BLACK HAWK, Colo. (KDVR) — A Georgia blackjack player has filed a federal lawsuit in Colorado claiming he was illegally detained for doing something that’s perfectly legal: counting cards at a casino.
Joseph Shiraef told the Problem Solvers that what happened to him at the Ameristar Casino in Black Hawk on Oct. 19, 2021, was the most bizarre experience of his life.
“Well, I knew that it was wrong and I was just kind of in a state of shock at how ignorant that city officials were acting,” he said.
Colorado casino demands to see player’s ID
The 34-year-old said he was down $4,000 when a floor manager demanded to see his identification. Shiraef said he still had about $1,800 in chips to cash out but the manager refused to let Shiraef cash out unless he handed over his driver’s license.
Cell phone video shows Shiraef was already wearing a wristband he had been given to prove his age. He told FOX31 he suspected the manager really wanted his license to input his identity in a casino database to track card counters.
“They wanted my ID, I’m almost 100% certain, to share my information with other casinos. Which, the legality of that is pretty much a gray area,” he said.
While card counting is legal, casinos have the right to remove anyone they suspect is card counting, and according to casino.org, they might even blacklist a player.
Shiraef said that because he had a flight to catch at Denver International Airport, he decided to leave in hopes he’d be able to cash his chips out at a later date.
As Shiraef was driving out of a parking garage, he was stopped by a Colorado Gaming Commission agent, who said they were contacted by Ameristar Casino and demanded Shiraef’s driver’s license.
A few minutes later, Shiraef began recording his interaction with the gaming agent on his cell phone.
Agent Joseph Nguyen can be seen telling Shiraef, “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.”
Mental card counting is legal in Colorado
A spokesman for the Department of Revenue confirmed to FOX31 that card counting is legal in Colorado as long as the card player is using their “own mental acuity” and not “any person, device, object” to help them.
On the cell phone video, Shiraef can be heard asking, “So counting cards is a warrant for arrest?” Nguyen responds, “It is illegal. It is a form of fraudulent activity in the state of Colorado.”
An incredulous Shiraef then says, “You’re saying I can be arrested for counting cards?” Nguyen responds, “You can, for fraudulent acts, in the state of Colorado.”
At that point in the video, Shiraef looks at Black Hawk Police Patrol Sgt. Stephanie Whitman, who had responded to Shiraef’s 911 call for help.
Body camera video obtained by FOX31 shows Shiraef asking her if she is an officer and if she witnessed the interaction. “Yes,” Whitman responded. “I’m a police officer in the city of Black Hawk, yes.”
Eventually, Shiraef was allowed to leave but said the detainment caused him to miss his flight home.
“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,” Shiraef said.
Colorado Department of Revenue responds
His federal lawsuit for unlawful detainment names the Ameristar Casino Black Hawk; its parent company, Gaming and Leisure Properties; Nguyen; the City of Black Hawk; and Whitman.
Earlier this month a federal judge granted motions to dismiss the claims against Ameristar’s parent company, the city of Black Hawk and Whitman but said some claims could still go forward against the casino itself and Nguyen, who no longer works for the Department of Revenue.
Shiraef’s attorney filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider his dismissals and reinstate claims against all of the original parties. On Wednesday, a different judge dismissed the motion to reconsider.
The city of Black Hawk and the Ameristar Casino had no comment when reached by the Problem Solvers. The Colorado Department of Revenue spokesperson told FOX31 its agent was conducting due diligence.
In an email, DOR spokesman Daniel Carr wrote, “A gaming officer must thoroughly investigate the incident to ensure that Colorado Rules have not been violated. In the incident you have inquired about, the player left in a rush, unbeknownst to the gaming officer or casino operator, after refusing to comply with Colorado statutes that require patrons to produce IDs, exhibiting suspicious behaviors. Due to the behaviors, the patron was confronted dutifully by a Gaming Officer to investigate the suspicious activities.”
Shiraef is seeking around $3 million in total damages. He told FOX31 that he’s earned about $300,000 in the last four years while counting cards at casinos.