Ameristar Casino Black Hawk Sued by ‘Illegally Detained’ Card Counter

Posted on: October 5, 2023, 12:56h. 

Last updated on: October 7, 2023, 01:03h.

A card counter from Georgia is suing the Ameristar Casino in Black Hawk, Colo., for illegal detainment, local Fox affiliate KDVR reports.

Ameristar Black Hawk, Joseph Shiraef , card counting, lawsuit
The Ameristar in Black Hawk, above, is alleged to have unlawfully detained card counter Joseph Shiraef, who was accosted by the Colorado Gaming Commission and accused of breaking the law. (Image: Ameristar Black Hawk)

Joseph Shiraef, 34, claims he was harassed, first by casino staff as he plied his trade at the blackjack tables and then by an agent of the Colorado Gaming Commission (CGC), who attempted to detain him.

Extraordinarily, the agent didn’t appear to know that card counting is legal in Colorado and everywhere else in America.

What is Card Counting?

Card counting is an advantage play whose proponents assign each card a positive, negative, or zero value as it’s dealt.

In this way, the player can keep a running count of high and low-value cards. This enables them to adjust their bets based on the deck’s composition, wagering more when they perceive they have an advantage and less when the remaining cards are more likely to favor the dealer.

A good card counter can muscle a modest edge against the house, around 1%. The strategy isn’t considered cheating unless players are being aided by a device rather than relying on their own mental skills.

And while casinos can expel card counters and even blackball them from their properties, the practice isn’t illegal.

Flight to Catch

Shiraef claims he was losing around $4K when a floor supervisor at the Ameristar demanded to see his ID. The plaintiff had already shown proof of age on entrance and suspected the supervisor wanted his driver’s license so his name could be added to a database of card counters and shared with other casinos.

When Shiraef declined, the supervisor refused to cash out his remaining $1,800 in chips.

The plaintiff had a flight to catch from Denver International and decided to leave and attempt to cash in his chips on a later visit. But as he was driving out of the parking garage, he was accosted by a CGC agent, who again demanded to see his driving license.

Shiraef began recording his interaction with the agent, Joseph Nguyen, on his cell phone.

I’m going to go review the videos,” Nguyen said. “If the videos show that you were committing a crime by cheating or counting cards, you will have a warrant for your arrest. In the state of Colorado, that’s not allowed.”

“So, counting cards is a warrant for arrest? Shiraef replies incredulously.

“It is illegal. It is a form of fraudulent activity in the state of Colorado,” asserts Nguyen.

$3M Sought

Soon after, a police officer arrived at the scene. Eventually, Shiraef was permitted to go, but he missed his flight. Somewhat optimistically, he is seeking $3 million in damages.

The Ameristar hasn’t responded to requests for comment on the matter.

In a statement to KDVR, a spokesperson for the state revenue department, which oversees the CGC, said: “A gaming officer must thoroughly investigate the incident to ensure that Colorado Rules have not been violated. In the incident you have inquired about, the player left in a rush, unbeknownst to the gaming officer or casino operator, after refusing to comply with Colorado statutes that require patrons to produce IDs and exhibiting suspicious behaviors.

“Due to the behaviors, the patron was confronted dutifully by a Gaming Officer to investigate the suspicious activities,” the spokesperson added.