Essays — July 10, 2019 15:45 — 0 Comments


Below is a story from the print-only BARE MAGAZINE, vol. 1

Professional card counter, David Drury, began his career calculating odds and beating casinos because of a little “divine intervention.” Dury, a regular churchgoer, had picked up a few card counting tricks from books and was instantly hooked. Not long after, a friend from church started a high stakes blackjack team (“What are the chances?” Drury says). Dury joined and honed his skills and since, he’s flown the country, stayed in suites and bet thousands of dollars of other people’s money. For a time, he was even known as the Most Notorious Card Counters in America.

Drury, who plays in a popular band in Seattle (Tennis Pro) and is an accomplished short story writer, says the lifestyle of a professional card counter is a grind. It’s not often glamour or glitz, despite the fact he might take a given casino for thousands in a given evening.

“If you’re good,” he says, “you soon find out that it’s not a matter of just walking in and winning every night. The swings are brutal. Like any job, you have to work hard at maintaining your narrow profit margin, play perfectly and put in the time.”

With a mop of grey-brown hair, Charlie Brown smile and kind eyes, Drury, now in his early 40s, is as unassuming as any who’s played a hand of 21. But sitting at a table, he’ll give a dealer a fake name and play in ways that win but draw as little attention to himself as possible. Nevertheless, he’s been walked out of 300 hundred gaming rooms and experienced the ire of casino management and security personnel alike.

“Many of them have backed me off multiple times,” he remembers. “About 30 casinos have trespassed me, which is to say that if I go back, they have legal precedent to arrest me. Once or twice a casino manager has kicked me out with red-faced yelling and shaky hands. Once a woman in management tried to physically bar me from leaving the casino like she was a linebacker so that they could interrogate or intimidate me further.”

While casinos frown upon and tend to ban card counters, there is nothing illegal about it. Casino security, Drury says, can generally only forbid a professional from playing a specific game, offering, say, slots or poker as a replacement. But to avoid being ousted, a player must keep his tricks hidden from the casino. Famously, the actor Ben Affleck recently tried his hands at counting cards in a Las Vegas casino – and did rather successfully – but was so obvious about his tracking that he was removed from the table. (Drury wrote an article about the occurrence and Affleck actually reached out to him to fact check).

“Card counting requires a lot of ducking the spotlight,” says Drury, “so that by the end of the night I can take it by rights. [From the beginning], I could sense in myself I was not going to be stopped. I didn’t want to just tinker. I wanted to dominate. I didn’t just want to join the team, I wanted to win more than anyone.”

For Drury, the game was never about getting rich. It was about the thrill of winning and working with a team toward a common goal, beating something that was so fortified that hardly anyone turns the edge.

“The money part is thrilling, obviously,” he says, “but I found out I mostly just love beating the game day in and day out. I play one-dollar tables the same way I play multiple hands of thousands of dollars each. The lifestyle is fun to talk about at parties, but the truth is that when I am staying at a fancy resort casino, I can’t sleep in or bring myself to order room service because I know there are tables downstairs waiting to be crushed.”

While so much of the process can seem nefarious, and Drury must take precaution for his safety, he also has many fans, some of which are the police officers and security directors paid to block his path.

“Once three men in street clothes chased me up a parking garage stairwell,” he says. “But it turned out they were police and after making sure I hadn’t done anything illegal with my casino chips, they asked if I could teach them to beat the casino too.”

Today, Drury teaches card counting techniques and is writing a book on his experiences. He was also appeared in the 2010 documentary, Holy Rollers, which focused on his church group of professional gamblers. And while gambling may not be the first thing one thinks of when they consider the church, Drury says they are indeed connected.

“There is something about living life in the margins that feels related to faith,” Drury explains. “Not quite safe, fielding questions that don’t always have easy answers, paying attention as opposed to feeling smug. The heroes of the Bible were penitent, faithful and trustworthy, but they were also mystical, dubious and off-putting. The Pharisees always seemed confused as to why Jesus wasn’t squeaky clean like them, and his response was that if you are so concerned with being squeaky clean, you’ve missed the point.”


Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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