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Editor's Blog

Peter Rothman
December 6, 2012


 

Is it illegal to use cognitive enhancements in Nevada when playing blackjack? The answer is that it depends on the type of enhancement. Chemical enhancements are generally legal to use however any electronic, computational  or communications based enhancement is almost certainly illegal.

Criminalizing Cognitive Enhancement at the Blackjack Table by Adam J. Kolber of the Brooklyn Law School examines the issues.  This paper is a must read for all Transhumanists and others interested in social and legal implications of individual cognitive enhancement.

"if you use a device to help you count cards (or even if you merely possess such a device with the intent to use it) at a Nevada casino, you can be imprisoned for as long as 6 years for a first offense (Nev. Rev. Stat. §465.088, 2010). Somehow using a device to augment our abilities to remember and to calculate turns a perfectly legal activity into an offense with a very serious penalty. "



11 Comments

    It's illegal to count cards -- but you can't *prove* that someone is counting cards unless --> they have a device with the purpose to count cards. If/when it becomes possible to monitor an ordinary brain and determine/prove that it is counting cards, that behavior will be criminalized. Cognitive enhancement really is nothing special in this case other than where it is clearly a technology/device that is provably going to be used to count cards.

      It is NOT illegal to count cards. It is not even against the rules. However if the pitt boss or eye in the sky notices a betting pattern that follows a card counting scheme you will be politely asked to leave, and escorted to the door.

        It is illegal in Nevada to use an electronic device to aid you when playing blackjack. There is an existing law under which someone might be prosecuted and the penalty is up to six years in state prison. The article is about cognitive enhancement and associated legal ramifications and not about card counting in general which as you say is legal. However, if you are enhanced with an electronic device, i.e. a cochlear implant or hearing aid with wireless network access, it would be illegal to use this to aid you in playing blackjack. For example a conventional blackjack computer could be enhanced to provide voice based advice via the wireless link. This would pretty clearly be illegal under current Nevada law and I think that would be true even if you use an unmodified implant or hearing aid. Existing off the shelf hearing aids include bluetooth access. FWIW.

    How far beyon an unaugmented human's capabilities is counting cards now? Could a 99th-percentile person count with 3 suits? 10 ranks? 40 cards?

      Unfortunately currently active card counters don't publicize their results or identities ;)

      However you might enjoy reading: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/02/12/at-the-blackjack-ball-card-counter-dr-edward-thorp-is-king.html

        Andy Bloch, from the MIT blackjack team, used to say one could teach plywood to count cards; it's a task that's easy to learn but requires practice and a bit of mental agility.

        It's certainly well within the capacity of an unaugmented human of average or slightly above average intelligence who puts in the practice. The mental task is as simple as basic addition and division (suits are meaningless), the tricky part comes in when one tries to do it under live play conditions and avoid being spotted as a counter by altering his/her bets to maximize profit.

    It might be against casino policy to allow people who count cards to stay, but it's not illegal sans device for that purpose.

    Casinos can often tell if someone is counting cards (meaning it's not beyond an unaugmented person's abilities, Kennita - see the MIT blackjack team.) Sometimes they throw them out, or blacklist them from the property. But that doesn't mean it's illegal, just that the casinos don't want them there anymore.

    From the paper synopsis: "Though casinos try to eject card counters or otherwise make their task more difficult, card counting is perfectly legal."

    What cognitive enhancements do you know about?

      The main approaches to cognitive enhancement for blackjack would seem to be mind training, chemical enhancement, electronic/cybernetic approaches, and possibly direct neural stimulation of some sort.

    Of all the nootropics i've tried, none really work well enough to make me a better gambler .....

      Which is IMO a pretty telling observation. This seems to be a capability which is easily added via electronic and cybernetic enhancement. Effects of chemicals are more subtle. Improved memory might make you a better card counter but it might also take a careful experimental design to detect the difference.

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