Casinos, Cash, and Christian Card-Counters

The Story: The New York Times reports on the latest exploits of a group of Christians who use their skill at card-counting—keeping track of all the cards seen in blackjack, and then adjusting bets accordingly—to gain an advantage over casinos. The members, who called themselves the “church group”, believed what they were doing was consistent with their faith because they felt they were using legal means to take money away from an evil enterprise.

The Background: The group’s story was the subject of the award-winning documentary, “Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians,” which was directed by a former member of the group.

Why It Matters: The story raises questions not only about the ethics of card-counting (should Christians be involved in gambling, even if they have an advantage such as counting cards?) but also about where American Christians draw the line between godly behavior and worldliness. Although the articles mention that the group members raised such questions amongst themselves, they don’t seem to have sufficiently resolved the tension between their faith and their vocation.

In an op-ed for CNN, David Drury, one of the team members, gives an unsatisfying answer to the question of why he thinks Jesus would be OK with card counting:

Engage me. Ask the hard questions. Be confounded as I am confounded. But don’t write me off. We are all in the water together. Faith is a journey, and God calls us into relationship.

I remember a man at my table once who was furious with the aggressive way I was playing. “A fool and his money are soon parted,” he said in a huff. For six years I stood ready as ever to be the fool. But me and the money, by way of card-counting wins, never parted.

Mark Treas, a former member of the card-counting team, has a different, though not wholly reassuring, view. For “philosophical reasons,” Treas said he stopped counting cards in 2010 to focus on his family and his test preparation business.

Card counting is morally “a gray area,” Treas said. “I just felt like it didn’t do anything for anyone else. It wasn’t good enough. I think my time can be spent invested in things with higher returns.”

  • Robert Wille

    In the same op-ed, David Drury says” “We took our craft to casinos, from Vegas to Atlantic City to Biloxi, Mississippi, to Bremerton, Washington. We won millions of dollars. The money was not funneled into any ministry or religious consortium.”

  • Bill

    This is an interesting article. Is there any willingness to extend the thoughts presented here and teach on them?

    It seems like there are hints to the author’s (TCG’s?) position on some of the activities, but I think it would be helpful to bring God’s Word to what has happened now that it’s been put forth.

  • John Carpenter

    The moral problem with gambling is that it is poor stewardship; that is, statistically you will most likely lose and so to waste your money on it is to mishandle the gifts God gave you. God expects us to make more of what we have, whether spiritual or material things.

    This is interesting because by “card counting”, they may not be gambling at all. If the laws of the state don’t prohibit it then this does seem like a gray area. Is it more akin to the stock market? I certainly don’t feel bad for the casinos!

  • Robert Frazier

    These are not Christians, they are Mormons.

    • Robert Wille

      Interesting. I missed any reference to the LDS church. Where did you read it?

      • Lindsey

        The very opening scene on this clip is of Gordon B. Hinkley the (former- passed) President of the LDS church, talking about gambling. He was the leader of the LDS church for MANY years. Then the next is an LDS set of parents talking about their son hat intended to go on a mission (like majority of Mormon boys do at 19). After that, there are no other references.

  • James M.

    John C.

    I don’t disagree that it is poor stewardship, but that doesn’t reach to the depths of the problem. Gambling is a zero sum game in which one wins at another’s expense; the nature of the activity is rooted in the notion that one will take from others without giving anything in return, unlike a market exchange. It seems to me that the relevant ethical question is “Should I engage in an activity in which the sole purpose is to steal from my neighbor?” In looking at it this way, winning becomes at least as problematic as losing, ethically speaking.

  • Colin

    Hey guys,

    This is Colin from the documentary. I co-founded and co-managed the blackjack team.

    1. We aren’t mormons. We are bible-believing, Jesus-loving disciples of Christ.

    2. We never justified the job because it would “take money out of casinos.” that would be the ends justifying the means, which doesn’t work. Instead, we saw the job as morally neutral (the same way I saw waiting tables before I started counting cards). It was an added bonus that we were winning money away from corporations that prey on surrounding communities (see But our consciences were clear whether it took money away from casinos or not.

    3. As far as James’ comments, I don’t know where you get the idea of “stealing from my neighbor”. As my role is to love my neighbor as myself, I would hate to think that I’m stealing from him. Perhaps you are misunderstanding how blackjack at a casino works? So I understand you better, maybe you could elaborate how you see professional blackjack as “stealing from my neighbor”?

    4 Before getting seriously involved in the career, I sought the counsel of pastors, elders, and wiser Christian men in my community. I didn’t look to persuade them that what I was doing was ok because it hurt casinos. I saw it as an opportunity to provide for my family with the gifts God gave me, but wanted to seek outside input. They saw nothing unbiblical or immoral with my activity, and I have continued to talk through it with believers to not think that I have it all figured out. My goal in life is to know the one true God, and Jesus whom He sent. I want to honor Him with my thoughts, actions, and heart. At this point, I don’t believe beating a game of skill for profit (much like a professional athlete) has been out of sync with my goals or in violation with my conscience. but I definitely welcome any brother in Christ to challenge me, out of love, on any of this.

  • James M.


    I somewhat hesitate to weigh in any more here; I understand there is disagreement on this one and that more weighty issues might better occupy our thoughts and time. What I was trying to communicate is that winning at a game of chance might be seen as an ethical problem in that the object is to take something of value from others without compensatory return. Whether one wins at the expense of the gambling establishment or directly or indirectly from other patrons, it seems to me that the principle does not change. Now, I understand that many will object with the argument that when individuals voluntarily enter into a gambling arrangement, they are assuming the same risks as every other participant, IE, each person here recognizes that we are attempting to win at each others’ expense. A big part of me wants to concede to individual choice here, but I’m not sure how this justifies the outcome. BTW, I’m wondering how we might view the enterprise if we took money out of the equation and played for fun. But of course, we are now talking about a different animal.

    I understand that I am likely in the minority view here. I too welcome insights into this issue that might shed some light; I’m a pilgrim working through the questions of life as well.