Why Advantage Players Should Avoid Native American Casinos

by Michael Stevens
on October 11, 2018
9

Minute Read

Advantage play is one of the most-fascinating aspects of casino gambling, because it gives you a chance to gain an edge over the house.  Certain advantage techniques like card counting, ace sequencing, and shuffle tracking have allowed players to make untold fortunes.

It’s important to make the distinction between advantage gambling and cheating. The latter refers to practices like hiding cards in your sleeve and using illegal electronic devices to gain an unfair edge.

Pro gamblers, on the other hand, develop a skill that enables them to make long-term profits. The fact that advantage players are using skill makes what they’re doing perfectly legal.

But advantage play carries a stigma of danger. Some people still believe that casinos take professional gamblers into back rooms and start breaking fingers.

Many of these stories carry over from the early days of Las Vegas, when the town was run by mobsters. Quora forum users discuss how old-style Vegas casinos would do terrible things to advantage players, including locking them in rooms without water, driving them out into the desert and making them walk back, or simply delivering an old-fashioned beating.

These stories can make one think twice about using any form of skill-based gambling in casinos. But these tales are largely outdated today.

Vegas and other commercial casino destinations have been run by corporations for over three decades. These establishments can’t use underhanded means to abuse advantage players without risking lawsuits and bad press.

Instead, they’ll have security escort you out of the casino and possibly blacklist you. Casinos will contact authorities in the case of cheating.

They’ll also use less-harsh techniques, such as “sweating” advantage players by having the pit boss stand nearby to make them feel uncomfortable.

Of course, commercial casinos are subject to both federal and state law in the United States. This contrasts Native American casinos, which are found on sovereign lands and subject to their own laws.

This isn’t to say that tribal casinos hire mixed martial artists to serve as enforcers and deal with advantage gamblers. But there are some horror stories regarding how Native American casinos handle skilled pros.

I’m going to discuss more on why advantage players should stay away from tribal casinos. The reasons that I’ll discuss include both legal and physical repercussions.

Native American Casinos Are Subject to Different Laws

The US federal government established a gaming pact with Native American tribes in 1988. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act gives tribes the right to negotiate casino gambling pacts with their local state governments.

States don’t have to allow Indian gaming if their laws ban casino gaming. But the state can’t offer commercial casinos themselves while and ignoring negotiations with interested tribes.

The state government and tribal council can agree upon the terms by which Native American casinos operate. This includes discussing what cut — if any — the state receives along with other details.

But some aspects, such as dealing with advantage players, can be left entirely to tribal casino management.

Therefore, Native American casinos located on sovereign lands aren’t technically subject to the same laws as commercial gambling establishments. This gives them some leeway in how they handle advantage gamblers.

One commonly rumored practice among tribal casinos involves detaining pro gamblers and confiscating their funds. In many cases, gamblers have little-to-no recourse to argue their case.

Noted gambling author Stanford Wong brought this point up in an interview with Michael Melia of the Las Vegas Sun.

“You do not have a level playing field,” said Wong. “In a tribal casino, there’s no recourse whatsoever.

“You can’t sue them in regular court. The odds are all stacked against you.”

But American courts recognize the sovereignty of Native American tribes. Therefore, tribal casinos are often shielded from outsiders’ lawsuits.

This affords them more freedom when dealing with customers, notably advantage players or cheaters.

Commercial casinos also have wiggle room when it comes to how they treat customers. These are private businesses that can refuse service to advantage gamblers.

This enables casino resorts to sweat players or simply make them leave. But seeing as how these establishments also operate on American lands, they’re more susceptible to lawsuits.

A perfect example is Atlantic City casinos, which aren’t even allowed to ban professional players like most other gambling jurisdictions. They lost a 1982 lawsuit against card counter Ken Uston, who fought the practice of casinos banning skilled players.

This isn’t to say that tribal casinos have free rein to jump a card counter in the middle of the casino. People can still wage lawsuits through federal courts if a judge allows the case.

This is why Wong was interviewed by the Las Vegas Sun in 2015. He was asked to give his take on lawsuits that were launched by gamblers against tribal casinos in Arizona and Connecticut.

Again, Wong doesn’t feel like players have enough legal rights when playing at Native American casinos. The reason why is because they govern their own lands and can make different policies than those at commercial casinos.

Advantage Gamblers Claim Unfair Treatment at Tribal Casinos

As I covered earlier, Vegas casinos don’t have a cheery history behind how they used to deal with advantage players. You faced the realistic prospect of physical violence if you were caught counting cards in the wrong mob-run casino.

But again, things have changed greatly in Sin City. A multibillion-dollar corporation like MGM and Sands Las Vegas would take massive public damage if they started cracking advantage gamblers’ ribs.

Certain Native American casinos, on the other hand, are small operations run by tribes. This isn’t to say that they don’t have to worry about their reputation too.

But if a smaller tribal casino handles an advantage gambler roughly, then it’s not going to become international news.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, some gaming attorneys claim the worst mistreatment stories come from Native American establishments.

The aforementioned Arizona case saw advantage gamblers file a lawsuit after they were detained on suspicion of cheating in 2011. They claimed that the Mazatzal Casino, which is owned by the Tonto Apache Tribe, were violent and inappropriate in dealing with them.

Rahne Pistor, one of the plaintiffs, said that tribal officers didn’t identify themselves and grabbed his genitals while assaulting him.

“I simply had won more money than they liked,” said Pistor, “so they kidnapped me, handcuffed me, forced me into an isolated backroom in the casino and physically stole whatever money they could out of my pocket.”

An Arizona federal judge sided with the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, noting that “sovereign immunity did not apply because tribal officials involved were named in their individual capacities.”

While it’s good that courts sometimes get involved in the matter, other players aren’t always so lucky. Anecdotal evidence from articles and forums suggests that Native American casinos can use scary tactics against advantage gamblers.

Cezary Jan Strusiewicz of Cracked writes about knowing an acquaintance who was handcuffed in a backroom for 10 hours. Jan Strusiewicz adds that they wouldn’t let the card counter go until he forfeited all his chips, which ranged from $20,000 to $40,000 in value.

“FLASH1296,” a member of BlackjackInfo’s forum, writes of knowing a card counter who was “severely beaten at Foxwoods (Connecticut)” in the early 2000s. The player had no legal recourse in the case after suffering from multiple fractures and injuries.

It’s important to realize that these are second and third-hand accounts. Therefore, you can’t immediately assume that everything on forums is completely factual.

But it’s clear that Native American casinos have a reputation for dealing with advantage gamblers differently, regardless of the chance that some forum stories could be embellished.

Players Can Risk Losing Their Local Casino

Advantage players break down into general classes:

  • Recreational players who want to try card counting or another advanced technique for entertainment.
  • Those who want to make serious long-term profits and possibly earn a living through gambling.

The second category of players is willing to brave conditions in any casino, regardless of the repercussions.

Bob Nersesian, who was Mazatzal’s attorney in the Arizona case, said that a strange phenomenon occurs following controversial disputes at tribal casinos. He said that these instances actually bring more advantage players to the casinos in question, rather than scare them off.

“It’s more like somebody dying from a hot shot of heroin,” Nersesian said. “As soon as that happens, the market goes up, not down.”

The other class of advantage players has an affinity for gambling in general. And while they think it’s fun to try and beat the casino, they also don’t want to lose their favorite gambling venue.

Imagine living in Arizona or New Mexico, which are vast territories that only offer Native American gaming. These states also aren’t like Atlantic City, California, or Vegas, where you can find big clusters of casinos.

Instead, casinos are sparsely spread out across the 110,000-plus square miles in both states. Being banned from the casino closest to you means having to drive a longer distance to reach the next spot.

Those with a mindset of long-term profits or bust are willing to take the risk. But if you have 2-3 favorite casinos within reasonable driving distance and aren’t a serious advantage gambler, then you may want to rethink the tribal casino route.

Native American casinos are highly likely to ban you from their property if you’re caught. It’s better to try these experiments on a gambling vacation to a larger destination, where it matters less if you’re banned.

You Can Just as Easily Try Advantage Gambling at Commercial Casinos

Given everything that I’ve covered up to this point, you should only consider trying advantage play at a commercial casino. This is especially true if you have access to multiple casino resorts in your area.

Many states are seeing commercial gambling establishment’s pop up in recent years. That said, more people can try advantage play without doing so in a tribal casino.

I’m not saying there aren’t repercussions involved when counting cards or using shuffle tracking at a commercial venue. You face being kicked out and banned at these casinos depending upon company policy.

But the worst that you’ll get from a physical standpoint is a security guard firmly grabbing your arm while walking you out the door.

The vast majority of Native American casinos aren’t going to rough you up for trying to win through skill. But isolated incidents make it more unnerving to pick tribal casinos as your arena.

Conclusion

The point of the post isn’t to bash Native American casinos and claim that they’re carrying on the tradition of 1960s mob-run Vegas. In fact, you’ll most likely be treated the same if caught counting cards at a tribal casino as you would at a commercial venue.

I’ve personally never been made as an advantage gambler at a Native American establishment. But from a general standpoint, I’ve always been treated courteously.

Anecdotal accounts on forums also back up the assertion that they’re treated well at Native American casinos. WizardofOdds forum user “Firestarter” explains that he was treated perfectly fine after being made.

“For what it’s worth, I was just caught at one this year,” writes Firestarter. “I received no warning or backing off.”

“Backroomed and banned for life. I asked the guy what he would do if I just ran off, and he mumbled something about being uncooperative, but I didn’t get the impression that he would have tackled me or drawn his weapon.”

He adds that the only reason he went to the backroom was to wait for his hotel belongings to be returned. The casino didn’t act mean or confiscate his funds either.

This account is likely the norm on what happens when you’re caught beating tribal casinos with skill-based play. But remember that not all experiences are the same.

I covered some accounts of players being physically manhandled or even being beaten up. Even if you choose to ignore forum posts, which are perfectly fine, the Mazatzal Casino lawsuit holds validity.

An advantage gambler was treated roughly and had his genitals grabbed during a search after he won too much money. The judge sided in the plaintiffs’ favor.

Unfortunately, federal courtrooms don’t normally get involved in tribal gaming matters. This means that gamblers can be left with no chance to plead their case if funds are confiscated.

Connecticut, which is home to two big tribal resorts in Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, can especially be iffy. The state has a limited number of gaming regulators assigned to these casinos, and their role is mainly to check slot machines.

The reverse side to this is that the impartiality can also extend to state governments and their commercial casinos. Michael Odle, a spokesman for the National Indian Gaming Commission spokesman in Washington, says that federal courts can lean towards revenue-producing casinos in close cases.

George Henningsen, chairman of the Pequot gaming commission, believes that Native American casinos can get a bad rap. Henningsen cites how only the losers come forward to complain about tribal casino justice when problems arise.

As you can see, there are two sides to the story. And tribal venues also have a reputation to protect, which isn’t helped by roughing up advantage gamblers.

But when it comes to using shuffle tracking, card counting, or any other legitimate skill-based technique, I’ll choose commercial casinos every time.

This is due to how there’s almost a zero percent chance of physical violence if I’m caught. I believe that the chances of borderline assault happening at a tribal establishment are also low.

Based on the stories, though, I’ll continue using advantage play at commercial casinos just to avoid the remote chance of broken bones and less legal recourse.

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