Ethics Quiz: If the Casino Makes It Too Easy To Win, Are You Obligated Not To?

The mini-baccarat game at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City became awfully profitable one night in April, because the company that was contractually obligated to supply the casino with decks of pre-shuffled cards inexplicably did not. Once the alert gamblers noticed that they were being dealt the same sequence of cards repeatedly from unshuffled decks, they started raising their bets.  After forty-one consecutive winning hands, fourteen players had won more than $1.5 million. Puzzled but dim casino security had been watching them to see how they were cheating, but couldn’t figure it out.

No surprise: the casino is suing the card supplier. That’s not all, however: it is also suing the gamblers for their winnings, citing New Jersey regulations that require  all casino games to offer “fair odds to both sides.”  The casino’s lawsuit claims that once the gamblers realized that the unshuffled cards tilted the odds in their favor, they were obligated by law to stop playing and winning.

Your Ethics Quiz for today: Is that a fair position? Was it unethical for the gamblers to take advantage of the casino’s card problem?

As usual, I am not rendering an opinion on how the law will be interpreted, though I must ask this: if the casino, which is responsible for the cards, deals from an unshuffled deck intentionally or not, tipping the odds to the gamblers, isn’t it the casino that is violating the “fair odds” regulations? How can the gamblers be held responsible for what they had no control over, and why should the law allow the casino to benefit from violating the law?

Surely the gamblers should be able to keep their money. They didn’t cheat; they were just paying attention. Their tactic wasn’t without risk, either: at any time, a shuffled deck could have turned up (for all they knew) costing them a bundle. Essentially the casino is arguing that if it plays games uncharacteristically ineptly, players are unethical if they take advantage of it, but if gamblers play badly, the house can take them for all they are worth. Why didn’t the casino’s employees figure out that the cards weren’t shuffled? That’s their responsibility, not the players’.

Were the winning gamblers dishonest? No. Irresponsible? No. Unfair? Are you kidding? Unfair to take full advantage of the cards being dealt to them?

The gamblers had no obligation to mitigate the damage to the casino from the failure of the casino’s own contractors, when the gamblers were engaged in a competitive enterprise against the casino. My answer to this quiz: The players should be able to keep their winnings.

Facts: Seattle Post

Graphic: No deposit casino

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

30 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: If the Casino Makes It Too Easy To Win, Are You Obligated Not To?

  1. Life is not fair. In New Jersey life is even more not fair, so I suspect New Jersey courts will see nothing wrong with rewarding the Casino for inept play. You win that one, and you win on the general premise I believe.

    In fact, if and when a local court rules against the winning players wouldn’t there be grounds for a super-duper product liability case against all casinos in New Jersey? A suit forcing them to cease and desist using the terms “Gamble and Gambling”? Because if they win and can be successfully sued due to wager results over which they had no control other than their intellects, by definition they weren’t actually “gambling”. What they were doing is called “unintentional shilling”.

  2. For years and years, I was a croupier at my night job. Since then, I drop by to touch base with friends, have coffee and drop my $50 or $100 as I go through – in machines, sometimes at a $2-5 poker table, always in great moderation. I have won lots. I have lots little because I am only willing to put little down – always aware that anything I put down is more likely to be lost than returned to me. In other words, I have spent a lot of time in Casinos.

    Gamblers fall into three groups really. Group one are those that are one off kinds of visitors that have probably attending an event or show in the show lounge and are just extending the evening of entertainment. They will come through and drop a bit, almost never understanding the games they are playing but not really caring because they are out for fun and fun only. Group three hate these types of gamblers, particularly on card tables.

    Group two would be where I fall. Regular visitors who spend within a budget and while they are there for fun as well, they understand the games and are trying to win. Group three are the hard core. The people who need the toll free helpline and who’s family members are often coming in to drag them out. I have seen these people lose businesses, homes, families and everything else that holds any value to their addiction.

    I don’t think irresponsible is a word that has any real meaning inside a Casino. There is no activity there that can be described as responsible. However, if these players fell in any group but group one, they were, of course being both dishonest and unfair. Yes, the Casino is actually often unfair (I don’t think house odds can ever be described as fair but they are at least published). If the players knew the cards were not shuffled, taking advantage of that was unfair and further, knowing that was information the Casino would need to fix the problem, not bringing it to light was dishonest. It definitely amounted to cheating.

    It is no different than in the early days of ATM machines. You remember? The old, big, loud machines that took forever to dispense your $20? Well, around here, for the first few years, it was not uncommon for those machines to occasionally spit you out an extra $20 bill or two.Was it ethical, responsible and fair to then walk away and keep the extra, chalking it all up to the banks mistake? Banks make good money off my fees, I deserve and extra $20 now and then? Same thing in my mind. Their mistake… still not your money.

    Having said that, I don’t blame them for any of it. Gamblers will take advantage of improved odds anytime they are offered. The Casino knows that and has their eyes wide open. It is why security is the biggest chunk of their budget.

    I don’t think ethics arguements can be made inside Casino walls. Ethical might be another word, like responsible, that really doesn’t fit anything that is going on inside.

  3. I am not interested in what the legal thing is to do. I am only interested that I meet my maker with clean hands. Therefore, if I knew what was going on, I would not continue playing. I have to deal with my personal value system, not what I can legally get away with.

    • I don’t see it. This isn’t like a malfunctioning ATM—this isn’t stealing. This is money that is being contended over in a competition (in which the house usually has the odds in its favor). If an adversary screws up, there is no ethical obligation to stop, show him the error of his ways, and then continue after he has made a correction. And as I said, there was no way for the gamblers to know when the unshuffled decks would run out—they were still gambling.

      • I understand your point, but let us consider culture’s social agreement for individuals, and institutions to unconsciously or consciously to perform “act of omissions.” I am weary of seeing acts of omission performed politically, and institutionally.

        Should I continue trying to be in a contest with a player who uses performance enhancing drugs? Should I continue to compete in the Olympics when I know one of my adversaries used drugs the night before and is not completely lucid just so I can keep winning? The prize is stinky to me.

        Tolerance toward acts of omission that are a detriment to ethical relationships currently serves the cohesion of our society. How do we evolve our society through our social agreements to “get what we can?”

        By giving a green light to the gamblers,I feel I would be part of simply recycling the same patterns of century after century in updated packaging.

        Very interesting blog. You offer me the opportunity to engage in complex thinking.

        • Should I continue trying to be in a contest with a player who uses performance enhancing drugs?

          In this circumstance, the other side isn’t cheating, so this is irrelevant.

          Should I continue to compete in the Olympics when I know one of my adversaries used drugs the night before and is not completely lucid just so I can keep winning? The prize is stinky to me.

          What would be unethical is dropping out just because your opponent didn’t do their ethical duty. You’d be giving them a victory they hadn’t earned. Unless you drugged your opponents, you are definitely correct to play against them to the best of your ability. It might not be worth as much to you if your opponent got tanked, but that was their choice.

      • Yeah, I get that. I just drew my line in a different spot. If they were gamblers, they knew what was happening, they cheated. Bet they think they cheated too. But, if they were gamblers, no reason for the Casino to sue… they will get it all back anyway.

        • We’re still waiting for a connection between “they knew what was happening” and “they cheated”. That’s what we’re looking for here. Just stating it doesn’t work. Why is it cheating?

          • LOL. You’ll be waiting forever, tgt, so you might as well stop. The connection is in my mind. I thought I said that. Sorry. But like I said, it isn’t even worth the arguement because gambling requires checking ethics at the door. By the time a serious gambler is at a table with bets down, I can assure you, all ethics have left the building and they are measuring their behavior with a completely different yardstick. And after spending 13 years in the pits, you will not convince me otherwise here. I think they were cheating. I bet they think they were cheating. And, I think if this situation occured around their buddies poker table after an afternoon BBQ and they took the same advantage of a card mistake to essentially steal his money, a lot more people would call it cheating. You can think they are bastions of ethical behavior, I don’t.

            • By the time a serious gambler is at a table with bets down, I can assure you, all ethics have left the building and they are measuring their behavior with a completely different yardstick.

              Can you explain to me other unethical behavior in gambling? There are thousands of poker pros that all behave ethically at the table.

              I think if this situation occured around their buddies poker table after an afternoon BBQ and they took the same advantage of a card mistake to essentially steal his money, a lot more people would call it cheating.

              I don’t think this situation could occur at a BBQ without the beneficiaries being complicit in the card order. Pull a deck out of a box, and play with it before anyone shuffles? Nobody would stand for it. At the casino, the rules are different.

              You can think they are bastions of ethical behavior, I don’t.

              I don’t believe this action was unethical. That doesn’t say anything about the people in general.

              • Of course, you are right, it doesn’t say anything about the people in general and I am more than willing to admit, those 13 years left me with a huge bias I very likely won’t ever shake. Table control in roulette can be aggressive. I still think I have a good idea of their thinking and I still think they cheated, therefore, I still think this action was unethical. But no, I would not convict them of murder on the same evidence if I were sitting in a jury box.

                  • Probably not all of them. But there are two or three that trip me up enough that I would have to be in active denial not to notice them. For example, it is highly unlikely I will ever be born again or be able to talk to a climate change denier without having to fight the urge to smack them 😉

  4. I hope the casino wins. I hope they win because, if they do, then everyone else gets to sue them and they should all win. In many casinos, the cards are shuffled by autoshufflers. The deck is cut, cards are discarded, but the sequence isn’t really changed, the dealers know what cards they are dealing. If the cards are hand-shuffled by the dealer, the dealer knows what the card order is. One of my relatives is a dealer at a casino. He likes is when he gets the regulars at a table and he can cruise through cards. He doesn’t even bother to let the players turn over their cards before he pays them or takes their money. He knows every card they have.

    How does this jive with fair odds for both sides? One sides know what all the cards are, one doesn’t?

    Now, I don’t think the casino should win this case. Both sides saw the same pattern. Both had the same opportunity to take advantage of it. That would be the definition of “fair odds for both sides”, now wouldn’t it? The player’s defense attorney should bring that up. Since the casino is trying to get this provision enforced, let’s see what a free and public definition of “fair odds for both sides” will be.

    On top of that, it isn’t just the one dealer who is responsible here. Casino security is watching every card dealt. They do this every day. They should have picked up on the pattern. When people started winning left and right, the pit boss should have come over. Why didn’t the pit boss notice that the cards were being dealt in order. It wasn’t that they were all shuffled the same, They weren’t shuffled at all. If the blackjack dealer starts dealing…two of clubs, three of clubs, four of clubs, five of clubs…and the casino doesn’t figure it out…

    Now, things happen. My dealer relative got in trouble for dealing 5 royal flushes in a month. They started investigating him and then the other dealers started dealing multiple royal flushes per week. What they found was that the autoshuffler machine shuffled in such a way that it resulted in a royal flush if you had x players playing for y hands (where x is a full table). Repeatable…every single time. They didn’t sue the players, they didn’t fire the dealer. They did demand compensation from the autoshuffler company.

    • So your dealer relative is a cheat. That doesn’t say much about this situation

      Also, the cards were not in standard deck order. All the decks were shuffled, but they were all shuffled to the same card order. That’s not something your average pit boss could see at first glance. It would take more than a run through (after the gamblers were already under suspicion) to notice.

  5. To me this one is very simple: The casino should be suing whatever card provider they were using, not the gamblers.

    The company providing the unshuffled decks that were supposed to be shuffled is the only party in this story that acted outside of expectations. It was their mistake that directly led to these consequences.


  6. Pingback: Ethics Quiz: If the Casino Makes It Too Easy To Win, Are You … « Ethics Find

  7. So….they only burn through a deck once and then they open a new deck? I’ve never played this particular game, but it seems odd that you would never shuffle the deck and simply open a new deck. Height of laziness…. or maybe it helps keep up the pace of play?

    • I don’t know what they were playing, but in the course of a 4 hour black jack session, going through a couple decks is not odd.

      Casinos swap in fresh decks fairly frequently to avoid cards getting warped or otherwise marked. The old decks get hole-punched and sold in gift shops.

      • At least with the black jack, they get to the end of the deck and re-shuffle…killing this particular advantage these players had. The casino not allowing a deck to be used again and reshuffled led to the back-to-back consecutive pattern.

        • So I’d only get ~10 hands with guaranteed results, and don’t think I wouldn’t remember. It’s Still a problem. This casino might have had a rash of people marking cards, a history of questionable dealers, or they could be overly security conscious. It doesn’t really matter.

          The casino (through it’s vendor) screwed up, but that doesn’t mean the policy of getting a new deck each time was bad.

          • Wasn’t saying that…just thought it was an expensive practice.

            Plus, I don’t know how “mini-baccarat” is played or works, but I have to assume that it doesn’t have a lot of “chance” put into it. With Blackjack, if the card order was the same every time after shuffling, you still have a random player who cuts the deck, the cards vary by # of players, the order changes depending on who takes a card and doesn’t…which ultimately affects if the dealer has to take a card or stand.

            • Actually, no part of what you described isn’t beatable. The cutting is the most difficult part, but past that, simple memorization of card order can let a team of players win considerably more than they lose.

  8. I’d say the ethical thing to have done was for one of the players, upon noticing the pattern, to point it out to the dealer, and then let the house handle it. If an ill placed reflective surface allows looking at another player’s hand, it doesn’t matter if the player put it there or not, but using it to influence the outcome of the game is still cheating. Now, if the cheating is the house’s fault there may be a valid question of if it is FAIR to keep the money – and that’s what the court will decide – but I think it would be unethical to keep money that was obtained unethically.

    • Using the mistakes of actor A against actor B is not the same as using the mistakes of actor A against actor A. If, at a poker table, a player had a tell, would it be unethical to use that tell? No.

    • That’s exemplary ethics. I don’t think it is unethical or cheating to take full advantage of the mistake, though. It is not like the cards were marked. The players noticed a pattern. The same thing has happened in roulette: players, after many hours, determine that the wheel is slightly imbalanced, causing certain results to be more probable, if only a little, and that can be enough to shift the odds. If a slot machine is paying off more often than the others, do you really think a player should be obligated to tell the management, and is cheating if he plays that machine instead?

      • Agree with Jack. I don’t find it unethical if you have seen the pattern and not reported or mentioned it to the dealer or house. When let’s say, really dumb players were playing and haven’t noticed it…would the casino have sued the player or card supplier? No they won’t. Definitely won’t. Until it happened, that’s when they start looking at it cos it’s against the casino’s favor. They will find reasons to get their way.

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