Christian card counters

In the NYT, Mary Pilon profiles a (now defunct) ring of Christian blackjack card-counters who lead Bible-study classes and youth groups when they're not scoring millions at the casinos. One such Christian counter, Colin Jones, has branched out into running for-pay card-counting workshops for would-be sharps. One of the team has produced a documentary on the team's activities, called Holy Rollers.

But first Jones and his group had to wrestle with the apparent moral paradox: Should Christians be counting cards?

“My father-in-law flipped out about it,” Jones said. “I remember Ben and I discussing everything. Are we being dishonest to the casinos? Is money an evil thing?”

Group members believed what they were doing was consistent with their faith because they felt they were taking money away from an evil enterprise. Further, they did not believe that counting cards was inherently a bad thing; rather, it was merely using math skills in a game of chance. They treated their winnings as income from a job and used it for all manner of expenses.

(via Super Punch)


  1. truly they are exemplars of christian ethics.  I trust the casinos  carefully enfolded their hands in bibles before sledgehammering them.

    1.  Exactly this.  Are we supposed to believe that people with eidetic memories are somehow inherently forbidden to play blackjack? 

      If casinos don’t like card counting, they’re welcome to run only games where there’s no legitimate way to beat the odds… as they do with every other game.

      1.  Casinos already stop card counting by simply dealing from a deck composed of multiple decks. With even just two decks put together, it becomes much harder to be able to track your odds realistically.

      2.  If you’re found to be a card counter they typically ban you and spread you photo and info to other casinos. …that’s if they’re feeling generous. If the catch repeat offenders well…

    2.  Amen. . . Er. . .  I mean, I heartily agree.

      I’m actually heartened to see American Christians lightening up a bit.  There’s no crime here, and not everything is a sin.

  2. By this twisted logic, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Priest and the Levite were not immoral men for leaving the dying man on the road.

    After all, the commandment is “Thou shalt not kill”, not “Thou shalt not leave a man to die for want of your actions”. The Samaritan simply went above and beyond the call of duty. Besides, the man on the road probably deserved to be robbed and left to die because of some wickedness he had committed. /sarcasm

    Gotta love American Christians. They try so very hard to reconsile their supposed faith in Christian values with their genuine faith in American values.

    1. Thou shalt not leave a man to die for want of your actions

      Yup. Looks like a robot is duty bound to be more useful to a human than a christian.

        1. It’s very sad that one of history’s best known atheist humanists was probably a better Christian than most self-identifying Christians in modern America.

          1. The problem is always one of belief versus works. Both can be justified theologically. Either argument can have positive or negative consequences.

    1. Right….

      Group members believed what they were doing was consistent with their faith because they felt they were taking money away from an evil enterprise.

      So, I think Christianity is an evil enterprise (overall) that helps spread ignorance and dogma instead of knowledge and an overall betterment of humanity.

      Yet, for some reason, I still don’t think it’s right for me to rip off Christians.  I’m such a horrible heathen…

      1. i’m possibly naive here, but i don’t get why trying to win is ripping anyone off…  isn’t that like suggesting that studying openings is cheating at chess?

        1. It’s supposed to be a game of chance. Betting, as a human activity, relies upon the measure of probability. It’s meant to level the playing field.

          People would get upset if they found out that casinos were tilting the odds in their own favor – why would they not get upset when the players are the ones doing it instead?

          1. People would get upset if they found out that casinos were tilting the odds in their own favor 

            If? If! The house has a built in advantage in every game.

          2.  For some reason I can’t reply to you directly jerwin, so replying to myself.

            You’re right. Casinos DO have the odds in their favor. And people rightfully are angered by that fact.

            But you’d think that Christians, of all people, would be repulsed by the thought of stooping to their level. Something about turning the other cheek, was it?

          3. Yes casinos have odds in their favor, but those rules are clear and the games are played to the rules. The roulette wheel has 0 and 00 spaces, and no one gets upset at that. But if the wheel had a magnet beneath it, then people would be upset. That’s not playing to the agreed upon rules.

          4. People are rightfully angered that casinos chose games in their favour?

            Idiots and children perhaps. 

            Or do they suppose all the people in the casinos work for free?

        2. I see your point, but I’m addressing the quote and their rationalizing, not the merits (or sins) of card counting.

        1. Purer but not pure? As part of a historical process Christianity has motivated us to think of problems differently than Buddhism (or Eastern philosophies generally), including problems of maths and science. Religious thought has now become more restrictive than liberating.

  3. I watched that documentary at my local indie theater, and it was very interesting. At one point, they let a “non-believer” in their fold as they expanded their efforts. But somehow, the numbers weren’t working out as well as they hoped. Instead of suspecting their group’s own laziness (not keeping the skills sharp) and overconfidence,  they automatically suspected the “outsider” (because Jesus told one of them) and promptly kicked him out of the group. And yet, somehow their  numbers hadn’t improved as a result.

    The story of Christian discrimination as a result of blindness to their own faults is a classic!

  4. When I used to volunteer at the bookstore in the SF Botanical Garden, a group of young Jesus freaks came in one day all excited because they had found a gold wedding ring on the sidewalk.  When I suggested that they turn it in to lost and found because the person who lost it might want it back, they haughtily informed me that God left it there for them because He wanted them to have it.  Nice of Him to take time out from His fossil-planting schedule to leave them a ring.

    1. I think we need to come up with a new term for these kinds of people – those who purport to follow the teachings of Jesus but who actually do just the opposite. It just doesn’t seem right to call such people Christians, since they don’t behave like Christians. It’s an injustice to the actual knowledgeable, humble, Christ-like Christians out there.

      Something simple, yet catchy. Something that evokes Christianity, but denotes the failure to grasp the actual meaning and message of the religion. Something that speaks to being wrapped up in the modern cultural process of completely and simplistically misunderstanding the complex concepts of an ancient man of peace.

      Best I can come up with at the moment is “Crossers”, but I bet we can groupthink this into a neologism.

          1. “The word “Christ” and its compounds, including “Christmas”, have been abbreviated in
            English for at least the past 1,000 years, long before the modern “Xmas” was commonly used. “Christ” was often written as “XP” or “Xt”; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as AD 1021. This X and P arose as the uppercase forms of the Greek letters χ and ρ used in ancient abbreviations for Χριστος (Greek for “Christ”),[2] and are still widely seen in many Eastern Orthodox icons depicting Jesus Christ. The labarum, an amalgamation of the two Greek letters rendered as ☧, is a symbol often used to represent Christ in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christian Churches.[18]

            The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the OED Supplement have cited usages of “X-” or “Xp-” for “Christ-” as early as 1485. The terms “Xpian” and “Xtian” have also been used for “Christian”. The dictionary further cites usage of “Xtianity” for “Christianity” from 1634.[2] According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, most of the evidence for these words comes from “educated Englishmen who knew their Greek”.[11]

            In ancient Christian art, χ and χρ are abbreviations for Christ’s name.[19] In many manuscripts of the New Testament and icons, Χ is an abbreviation for Χριστος[citation needed], as is XC (the first and last letters in Greek, using the lunate sigma);[20] compare IC for Jesus in Greek.”

            like I said: “xers”

  5. I hope that before anyone pays for the card counting seminar they learn that most casinos now use Continuous Shuffling Machines that make card counting useless.

      1. The payoffs are based on simple probability – it’s a design error of blackjack that they are not based on what cards have been already discarded.

  6. They missed the mark a bit on the title, as it infers craps. Kings of Kings says it better.

  7. Gambling is a sin.  But as a priest once told me as he raked in the final pot at a poker game, “It’s not gambling if you know you’re going to win.”  He never would explain how he was certain he would win but he most always did.  I strongly suspect he cheated.

    1. “It’s not gambling if you know you’re going to win.”

      c.f. W.C.Fields:
      “Is this a game of chance?”
      “Not the way I play it, no.”

  8. Playing Christians is a lot more predictably profitable than playing cards.  Ask any republican.

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