Book Review: The Law for Gamblers: A Legal Guide to the Casino Environment, by Robert A. Nersesian

Book Review: The Law for Gamblers: A Legal Guide to the Casino Environment, by Robert A. Nersesian

  • David G. Schwartz
August 15, 2016 12:56 PM

Advantage players, much more than the average casino patron, may find themselves in need of legal advice. While not cheaters, their actions are, to put it mildly, discouraged by some casino managers, and they may find themselves detained or even arrested for simply playing too well. Robert Nersesian is a well-known attorney for suspected advantage players, those who play “with a strategy that provides a mathematical advantage over the casino” (page 2). He has written a brief, well-organized guide to the laws that should be of interest to those who go out of their way to play with an edge.

The book is divided into thirteen chapters, each covering an aspect of law that has relevance to advantage players. Naturally, all this is also pertinent reading for casino managers and their employees: charged with protecting a casino’s assets, the more they know about the law the better. The hourly anticipated profit (EV) for a suspected advantage player can be miniscule compared with the legal fees that litigation may involve; an adverse judgment could be far worse. Managers who know which lines not to cross are more responsible protectors of their casinos.

Nersesian is careful to distinguish between advantage players and cheaters. From the casino perspective, both have the same objective—a infallible way to take money from a casino, but Nersesian argues that they are, in fact, quite different: cheaters knowingly violate gaming statues, while advantage players do not. The author is contemptuous of cheaters—he refuses, point-blank, to represent them, and is clearly sympathetic to advantage players.

Nersesian walks the reader through a series of strategies that he believes are completely legal, including card counting, hole-carding, shuffle tracking, wheel tracking, advantage video poker play, advantage progressive play, programmed dice throwing, comp harvesting, team-play signaling, Wonging (back-counting), dealer tells, playing card damage, and spreading loss rebates. He then describes strategies that might be only barely legal, and those that are unambiguously cheating (chip switching, dice sliding, use of devices, and more). On page 46, he provides a helpful list of safe, questionable, and “don’t do” devices, from basic strategy blackjack cards to sextants.

Other chapters of particular interest are Nersesian’s analyses of the right to play, gambling debts (and their collection), taxation, hiring an attorney for a gambling matter, and suing casinos.

This is a readable wade into legal waters; while the footnotes should satisfy legal practitioners, they do not detract from the layman’s appreciation of the text. As a vigorous advocate for his clients, Nersesian’s prose is not without its excesses, some of which casino professionals should take with a grain of salt. His contention about casino surveillance (“the environment in which these people work would put NASA operations to shame,” page 71) displays either an outsized faith in the level of investment casinos make in surveillance or a gross underappreciation of what NASA does. Casinos do use some sophisticated tools, but NASA has landed rovers on Mars, communicated with spacecraft far beyond the solar system, and imaged celestial objects more than ten billion light years away. Nersesian’s rhetorical grandiloquence might play well with juries, but in a book it pulls the reader out of the flow. Even less defensible is Nersesian’s contention that “Indian casinos have a license to steal! It’s that simple” (page 124), part of an entire chapter on Indian gaming.

Likewise, the summary of gambling history is generally good, with a few lapses. Nersesian writes that in 1931 Nevada became the first state to legalize gambling, ignoring both the Silver State’s first regime of wide-open commercial gambling (1869-1910) and those states and territories, ranging from Louisiana to California, which experimented with legal gambling in the 19th century. While these earlier regimes might not have much relevance for current legal cases, they certainly provide a fuller context for the evolution of American attitudes towards gambling.

All in all, this is a good book to read not only for gamblers but also for casino managers. Nersesian has a sharp understanding of the law, and his zealous arguments on behalf of advantage players will give managers a good sense of just how far they can legally go in carrying out their duties against players who seem to win more than they should. Casino managers might not like what Nersesian has to say or they way that he says it, but they will be smarter and more effective for having read his book.

 

The Law for Gamblers: A Legal Guide to the Casino Environment (May 2016, 247 pages) is published by Huntington Press (Las Vegas, Nevada). ISBN 978-1935396628