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.
Usually I love lame belief blog stories so I can make points supporting atheism, but even this story is too lame & contrived.
Prayer changes things .
Yeah, it turns you into an ignorant fool that accepts ancient mythology as fact.
Unless you're an amputee. God has never answered one of their prayers. Wonder why he hates them? I never could understand how you guys on the one hand say god can intervene and answer prayers, but on the other hand can't intervene and, say, destroy Satan, or stop a hurricane, etc. So which is it? Can he or can't he intervene? Is he or isn't he all-powerful? I say, you can't answer, because gods don't exist, and you don't have any idea. You're grasping at holy straws on the odd chance you might be awarded a prize if you only wish hard enough. Well, looks like if there is a god (and there isn't), he's more into professional sports than anything important that needs fixing on this planet.
I think you are confusing prayer with manifest destiny and visualization.
Crystal meth also changes things. Prayer is for fools.
Who is this Jesus the uneducated speak of?
Jesus is LORD
A mythical figure from ancient mythology.
Lords and ladies are now irrelevant. Psssst. It's the 21st Century.
An ancient figure accepted by all credible scholars of antiquity and well docu mented in evidence from the first century A.D.
Not a " lord ", LORD. ADONI
Justsayin .. I agree that Jesus (at least a person we now call Jesus) existed, but in no way makes him the son of a God(s) or a miracle maker and leaves no reason to think anything followers claim about religion being "real" is true.
Oh THAT one. Well, you spelled it wrong, it's Adonai, and maybe you should learn about that ti'tle :
The numerous ti'tles for God have been a source of debate among biblical scholars. YHWH is the only proper name of God in the Tanakh in the sense of a personal name. Words such as Elohim (god, or authority), El (mighty one), El Shaddai (almighty), Adonai (master), Elyon and El-Elyon (most high), Avinu (our father), are not names but ti'tles, highlighting different aspects of YHWH and the various roles of God. Yahweh, ("the lord of hosts" or "god of the armies") DEVELOPED in human history. Here is a short course for you :
Card counting is a skill required to have to play bridge, poker and other games...So, all good card players can count to a certain degree...But if the casino's have rules that extreme card counting is illigal then he was wrong in doing it, because that would be cheating...I'm just not sure if a true Christian should be involved in casinos and gambling...But then again Christians have beccome so worldly...but nomatter we will all stand before God and be held accountable for everything we do and say...And Jesus said, the world hated him first, and the world is always going to hate all true Christians...
A casino "rule" is not a law, and therefore, can never be "illegal." It can be against the rules of the house, but you can't get arrested for it.
Card counting is perfectly legal - but casinos are private companies, and they can force you to leave the casino for any reason - including card counting.
So while there's absolutely no threat of being arrested (unless you refuse to leave when asked, which would be trespassing), you are at risk of losing the privilege of gaming at that particular casino.
Where in the Bible does it say playing odds is a sin?
Or for that matter where does it say buying a lottery ticket is a sin?
To many Christians like to imagine what the Bible says but do not follow what it does say
Years ago there was a "crime" called the numbers racket........ today it is called a lottery and is run by the same government that put people in prison for betting on numbers the exact same way that a lottery does....... seems to me that the government is the only real authority on what is a sin when it comes to gambling and what (when) it is not.
this clearly shows that you people at CNN have nothing else to write, and lack of respect tours religion.
"what god has in store for you', Just go join the freakin Taliban..............Please.
Prayer is delusional.
Prayer raises your circulating beta-endorphn level. So does running. I prefer to jog, and "kill two birds". 🙄
I just prefer killing 2 birds. Stupid birds.
There are a number of "games" which are beatable, by those who take the time to study them, and have the discipline to stick to the rules of the "winnable" situations. A number of people make handsome living at horse racing. So what ? It has NOTHING to do with gods/religion. It's about math, probabilities, and certain data series. That's all.
This situation has plenty to do with religion. Counting cards is cheating, and cheating is immoral, if not illegal. WWJD? LMAO. Back in the day, you'd get a bullet for cheating at cards... Here's the thing. Christians want to legislate their rules into our lives; our schools, libraries, doctor's offices, homes, and yes, even bedrooms, yet they never want to play by them themselves. Most of them are flaming hypocrites and that fact alone makes me proud to be an atheist who has actually read the Bible and rejected it and its followers as ridiculously nonsensical, unreasonable, illogical, and mostly, again, hypocritical.
Which States have laws which state one cannot count cards ? Why is it "immoral" to use your brain to attempt to beat a game ? All Black Jack players "count" to a certain extent.
As for the Bible...it's full of interesting stuff, even some "wisdom" for ancient desert dwellers. Why "reject" that. What you "reject" is modern human's *interpretation* of the ancient texts, (which can be *interesting*). That's fine.
I doubt that you would find Jesus in a gambling hall. I also doubt the sincerety of his defense statement. He is probably one of those false guys John warns us about.
Jesus died at least 2000 years ago. 10,000 years from now, no one will even know what you are talking about.
Actually 4 jumps, I have no idea what he is talking about right now.
Don't feed the trolls
Only for the newbies:
JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")
Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.
Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.
Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.
Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!
So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man or a card counting follower would do or say?
Hit report abuse on all reality foul garbage
Who are these "contemporary NT scholars" of which you speak? How many are there? If I could find just as many plus one to take my side, could I then trump you by saying "Most contemporary NT scholars..." and then plug in whatever I believe already? Too easy to pull the "most scholars" line, you need another angle. Or just say what you believe without trying to justify it by invoking the almighty scholars. Be a man, stand up for what you believe.
It could be the *ad populum* fallacy, but it's also possible it's not. He does name one. Bart Ehrman is another. So how about you name one that disagrees ?
Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
G. A. Wells
John Dominic Crossan
Stephen J. Patterson
John P. Meier
E. P. Sanders
Robert H. Stein
Albert Schweitzer (The Quest for the Historical Jesus)
I think dead men do not think. Anyways who cares?
Thou shalt do anything thouest desires since thou shalt be forgiven later...
He said he properly paid his taxes, that's fine right?
Excellent story on the multiplicity of the human condition, thanks for keeping it real CNN and keep up the good work. I'm listening....
The neocons are constantly redefining what christianity is and should be. The christian tenets are fading into the sunset.
Looks like we can scratch "Greed" off the list.
am not religious, but this guys is tying his faith to his behavior in order to create sensational material and sell his book. Hopefully he gets caught and gets a hammer to the nads.
Did he or did he not violate christian law?
Sure but violating Christian law is too easy, this guy violated federal law.
What federal law did he violate?
Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.
Feel better now that all that anger and hate is off your chest? You better log off and do something constructive or your gonna blow a stump and check out.
How long did it take you to type this diatribe? Geez.....
You are evidently here and using this chat room as a vehicle to attack Christians. What you have done however is attack the Religionists that abound in our society, I have no problem with that. If you take the time to find a group of true Christians, you will find a lot of agreement with your comments. I implore you not to reject God or Christ because of the Right wing Church goers that have by their very actions (or in-actions) rejected God on a far greater scale than Atheists and portrayed a picture of Christianity to the world that is totally false.
Martog, well said. Christ eaters seem to think they are so moral they can tell everyone else what to do, until you come home early to one of their apartments and see them doing something they also condemn...
CNN publishes these hateful articles because they're softballs for guys like "martog" to vent their bigotry - the only form of bigotry sanctioned and encouraged by the liberals who run CNN.
They'd never print a negative story about Islam - or the Reverend Wright.
Good points and I am a Christian and I do apologize about the things you've mentioned actually do happen and they don't seem plausible. But please do not generalized too much and be stereotypical.
You don't have to know a lot about the Bible to become a Chirstian. Christianity is not about history/science lessons where you need proofs to believe.
All you have to know is Jesus Christ, Son of God, who died on the cross for your sin and accept Him as you Lord and your Savior. Then you would understand (acutally God will help you to understand) why all the things you've mentioned are happening. Sounds cliche? But that's all there is. Nothing more. Nothing less.
It's not about Christianity is "better" or "superior" religion. Please live like Jesus. Read the Bible and see what God wants from us. See how Jesus lived and try to think like Jesus, act like Jesus, love like Jesus. Do not follow earthly things but be holy as our God holy. Let's pray for ourselves not for prosperity of you own but the expansion of His Kingdom and things that are for Above not down here on earth. Let us hold on to our faith firmly and glorify God and his Son, Jesus Christ in our everyday lives, not just at Church on Sundays. Please...
Atheists don't know any more about the Bible than Christians do, they just focus on different parts. They have their pet passages, just like Christians do.
Please stop trying to define what Christians believe. There are millions of Christians in the world who come from a myriad of sects, denominations, and traditions. A few believe all of your points, some believe a few, some believe totally different things. It is surprising how many of the people who say they have read religious texts and mock believers have never spent time talking to believers beyond the vocal, dogmatic minority of believers that spew hate & intolerance in the media. For example..
1) There are plenty of Christian people who believe in evolution and many who are scientists themselves, including paleontologists, geologists, chemists, biologists, etc. The Christians who don't accept the concept of evolution tend to be the vocal literalists. Please quit implying that we all are literalists. That is no more true than saying all atheists/nonbelievers are amoral because they have no belief in a higher power.
2) The "answer" to prayer doesn't mean you get what you want & it's over. Prayer is the interaction between you & God, where the "answer" may be a sense of understanding, personal peace, inner strength, the realization that you are not alone and relief of a burden. Some people find similar things in meditation. However you define it, who are you & I to judge the results people get from it? If a person believes they received an "answer" from their approach, can you honestly say they didn't?
Believers & nonbelievers, often find it easy to define the group they dislike in order to mock them, as you just did. If you travel through the US & world and interview a variety of Christians, you will find a myriad of different personal definitions of Christian faith. To some, it is the "gospel of wealth & greed" approach (some vocal TV evengelists). To others it is personal denial in order to focus on the faith relatioinship (monastic life). Most are in the broad area in between. Some Christians are Biblical literalists; others believe the concepts in the Bible but see the scriptures as the product of a variety of writers & editors, each of whom could have contributed their own alterations. Even individual Christian definitions of who Christ was/is vary. Was he pure man formed of deity? A deity himself? A blend of human & deity? As you can see, insinuating that a single set of beliefs "define" Christians is like saying a single physical description can be given to decribe all Americans, or Europeans, or Africans. It cannot be done accurately.
@A true christian,
Well did you think there was any possibility someone was going to come on here and say "A wishy washy christian", or an UNtrue christian. Define what EXACTLY is the difference between YOU and an UNtrue christian. *A true christian* is code for : "agree with me , or you're all wet".
Ten Reasons You Know you are an Atheist.
1. You were likely brought up a theist (probably a Christian if you live in the USA) and had to do your own thinking to rise above the beliefs that still occupy the mind of the believer. This usually involved being smart and working hard at school and college so as to get a good, accurate view of the natural Universe and overcoming significant social pressure to dumb yourself down and conform. In short, you had the guts to ask the hard questions and the brains to spot the weak answers. The more you came to understand the Universe, the less reason there was to believe in a god and the more you came to appreciate human nature, the more you understood why billions of us still do.
2. While rejecting the supernatural elements of the Bible, you nevertheless retain a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent you reject Christian morality, it is where it is mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, your basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – you just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over your head in order to act in a manner that you consider moral.
3. You know a great deal more about the Bible than most believers. This is because you took the time to read it yourself and did not rely on the primary-color simple stories you learned in Sunday school. You have also probably done some research into the historical Jesus and have a good handle on where he REALLY fit in to the broader picture of the Middle East at the time. Needless to say, his miracles and other magic powers soon started to look pretty unlikely.
4. Your knowledge of basic science and history is much stronger than that of your average believer. You likely have a basic working knowledge of physics, astronomy, evolutionary biology and cosmology and a good idea of the history of life on this planet. This acc.umulated knowledge puts you in a position to judge the claims of the Bible in a critical light and they are almost always found wanting. To the theist, this makes you “elitist” and ‘arrogant”.
5. You relish your role as a religious minority in the USA, as this gives you an impetus to fight and you understand how others with unpopular, but doubtlessly correct views have felt throughout history. There is something altogether satisfying to you about having a deep conviction you are right and being viewed with disdain for your views by the errant majority. You feel a quiet confidence that future generations will look back on you as a member of a class of trailblazers, as religious supersti.tions go into inevitable decline in popularity.
6. You are likely more environmentally aware than your theist friends and colleagues and unlikely to fall for claims of industry and wind-bag politicians concerning the impact of man’s activities on the environment. You could no more act in an environmentally irresponsible manner because “god will keep us safe” than you could jump of a ship, believing King Neptune will keep you safe.
7. You generally have a live and let live atti.tude, but will fiercely defend any attempts by theists to thrust their views on you or your children, directly or through control of school boards, the legislature or the executive. While you are prepared to debate and argue passionately with the theist on an intellectual level, you would never wish them harm or ill will. You know you are likely to be smugly told you will “burn in hell for all eternity” for your healthy skepticism. This highlights what you despise about religion, as you would not wish a bad sunburn on another, simply because they have a different religious view to you. You have never heard of an evolutionary biologist strapping a bomb to himself and running into a church yelling “Darwin-u akbar”.
8. You likely know more about other religions than your average theist. This makes you less fearful of them and enables you to see parallels. You realize that, if you were born in India, you would have been brought up with a totally different religion. You realize that every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. They cannot all exist and you see the error all faiths make of thinking only theirs exist(s). This “rising above” the regional nature of all religions was probably instrumental in your achieving atheism.
9. You likely have a deep, genuine appreciation of the fathomless beauty and unbelievable complexity of our Universe, from the 4 nucleotides that orchestrate every aspect of you, through to the distant quasars, without having to think it was all made for you. You likely get more out of being the irrelevant ant staring up at the cosmos than you do in having to pretend that it was all made to turn in majestic black-and-white pirouette about you.
10. While you have a survival instinct, you cannot fear death in the way the theist does. You know that the whole final judgment story, where you may be sent to hell if you fail, is Dark Ages nonsense meant to keep the Church’s authority. You also know that you were dead for 13,700,000,000 years before you were born. It is impossible for you to fear death, for the simple reason that you know the capacity to fear (or to feel pain or discomfort) itself dies. You will not even know you are dead. Fear of death is as meaningless to you as is the fear of a vacuum, the fear of not being born. You feel a lot more secure, and indeed a deep comfort, in this knowledge, than you would in trying to yoke yourself to some quasi-hope that every part of your intellect tells you is untenable.
Very good post. And by looking at some of the replies you touched a nerve... Funny.