Louisiana legislators earlier this year quietly approved a new law meant to establish protections for "skilled" gamblers, including those who count cards when playing Blackjack — a practice made popular in films like 21 and Rain Man.
Under Act 451, which sailed through the Legislature with no votes against it, a person cannot be excluded from a gaming establishment "based solely on the skill level of the person."
Lawmakers at the time said that they hoped it would protect patrons being kicked out of casinos for activities that are otherwise legal under the law, but frowned upon by casino operators. Casinos across the country have a long reputation of banning people who are believed to be card counters.
But although the new law, which went into effect August 1, was seen by some skilled players as an opportunity to get back into playing Blackjack competitively, it appears to be unenforced by the state.
“The State Police Gaming Division has received a few calls regarding this issue; however, the law as currently written does not require the State Police Gaming Division or the (Gaming Control) Board to take action against a licensee for exclusion from certain games," State Police spokesman Doug Cain said. "At this point it appears to be a civil matter between the patron and the licensee.”
Gamblers who win big could hit another jackpot thanks to legislation proposed at the State Capitol.
The Louisiana Department of Justice Gaming Division, which serves as the legal counsel for the Gaming Control Board and Louisiana State Police Gaming Enforcement Section, declined to comment on enforcement efforts due to the nature of the attorney role it holds.
Meanwhile, that's left some players frustrated.
Don Loehr, a 63-year-old attorney from Baton Rouge, has repeatedly been kicked out of casinos or been ignored by dealers and badgered by floor bosses and security over the years, he said.
He's been playing cards since he was a child, and eventually developed a skill for card counting.
"It's the only game you have a chance – and it's slight – that if you keep track of the cards, you can possibly get an advantage," he said.
He's never done it to try to make a living, but it's a fun activity, he said.
"I do this for the challenge," he said. "Most people don't have the patience to do what we do."
Loehr said he's seen people – not real card counters, but just players on a hot streak – get mistaken for counters and told to switch games or leave the casino.
"The sad thing is a lot of people they back off, they aren't even skilled," he said. "If they see someone's winning, they're going to get a little paranoid about it."
No one from the gaming industry spoke out against the new law as it was brought up in the State Capitol, and no one voted against it as it moved through House committee, House floor, Senate committee and, finally, Senate floor. Gov. John Bel Edwards signed it into law.
It was one of several gaming bills that the Legislature addressed this year, though at a much lower profile than debates over other legislation that would affect Louisiana’s one existing land-based casino and 15 licensed riverboats. Among other new gaming laws, one is expected to bring at least some of the riverboat operations ashore.
For skilled gamblers who have felt pestered about how they play card games, Loehr said the new law had brought hope that they could return.
"Nothing's changed in the state of Louisiana," he said. "It's an exercise in futility. Why do we even pass laws?"