An experienced gambler who exploits sloppy dealers and flaws in games has won a legal battle against casino giant Star after it accused him and a friend of cheating at a Gold Coast establishment four years ago.
- Two punters were banned from Star casinos in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast
- They applied for a review by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal
- The court found the notices should be set aside
Mark Timothy Grant and his friend, Nathan Trent Anderson, were given exclusion notices by The Star Entertainment Queensland Ltd (Star) in March 2018, after playing the game Pontoon, also known as Spanish Blackjack.
The notices banned the pair from entering the casino giant’s Queensland venues.
In 2020, Mr Grant and Mr Anderson sought a review of the notices by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).
‘No grounds exist’
Earlier this month, the notices were set aside after QCAT found “no grounds exist” for the pair to be excluded from casinos on the Gold Coast or in Brisbane.
Star alleged Mr Grant engaged in “edge-sorting”—an illegal form of play under the Casino Control Act, which involves looking at cards for manufacture defects that may cause some edges to be marginally shorter than others or prints to be asymmetrical.
The defects can be present on specific card numbers in a deck.
The judgment said, during the Pontoon games that triggered the exclusion notice, Mr Grant was sitting close to the dealer but not playing, using hand gestures to indicate to Mr Anderson which cards to play.
“Star contends … the behaviors it has identified, including collusion and edge-sorting are behaviors which when viewed objectively are dishonest in nature and affect or have the potential to affect the integrity of gaming,” the judgment said.
“[Star’s] opinion is that Mr Grant and Mr Anderson used an error or a fault in the gaming equipment to obtain a benefit.”
Advantage play not dishonest
The court heard Mr Grant had previously been investigated by Star for his gameplay.
But the judgment said the man described himself as an “advantage player” and argued playing this way was “not a threat to casinos where the staff are competent, and the games are operated correctly”.
“He submits that advantage play is not cheating or dishonest,” the judgment said.
Mr Grant told the court players often collaborated in an effort to get the dealer to “bust”.
According to the judgement, he denied “edge-sorting” saying the practice was impossible in Pontoon “because players do not touch the cards”.
“Mr Grant said that he is a very competitive player, and he will take into account all legally and publicly available information and that he is allowed to make assumptions about what card is coming next,” the judgment said.
“I noticed that the cards were asymmetrical and [said] he is free to speculate on what the next card is, just like any other player at the table who has that information, but at no time did he know exactly what the next card was.”
Playing card defects
The court was told cards used in the game were “Angel” playing cards.
The judgment said the cards had previously been the subject of discussion in another court case where the manufacturer argued any anomalies were “within a contractually specified tolerance of up to 0.3mm”.
In Mr Grant’s case, the judgment said Star was aware of the anomaly associated with Angel cards and 96 of the cards used during the game were irregular.
QCAT found the pair had not engaged in “edge-sorting” at Star on the Gold Coast in 2018.
The judgment said Star was aware of defects in the cards but continued to allow them to be used.
“I find that the conduct of Mr Grant or Mr Anderson did not involve any form of dishonesty, involving lying, cheating, stealing or fraud by the ordinary meaning of the word, or that they were not honest,” the judgment said.
No ‘leg-up’ from conduct
It later said Pontoon was not a game of “chance.”
“Noting an asymmetrical back on a card is of no use unless one knows what lies beneath,” the judgment said.
“A range of skills must be applied by Mr Grant to make his guess.”
QCAT noted in this case, 33 per cent of the cards in play had asymmetrical backs and 20 per cent of them had a low value, while 13 per cent had a high value.
“Gaining any sort of ‘leg-up’ in those circumstances would seem to be extraordinarily difficult,” the judgment said.
“The cards were in plain view of the dealer and subject to the casino’s inspection regime.
“Mr Grant, the dealer and the casino had the same information.”
The court ordered the exclusion notices to be revoked.