They gamble, they cheat, and casinos fight back
Scammers’ tricks range from high-tech to sleight-of-hand
By William Sokolic
For The Norwich Bulletin
Posted Jul 22, 2009 @ 11:39 PM
Last update Jul 22, 2009 @ 11:46 PM
In May, a jury found Richard S. Taylor guilty of leading a craps cheating ring at Foxwoods in the first major trial in the state involving casino cheats.
Prosecutors said Taylor recruited dealers to pay players for bets placed after the outcome of a craps roll.
The scam is a variation of a method known as past posting, in which bets in a table game are made after the roll or hand is determined. The term originates with horse racing, where a bugler sounds a call to the post just before the race begins. This also is the signal that no more bets can be taken. Any bets made after that time occur past the post.
In casino circles, past posting also can mean increasing a bet after the outcome is determined. In blackjack, a player switches a winning bet of three $5 chips with two $500 chips topped by a $5 chip and then claims the dealer paid him the wrong amount.
Past posting, along with pinching, is the No. 1 scam across table games, said Ray Pineault, senior vice president of casino operations at Mohegan Sun. In pinching, the cheater attempts to remove part, or all, of a bet from the table after losing.
While both these scams sometimes involve dealer cooperation, most often they depend on old-fashioned sleight of hand or dealer distractions. Run-of-the-mill cheat teams will look for sloppy dealers or for dealers and pit personnel who seem preoccupied or uninterested.
They take advantage of the monotony of a dealer’s job, said Richard Marcus, a professional casino cheating expert who ran such teams for years.
“Most professional casino cheating teams will do a lot of scouting of the staff,” Marcus said. “But top teams, such as mine, do not concern themselves with doing this. In my team’s case, our moves were designed to beat all casino dealers, floor staff, even all the surveillance personnel.
“In fact, I preferred going up against the most skilled and sharp casino dealers,” Marcus said.
These days, past posting and pinching are a calculated risk, given the more than 3,000 surveillance cameras covering the casino floor at Mohegan Sun, Pineault said.
“Some cheaters go for years without getting caught, but most do get nabbed. If not for informants, half of what we discover would never be uncovered. They play a big part,” said George Joseph, a cheating expert who offers game protection training for casinos and gaming commissions.
His Las Vegas-based company, Worldwide Casino Consulting Inc., trains dealers and reviews casino policies.
Cheaters in the 21st century employ high-tech methods to fleece casinos. Hidden cameras, for example, pick up the hold card in table games, or players mark cards with infrared dyes when touched during play. The card is then transmitted to someone away from the game who reads the dye.
“You touch the back of all cards. Once you marked a sufficient number, you now have an edge,” Joseph said.
In a false shuffle scam that involved 18 casinos, dealers wouldn’t shuffle cards, but kept them in the same order or reverse order. The cards were recorded with a pencil and paper or a hidden camera. This worked for blackjack and baccarat, Joseph said.
There was a scare several months ago when Apple included a card counting application for iPhones, Pineault said. Like most gaming jurisdictions, Mohegan Sun does not permit the use of any electronic device at table games, even cell phones.
While card counting is not illegal, casinos can take steps to minimize the effect, such as limiting wagers to the table minimum.
“We do not shuffle more frequently,” Pineault said. “But you can’t raise the bet and increase the probability of certain hands.”
If a $100 table has a maximum bet of $5,000 per player, the counter could not exceed a $100 bet.
There are multiple ways to pick out a card counter, Pineault said. Casino survey teams watch live high-end play or review recordings afterwards.
“The teams are versed in the strategy of increasing wagers and varying bets. Floor supervisors are also trained to look for card counting,” he said.
Outside of past posting, cheating most often involves tampering with the dice themselves.
Loaded dice are modified to make a specific number turn up more often than it should. These modifications include shaving, weighting, magnets and heating, among others.
In the “Ocean’s Thirteen” movie, magnets were placed in dice during the manufacturing process. Then George Clooney’s character used a device designed as a lighter to trigger the magnet and roll the dice in the direction to win big.
Another scam is to use blank dice and have shooters insert dots in such a way that a seven, could never come up, for instance. Those dice would contain only a one, four and five on the faces, for example.
“This type of dice juicing is very easy to detect,” Pineault said.
Of course, for these to work, the player would need to control the dice or the dealer at the table.
“It requires a sleight-of-hand switch,” Joseph said.
Still another cheating method involves the shooter sliding the dice along the table so they don’t tumble, and the numbers have a better chance of staying in the same position. To work, another team member has to distract the dealer or boxman, who runs the table and oversees the payouts.
Bally’s casinos has installed mini-speed bumps on the table layout down the center to thwart sliding. The dice would trip on the speed bump.
Cashless slots eliminated dozens of cheating methods involving coins. Cheaters can no longer use false tokens or coins on a string to confuse the machine or rely on a device inserted up the chute, which foiled the count of coins coming out, Joseph said.
In the days before ticketing replaced coins, an optic pen or red flashing LED light would function by defeating the payout meter that gives access to coins in the hopper. This battery-powered optic device featured a bent arm that would fit snugly into the slot machines innards to trip the payout meter and yield all the coins in the hopper. The device could easily be concealed in the cheater’s jacket or sleeve.
These days, cheaters attempt to use gadgets that try to trick the bill validator. Another scam involves putting a $100 bill covered with baby powder on the end of dental floss. When it racks up the credits, the player pulls the bill back out. Other gadgets include a metal probe to activate the computer to increase credits.
More than a decade ago, there were cheating scams that involved picking a lock on the slot or opening up the machine and switching the computer chip to trigger the jackpot. Today’s electronic layouts and shrunken chip boards make that all but impossible.
In the near future, server-based machines will put the computer control in a back-of-the-house room, rather than have 1,000 different mother boards.
“You cannot attack the machine at the site,” Joseph said.
The Savannah move was a variation of a bet-and-run scam, where desperate players made simple proposition bets on roulette and grabbed the chips off the layout when they lost, before the dealer could sweep them away, Marcus said.
“By hiding $5,000 casino chips (or $1,000 chips in lower-limit casinos) under $5 casino chips on the 2 to 1 column bets, we won $10,010 each time these bets won while losing just $10 when they lost,” Marcus said. “We accomplished this by quickly switching out the losing bet containing the $5,000 chip and replacing it with $5 chips the instant the ball dropped.”
He said if he was caught, he feigned drunkenness, claiming he didn’t realize the ball had dropped.
“We got away with it because the dealer never saw the $5,000 chip to begin with, so he was satisfied the $5 chip set down to replace it was the one originally there,” Marcus said.
The wheel track design used to make the ball fall rather than roll off. Hidden computers were programmed to predict the ball’s fall-off point on the wheel, thus improving the chance of predicting where the ball would land. Pictures could reveal the speed of the ball and from what position it would fall. The industry changed the wheel to eliminate that, creating shallower pockets, so the ball bounces around more, making predictions more difficult.
The change in wheel design and the addition of speed bumps on craps tables show that for every new scam, a new foil evolves from casinos.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game. Show us how you steal and we’ll develop a policy to beat you,” Joseph said.