Colorado Card-Counting Case to Proceed After Judge Denies Review of Partial Dismissal

Blackjack player Joseph Shiraef’s unlawful detention lawsuit in Colorado will proceed in limited fashion after his team lost a motion asking the court to reconsider its decision to dismiss the case against some of the defendants. Counting cards is legal in Colorado and throughout the US, but Shiraef says authorities told him otherwise and threatened to arrest him for allegedly doing so at Ameristar Casino in Blackhawk.

Initially filed in October 2022, the lawsuit claimed Ameristar Casino, Colorado Division of Gaming (CDG) agent Joseph Nguyen, and Black Hawk Patrol Sgt. Stephanie Whitman detained Shiraef. He alleges they did so without probable cause and violated his Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches.

Shiraef also named the casino owners and the City of Black Hawk as defendants — the latter over its alleged poor training of its police officers.

However, a federal judge recently dismissed the claims against Ameristar’s parent company, the city, and Whitman, while the complaints against the casino and Nguyen stand.

Shiraef’s legal council countered with a motion to reconsider the dismissals and reinstate the original claims, but another judge dismissed the request last week.

The remaining claims against Ameristar and Nguyen will now head into discovery. Shiraef is seeking relief of $3 million in monetary and punitive damages on top of attorney fees.

Video Appears to Corroborate Plaintiff’s Claims

According to the lawsuit, trouble started for Shiraef when he visited the Ameristar Casino in Black Hawk during a long Denver layover in October 2021.

After a few hours of playing blackjack (and down about $4,000), Shiraef claims a manager asked him for identification despite having already provided it. When he refused, things escalated.

Allegedly, the manager told Shiraef that he would have to show his ID to cash his remaining chips (about $1800 worth). After some argument, Shiraef told the manager he needed to catch a flight and would file a complaint with the CDG later.

However, the lawsuit alleges Nguyen stopped him from leaving the parking lot. At this point, he showed the agent his ID but refused to hand it over.

Around that time, Shiraef called 911 to report his wrongful detainment.

Allegedly, when Whitman arrived, she took Shiraef’s ID and gave it to Nguyen, claiming he had “more authority.” At this point, Nguyen reportedly left with the identification card. When he returned, Nguyen told Shiraef he was under suspicion of “fraud acts,” including counting cards.

However, counting cards is legal in Colorado. Therefore, the lawsuit argues that Shiraef did nothing to justify his detainment, threats of criminal charges, or the casino’s refusal to cash out his chips.

Phone catches encounter

Notably, Shiraef recorded part of his interaction with Nguyen on his cell phone.

According to local Fox News affiliate KDVR-TV (Fox 31), the video shows Nguyen threatening Shiraef with arrest.

I’m going to go review the videos. 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.

After some back and forth, Shiraef asked for clarification:

You’re saying I can be arrested for counting cards?

Reportedly, Nguyen responded in the affirmative as Whitman looked on.

Eventually, the officers allowed Shiraef to leave, but the detainment led to a missed flight home.

Card Counting Is Legal in Colorado

Card counting is a retail-only blackjack strategy that requires players to mentally track the high and low cards left in the deck. Online blackjack titles use random number generators and shuffle each hand, so counting cards is useless.

Most importantly, card counting is legal in Colorado and throughout the United States — as long as the player has no mechanical or technical aids.

Colorado Department of Revenue spokesperson Daniel Carr confirmed the legality to the Denver Post.

It is not illegal to count cards using your brain.

However, while card counting is legal, casinos can remove anyone they suspect is using the strategy. They may even ban players, Carr said. And if one local casino does it, others may follow.

Whether the court ultimately sides with Shiraef remains to be seen. In the meantime, he told Fox 31 he chooses to see the humor in an unfunny situation.

I have to laugh about it myself. It’s the only way I can cope with how ridiculous it was when I watched that video. It was definitely not a funny evening for me, though, at all.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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