March 11th, 2012
01:20 AM ET
My Take: Jesus would be OK with card counting
Editor's Note: David Drury is featured in the documentary "Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians” and is writing a book about his card-counting adventures.
By David Drury, Special to CNN
(CNN)–“Shackled by a heavy burden/'neath a load of guilt and shame/ then the hand of Jesus touched me/ and now I am no longer the same.”
So begins the popular William Gaither hymn. By popular, I mean Elvis once recorded a version of it, which is what it takes for a hymn anymore.
When I stumbled into a church on the outskirts of Las Vegas one Sunday morning in 2007, I was shackled with my own heavy burden of sorts. I had $80,000 in cash hidden on my person. It was crammed into pockets, stuffed into socks and strapped beneath my clothes. The pastor was just getting his sermon fired up when I slipped into a back row with all the grace of a stiff-limbed Frankenstein.
So much for going unnoticed.
The pastor stopped midsentence and stared my way. Had he cleared his throat or even made an offhanded comment about punctuality, I would have understood. Instead, he called my first and last name into the microphone, and every head turned.
Believe it or not, I had never been to this church. While I traveled to Vegas often, my time was spent in casinos, not churches.
Blackjack is a beatable game. With card counting, perfect decision-making and plenty of capital, you can gain and cash in on an advantage against the house. East Coast college students, known as the MIT Team, used the method to plunder casinos in the 1980s and 1990s, inspiring books and movies and making card counting famous. But people have been employing this winning strategy in casinos for 50 years.
A card counter assigns a value to every card as it is dealt out of the shoe. This creates a running count that always changes and allows a player to determine when a statistical advantage falls to him or her, by virtue of more aces and face cards than usual being poised to appear. More faces mean the dealer will bust more often.
More aces mean more natural blackjacks, which pay the player at a higher rate. A card counter keeps bets low when the casino has the statistical advantage and raises them high when the advantage shifts to them.
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When I lost my Seattle office job in 2006, this was the strange career path down which I found myself traveling. I was not alone.
It started when I met a guy at church named Ben. He had made a small fortune counting cards. Ben was putting a team together comprising people he’d found through mostly church connections — pastors, worship leaders and students of theology. This was the team I trained for and joined. As card counters, our common faith was incidental, but as team members it held us together.
We took our craft to casinos, from Vegas to Atlantic City to Biloxi, Mississippi, to Bremerton, Washington. We won millions of dollars. The money was not funneled into any ministry or religious consortium.
Instead, the winnings were split between those who invested in the operation, those who managed the team - which ran between 10 and 25 players – and the players, who didn’t risk any of their own money at the tables. As a player I made what amounted to a modest annual salary with no financial risk and maintained, on average, a 10-hour workweek.
We returned home with the gift of time to our ministries and families and, yes, to plenty of questions.
If the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, as the Bible suggests, what business did a bunch of Christians have throwing around big money on a game of chance? For us, chance had nothing to do with it.
To count cards is to remove the gamble. Anything can happen in one hand or on one night, but slowly, over time, the advantage you earn by executing perfect playing decisions and betting according to your advantage bears itself out. Playing the stock market is much more of a gamble.
Yes, money is attractive, and we dealt with a lot of it. Tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. You can’t withdraw $50,000 from a casino ATM and it can take a half -day of red tape to get as much out of an account at a big bank. Our assets had to be liquid.
Until we had the better sense to put it in safety deposit boxes, we kept our cash in freezers and under mattresses. For our investors and for tax reasons, we were tasked with reporting our wins and losses accurately, but at any time any one of us could have pocketed thousands without a hint of suspicion.
While we were left to weigh our own motives, as a team we were forced to trust one another with money that could have collapsed the business if it ever went missing.
We were an uncommon fellowship, to be sure. But while we never claimed a full understanding on how God viewed our activities, I felt that he never left the room. He was ever present in our musings, discussions and deliberations. With the math on our side, we took confidence in the fact that that we lacked any of the traits of wild gamblers. But were we deceptive by hiding our intentions at the tables? Were we providing a service to the world by playing a card game? The answers varied.
Which is worse? To declare your path the righteous one and retire all questions of God’s will to the back of your mind, or to seek them out?
We chose the latter, engaging the hard questions as they arose rather than pretending to corner the market on righteousness. We wrestled with them in a way that we came to know intimately the stink of our own individual natures. But there was something pure born out of abandoning an easy, comfortable existence for a true fellowship with my teammates that came with plenty of hard questions.
Casinos have a dubious reputation as the gateway to vice and temptation. I think that’s unfair. I had Internet access and a bar around the corner from my home, so the casinos never represented any particular threat to my morality I didn’t already have at my fingertips.
Maybe that day I stumbled into that Las Vegas-area church I was looking for a familiar face in a strange town. For all the secrecy and questions, maybe I was looking for a little validation, too. I knew two of the pastors on staff because they had served at the church of my childhood.
One of those pastors was at the pulpit that day. He called my name out when he recognized me. After the service I had a brief conversation with the other in the church lobby.
“What brings you to Las Vegas?” he asked.
“I’m on a card-counting team.”
“Well, God can change anyone.”
What? I thought.
“I know a young man,” he said, “who came to Las Vegas for a dodgeball tournament. Now he’s on staff with us. Who knows what God has in store for YOU?”
This man of the cloth had essentially stuffed the cloth right in my mouth, as if to say that even I could be saved from whatever silly game I was playing. But he needn’t have tossed me a lifeline because I didn’t need saving.
Engage me. Ask the hard questions. Be confounded as I am confounded. But don’t write me off. We are all in the water together. Faith is a journey, and God calls us into relationship.
I remember a man at my table once who was furious with the aggressive way I was playing. “A fool and his money are soon parted,” he said in a huff. For six years I stood ready as ever to be the fool. But me and the money, by way of card-counting wins, never parted.
The team ended with the making of a documentary about our journey. My blackjack career ended with it. I have taken to writing my tales in the hopes of forging a new journey that doesn’t involve stacks of cash. I guess I am a gambling man after all.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Drury.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
WHOA, I WAS WORRIED!
I thought that a day was going to pass in which CNN did not bash Christianity.
To today's so called "Christians", Jesus would be OK with anything they want. The criterion to them is not what Jesus taught, but what the want.
Prayer changes things .
Yeah, it makes you dumber.
What is unhealthy is indoctrinating children with utter nonsense about a mythical character (gOD) that does not exist and to further traumatize children with all of the misguided nonsense that accompanies such a bigoted and narrow minded belief system. As I mentioned before, you too are an atheist. The difference between you and I is that you believe in one more god than I do. I suspect this number also indicates the number of books you have read ...
Just because you call yourself a Christian doesn't mean you are.Only God can judge.A child is the only one without sin.Who thinks they are righteous enough to judge someone else?
Not true. Anyone born unto this planet is INHERENTLY sinful. There's no magical "day" at which you suddenly become sinful.
Adam proved that, for each of us here, there exists at least ONE stimulus on this planet that, if God said "do NOT", we would "do" anyway. That makes us all sinful.
What a load of nonsense. Christians have to be the most gullible people on the planet.
BldrRepublican that's your opinion.Me I don't see it that way.I guess will find out someday.
More importantly would Jesus support the 24 hour news cycle that is so desperate for stories it comes up with crap like what would a mythical figure feel about xyz. sheesh
I think this article is more of an advertisement for casinos than a serious question.
Liberal press monkeys have run enough of these "what would Jesus do" nutbag stories. Notice they never publish anything based on "what would Muhammad do"?
Liberal? I thought religious nut cases were mostly conservatives.
Afew hundred years ago, in Jamestown, if a guy missed Church, he was fined 20 pounds of either hemp or tobacco.
Nowadays, they'd say it was a sin to use either of those crops.
The World's ideas about what sin is,are not what the Bible says sin is.
Santorum, a Catholic, would say that card counting is a sin and would try and use Government to push that value.
RON PAUL, and Evangelical, would say that card counting is a matter of Christian Liberty, and would remember that government intervention will only spell bigger problems.
I don't understand how counting cards is illegal. Is it a law that a smart person must turn off their brain while playing blackjack?
Its not illegal, but it is against the casino rules and they are allowed to kick you out.
The fun catch is that there's no way to really tell if someone is counting cards (assuming they're good) unless they have a long winning streak. So basically, casinos are allowed to kick out anyone who wins too much, because the games are supposed to be rigged for the house.
Then again, any halfway decent player who can count cards will know that they need to occasionally lose a hand in order to keep the illusion up.
I've never been to Vegas, and in general do not gamble, but it seems a little too convenient for the Casino to be able to arbitrarily kick people out. It must be easy for the House to turn a continual profit if they can simply kick out anyone who dares to win.
Its easy to tell if someone is counting cards. They frequently adjust their bets based on what cards have shown. Its a set pattern and any deviation loses them their advantage. All the house needs to do is notice him, then count cards themselves and see if the player matches the pattern.
@ svann: so why doesn't the house simply employ dealers who count cards, and have them bet accordingly. That should return the slight advantage to the house.
Dealers dont bet. You never played blackjack have you?
Counting cards is all but impossible now. All the casinos use multiple decks. It's not that hard to keep up which of 52 cards have been play but try that with a couple of thousand.
Multiple decks dont make it harder. Its still just simple addition. 1+1+2-1+1-1 etc. That said, most people dont have the patience, discipline and focus to be able to keep it up. Plus you can get blackballed if you get caught. They watch for it now.
IMO, the better story is "would Jesus support medical marijuana?"
People wrestle with that one way more than card counting.
That is too specific a question. We can answer that one, and a host of others like it at the same time by answering the question: Would Jesus approve of personal responsibility and the liberty that accompanies it?
"What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them."
I dont think Jesus ever said "no gambling". That said, for most people it is a mistake.
No, but it's pretty clear he wanted people to be generous, not taking advantage of other people's losses or seeking personal fortune.
I pray and weep for all the misguided souls on this comment section y'all are just living proof of America in decline 🙁
To the contrary, evangelicals and their ilk are causing the decline in America. As long as people accept ancient mythology as fact, America will be a backward country in the context of philosophy and values.
LuisWu I will pray for you the next time I'm at church. God Bless!
SueEllen – Don't chant any blah blah blah nonsense to your invisible friend on my behalf. Wallow in your fantasy world if you want but don't expect intelligent people that think for themselves to buy into your nonsense.
America is in decline because a mass of hypocrites calling themselves "Christians" also call themselves "Republicans" and want to give more money to the rich and less to the poor, while also supporting guns and an aggressive defense strategy - contention with the Middle East instead of peace. Jesus would have supported *none* of this. Republicans violate some of the most famous and basic passages in the Bible:
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.
America is in decline because these same people are apparently racist and rabidly oppose Obama no matter what he does, levying ridiculous notions like "secret Muslim" and "Kenyan," and even seeking the decline of the economy in order to get him out of office. No other president has faced such a wall of hatred. What is the difference with Obama? He is more centrist than Clinton.
"True Christians do not get involved in gambling" so when judas hanged himself, how did the remaining 11 apostles pick a new replacement? ?????? They gambled. They drew straws. It's amazing how much religious people spew out their hatred and yet know so little about what they are talking about (BTW, 'roll the bones' is a huge book on the history of gambling. good read)
That was acts 1:26 for anyone that wants to check.
Do you know a better method in ancient times for achieving a random result than to cast lots? That is not gambling; don't be silly.
I know how to count cards and I work in the casino business as a dealer and must say 1)this story sounds completely bogus. Like he just watched the movie 21 and 2)it's to tough to work a casino. They are watching the tables for variations in bets. Betting $10 all night and then $1000 is a dead giveaway. They have your face and will send it to other casinos. This story just sounds like fiction to sell a boook.
I have yet to see an American turn their Lottery jackpot over to their church in guilt
I have yet to see the Catholic church turn over their lottery (called "bingo") profits to the government or even pay taxes.
Also besides this being something that most people are not capable of, when a casino realizes you are a counter they ARE allowed to kick you out and they will. And they can tell counters by how they bet. You have to bet a certain way for the system to work. Any variance loses you your advantage. They see this.
"enter to win" is a deceitful statement period.
True Christians do not get involved in gambling in any way on the gambling side of things or the casino side. both sides are not practices Jesus or Jehovah God would approve of. Anyone saying otherwise doesn't know their Bible.
quote chapter and verse or I dont believe you.
What rock do you live under?
So when Judas, one of Christ's 12 apostles, hanged himself, how did they pick his replacement??????????? Well, they drew lots. They gambled. So if the 11 apostles of christ gambled, then where do you get you nonses from? Oh wait. Religious people don't have to provide facts.
"both sides are not practices Jesus or Jehovah God would approve of"
So you speak for Jesus do you? Pride before the fall ...
Since you allegedly know your Bible, justify your position with evidence from the Bible. Don't just say other people don't know it, like it's some big secret or club you belong to.
From what I can remember of the Bible, probably the best passages that would suggest seeking any personal fortune is wrong are these below. For Christians to say "gambling is wrong" - or for the author to try to rationalize his gambling theologically - is kind of missing the point, I think:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
So then.... as a Christian I am not to gamble. Okay. Does that include buying cattle futures, real estate as an investment, purchasing stocks and bonds, opening a small business? All investment involves risk. Games of chance, as they are called, aren't games of chance if you have the knowledge to beat the odds. All of it is a gamble. Some more than others. If this article is true, it seems to me that he has just learned to stack the odds in his favor. Nothing wrong with that. People who quote the Bible here often are only familiar with a portion of it, or quote only the portion that they feel stiffens their argument.
@McGuffin I can assume then that you've sold all you have and given it to the poor and that you have no retirement fund or investments... That complete statement from you is nonsense and is completely away from what was meant. If you truly believe that then you will divest yourself of ALL material wealth, and its trappings. Until then you're just another "sounding brass or tinkling cymbal"...
iamacamera: "People who quote the Bible here often are only familiar with a portion of it, or quote only the portion that they feel stiffens their argument." I wonder where they got that idea from? Seriously though, are there really any Christians that follows the word of the bible? For every quote I pull out you will pull out another and interpret it to counter mine. I read the bible (old and new testament) from front to back several time – it is one huge contradiction. So the answer to my questions are that those who claim to be religous routinely select passages that reflect the 'flavor of the week'.
Prayer changes things .
Nope! You are still posting, despite thousand praying for your death.
No, chanting blah blah blah nonsense to an invisible, supernatural being in the sky accomplishes nothing except sucking you further into your delusional fantasy world.
Prayer changes things
Yet another denier. We are all atheists with the difference that you merely believe in one more god than I do.
I saw a study where a few thousand heart attack victims were followed for several years. The ones that prayed, had exactly the same mortality rate as those that didn't. So there's your proof that prayer does nothing. Chanting blah blah blah nonsense to an invisible, supernatural old man in the sky only makes you look like an idiot.
Oh, go away, would you?
There's absolutely no historical record for Jesus. He is a literary character (perhaps based very loosely on someone real, perhaps one of many Kingdom of God rebels that were crucified in ancient Palestine, perhaps not...his name, after all, translates to "Yahweh Saves") like Huck Finn and Oliver Twist, but much more like Harry Potter and Clark Kent. How am I so certain of this? I read books. Many, many books by very learned historians and religion scholars, mainly main-stream, but also fringe, a full spectrum of perspectives.
There are 20 known non Biblical references from antiquity, including entire books available to substantiate the person of Jesus. No credible scholar of ancient history disputes the existence of Jesus and the legal evidence for the existence of Jesus is greater than for any other person from the time period.
The only known reference to Jesus outside of the bible is a brief statement in the writings of Josephus. There are no others. If you believe there are then post them here.
One would hope that in your haste to denigrate Christianity, you would recognize the difference between a lack of historical evidence and the huge leap in therefore assuming Jesus is a "literary character" . The truth is, given the thousands of years that have transpired, there is no historical evidence of your ancestors and, yet, here you are...living proof of their existence. Or, are you a literary character?
SciGuy – No, you were quoting an ancient book of mythology, written thousands of years ago by ignorant, primitive, bronze age people. A book that has nothing what so ever to do with reality. You believe it because you were indoctrinated practically from birth to believe it because it's the myth that your culture accepts. If you'd been born in India, you would be arguing just as strongly for Hinduism, because you would have been indoctrinated to believe in that culture's myths. Same for Buddhism, Shintoism, etc. etc. etc. Where you were born determines what myths you believe more than anything else. It's just all ancient mythology, nothing more.
Quit justifying your sinful ways. Take heart in the fact that there is no god to judge you. Party on!
Says God: It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgement.
SciGuy – Which god? Krishna? Allah? Manitu? There are so many... All the gods that have been worshiped since the beginning of history would fill 10 football stadiums, but of course YOURS is the only one that's real. HA HA HA HA, yeah, right. Whatever.
Luis, I was quoting the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, who demonstrated his claim to the Name by conquering death when he raised his Son from the dead. Who by the way was seen by over 500 people, was doubted by the disciple Thomas at first but later convinced of his resurrection by physical inspection of the scars in his hands, feet, and side. Further evidence of the historicity of Jesus's resurrection is seen in Saul of Tarsus who is known now as the apostle Paul after his conversion from a Christ hater to a Christ lover because he was eyewitness to the resurrected Lord. Further evidence is the Roman inability to produce the body of Jesus after the claimed resurrection, on top of the guarding of the tomb which was prompted to avoid precisely this claim.
SciGuy – No... you were quoting an ancient book of mythology, written thousands of years ago by ignorant, primitive, bronze age people. A book that has nothing whatever to do with reality. You believe it because you were indoctrinated practically from birth to believe it because it's the myth that your culture accepts. If you'd been born in India, you would be arguing just as strongly for Hinduism, because you would have been indoctrinated to believe in that culture's myths. Same for Buddhism, Shintoism, etc. etc. etc. Where you were born determines what myths you believe more than anything else. It's just all ancient mythology, nothing more.
"Who by the way was seen by over 500 people,"
–According to the bloviating zealot and super salesman, Paul of Tarsus. Who were they, exactly, names, addresses and verified sworn statements would at least be a start.
"was doubted by the disciple Thomas at first but later convinced of his resurrection by physical inspection of the scars in his hands, feet, and side."
- So, what are the rest of us doubters - chopped liver? We do not need to be "more blessed" than this Thomas guy.