good for me to just run out on, so I stayed and played. By the time they finally figured out what was going on, I was long gone with more than one pocket full of their chips.

Confusion is your friend. If they show any signs of uncertainty then you know you can take a shot. If you are marked for a barring, you will know immediately, as there will be no hesitation on their part to get the shift manager and possibly some security over to let you know you are not welcome.

In the example above, I played through the casino heat I was given because the conditions were right to do so. In most cases, I would have departed a casino were I getting heat like that, but I figured it was not as bad as it looked.

More Subtle Forms of Casino Heat

Sometimes, the floor will be more subtle in their evaluation of your play. A common method is to simply alert surveillance and have you watched from afar, all the while maintaining an air of calm in the pit. Your only defense against this procedure is to play a short session and hope that surveillance is not clever enough to make your play.

Fortunately, most floorpersons do not have the intestinal fortitude or comfort in their job security to remain calm in the face of big money and a possible advantage play, so they give themselves away by a glaring and growing unfriendliness that colors their aspect. It is common to have a suit watching if you are playing at a high level, but when the watching turns into glaring and the suit multiplies into many suits, you can bet you have the eye watching as well and there is something about you they do not like.

At this point, it is probably time to leave. This all seems like common sense, but I see no shortage of players who are so caught up in their game that they simply do not see the heat mounting around them. So, here is a message to everyone who is thinking too hard about his game: have a glance around every once in a while and practice harder so you do not have to focus on the cards. Do not start rubbernecking and looking all over the place, as that is a dead giveaway that you are up to something, but do try to be aware of where security is, who is watching you and where they are.

Many times a shift manager will be sneaky and lurk behind slot machines or in adjacent pits, stalking you from afar and discussing your play on the phone with surveillance, all the while assessing your overall mannerisms and characteristics. There is also the possibility that a counter catcher has been sent in to evaluate your play on the floor. While the vast majority of casinos do not employ such beasts, some do. If you find someone lurking around your table who shows up out of nowhere, either in the pit or out and about on the floor, who is taking too much interest in your game, you might want to consider some cheap cover, a break in the action or just leaving.

Another possibility is that a “special” dealer gets sent in. Many casinos have a dealer or two who actually knows how to count cards and will evaluate your play on behalf of the bosses. If you are suddenly faced with a dealer who seems to have come from nowhere or from a different pit and this dealer acts in a suspicious or thoughtful manner, you may have just gotten an additional counter at your table. So be careful.

Awareness is as important as a good act when you are playing a winning game in a casino. I recall one time when I was watching a novice playing with his friend on a table, where they had both been for a couple of hours. I noticed there was a lot of commotion with security and, within a few minutes, a large force of security was beginning to mount in groups in the area near the table.

I was getting concerned and tried to call a mutual friend to alert the player that he might want to consider getting out of there. After a few more minutes, a band of security about ten deep surrounded the back of the table, but I noticed they were all looking the other way. One of them disappeared behind a bank of video poker machines just behind the table and awakened a homeless man who was sleeping. The guards then escorted him out of the casino.

The player at the table never noticed any of this. While it was fortunate they were not after him, he never saw them coming and would have been caught completely off-guard had he been their mark and not the sleepy fellow passed out in front of the Double Bonus machine.

Casino Heat Brought On By Other Players

The threat of other advantage players is often dismissed and rarely discussed in the literature. Generally speaking, most other players pose no threat, but there are always exceptions.

It is usually not difficult to identify another advantage player in a casino. If you see him play, you will probably figure him out and, most of the time, you can spot a wiseguy just by looking at him.

If you identify another player in the casino as being an advantage player, you must proceed with caution, as he will probably be able to identify you, too. Unless you have some strange motivations beyond just making money (I will admit to this), it is wise to leave other players alone and seek out another table, preferably in another pit or another casino. Playing on his table will just give you a chance to pick up some additional heat and playing near him will give him a chance to observe you.

I know that I often do not want other players to see what I am doing because I like to keep the best opportunities to myself. And then there is the rare type of player who is actually friendly with the casino to the point that they let him work unmolested so long as he does not do too much damage. These players will often rat out other players in the casinos to score points with the bosses. This is yet another reason to avoid other advantage players in the casino.

The threat of other players goes beyond just being discovered, getting ratted out or having other people horn in on your good games and possibly even killing them in the future. I know of a couple of instances of diabolical wonging that was costly to the victims involved.

In one case, a middle-stakes player was plugging away, grinding out some nice expectation on a shoe and was wonged into by some high-stakes members of a prominent card counting team. Not only did they eat into his high count shoe, but he ended up getting associated with them on a flyer.

In another case, a player discovered that there was a card counter busy at work on a shoe game. He decided that it was more fun to sit at the bar and have a few drinks than it was to count down shoes, so he just enjoyed his beverages and, as soon as the counter started upping his bets, he walked over and wonged right into his shoe with big bets of his own. Amazingly, it took the hapless counter several shoes before he realized the other man was filching his advantageous shoes.

This sort of thing happened to me on one occasion as well. I was sitting on a table with just one other player and a card counter arrived and sat on first base. He was just spreading nickels and did not seem to notice what I was doing, so I figured he would be harmless, but, as it happened, he ended up costing me some money.

At the beginning of a deck, he did not yet have his bet in the circle and the dealer accidentally exposed the first card as she was about to deal it to him. He waved it off after glancing at it, proclaiming his intention to sit out the first round. Before I could react and pull back my bet, the six of spades came flying my way and, sure enough, turned into a hard sixteen when the second card was dealt.

Needless to say, I was irked. There are plenty of countermeasures you can take against this sort of aggression without giving yourself up to the casino, but I will leave it to the reader to devise his own plan.

My response to the guy who let me eat that six was to start discussing card counting with him in an audible fashion. It did not take him very long to leave.

Heat from Players Who are Cheating

Many authorities and players dismiss cheating on the premise that no casino would tolerate or engage in cheating because their gaming license is far too valuable to risk. That sounds logical until you dig deeper into the world of cheating.

I have witnessed cheating and I know of many others who have too. If you are aware and if you spend enough time in a casino, you will too. This topic has been discussed in detail in countless books on blackjack and casino gambling in general, so I will not attempt to offer any new pointers, beyond suggesting that people read the books and familiarize themselves with cheating techniques and, most importantly, always be on guard.

One aspect of cheating that is not discussed very often is the threat of being in the presence of player cheating. If you discover that the players near you are trying to take a shot or making some untoward moves or if you just sense trouble, you should consider leaving.

While you are not a cheater and you are playing with a legal technique, it will undoubtedly be a real headache convincing the casino, Gaming Control and maybe even a jury that you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Criminal Activity

While it is true that cheating is a criminal activity, far worse things can and do transpire in casinos and sometimes advantage players can be the targets of sinister acts.

If you are playing big and have a mountain of money and chips in front of you, you had better believe other people are going to take notice. If one of those people happens to be a thief or mugger, you could have trouble awaiting you when you leave the casino or if you leave your chips unattended at any point. Many people leave their chips on the table when they go to the restroom or take a break but only bad things can happen if you do that. Remember, the casino is not responsible for your loss if some thief runs up and takes your big stack of black chips and runs out of the casino.

Most of these people are caught, but some get away and there are other ways to reserve your seat for a couple of minutes. A single red chip and a request to the boss to reserve your seat will do the trick. Your first defense is to be aware of anyone eyeballing you or your money in a threatening manner. Most crooks are very careful when operating in an area of high surveillance such as a casino, so you may not get a chance to glimpse them casing you. When you finally do decide to leave, be aware of anyone trailing you or watching where you go.

As it happens, this is a good defense against being followed by suits and Griffin agents as well. One of my favorite activities when making my casino rounds is to follow other advantage players around and see what they are doing. I have yet to get caught, and I am neither subtle nor an expert in stealthily shadowing people; muggers and some private investigators are.

Once you have arrived safely at your car or cab, you are still far from being completely out of danger. There was a case not too long ago in Las Vegas of a man who had a large win at the blackjack tables being followed back to his apartment complex and mugged at gunpoint for his wad of cash. That would be an unpleasant bankroll hit, to be sure.

So, when you leave the casino, watch out for people lurking nearby and watching you. Furthermore, check to see if you are being followed once you have begun your drive or cab ride to your next destination. If you think you are being followed, then take an indirect route to your car or eventual destination and linger in safe places where the threat of theft is not likely to manifest itself.


At the heart of this article is the need for an increased sense of awareness on the part of the advantage player. For some people, this comes naturally, but for others it most definitely does not.

While I am still far from having the level of awareness I want, I have learned a couple of things. First, awareness can and should be trained. Casino experience can help with this and, over time, your awareness can improve, but then again, I know of a few seasoned players who are basically out to lunch all the time, even when at the tables.

When you go about your life, do you often wander off into your own world or do you keep yourself apprised of the situation at hand, wherever you are? There is a time and place for introspection, thinking and all around downtime, but it is not when you are out in public. I reserve those things for when I have time to myself at home. The world is a dangerous place and you never know when you might be blindsided when you are out in it. Not to mention, you might just miss out on something hilarious that could make your day!

I like to get an idea of everything around me when I walk around. Who is behind me? Why is that man looking at me? Where have I seen that car before?

I try to view life as a series of scenes in which I have cast myself, taking into account my position, motivations and movements and the relative positions, presumed motivations and movements of all other actors and objects in every scene. Pay attention to every little detail everywhere you go. Try to read the faces and body language of the people around you. Be aware of every sight and sound as they are all clues to what the future holds for you over the next few seconds or minutes. This may sound like sheer insanity, but heightening your awareness will pay off greatly in the casino, whatever your game.

I am no psychologist and my opinion on the human mind is that of an uninformed advantage player, but I believe there is a connection between memory and awareness. I find that working on my memory from time to time and trying to remember the details of the scenes through which I pass in the course of a day have given me an overall improvement in my general awareness.

Likewise, remembering a scene from the last time you visited a location, be it a casino or anywhere else, can tip you off to when things are not quite right if you find yourself there again and something has changed. In short, pay attention and, if you see me watching you, be sure not to make a beeline to a valuable casino opportunity that you do not want to share. ♠

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  How Card Counters Can Protect Themselves From Casino Heat and Countermeasures
Getting away with card counting and other legal professional gambling techniques involves paying attention to casino personnel and your surroundings. Learn how card counters can protect themselves from casino heat and countermeasures.