Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
For casino cheats, 2011 has been a banner year.
Criminals have pulled off more successful scams this year than in the past, said Darrin Hoke, director of surveillance for the L’Auberge du Lac casino in Lake Charles, La.
Hoke doesn’t attribute the boom to the sour economy. Rather, he said, “I think it’s the timeless cat-and-mouse game between casinos and the people who want to steal from them.”
During a presentation on opening day of the Global Gaming Expo, the world’s largest gambling industry event, Hoke outlined some of the year’s biggest table and slot scams. Here are the top six:
Photo by Leila Navidi
The “cutter” scam that made the rounds in Macau in 2010 landed in Las Vegas in January. It worked like this: A cheater placed a miniature camera under his sleeve, then dragged a cut card over the top of a baccarat deck while using his index finger to slightly separate the cards from one another. The camera recorded the value and suit of each card, which the scammer compiled for a cheat sheet and transmitted to a group of accomplices. The affiliated group then entered the casino, sat at the table and bet appropriately when the prerecorded sequence of cards emerged.
Baccarat moves are forced by the cards players are dealt, unlike games such as blackjack that employ strategy and offer gamblers choices on how to play their hands. Knowing which cards will come next gives cheaters the advantage of knowing when to bet big or small.
The scam is believed to be the handiwork of an Asian group that has ripped off casinos worldwide for tens of millions of dollars. Several players suspected of cutting were detained at the Cosmopolitan but were let go because of lack of evidence (Nevada law enforcement requires probable cause to conduct a body search to determine whether a gambler is hiding a cheating device under his or her clothing.)
State Gaming Control Board agents estimate local casinos lost more than $1 million, although Hoke said insiders have placed the figure as high as $7 million.
A high-roller in Louisiana used his status and charm to scam the L’Auberge du Lac casino out of $250,000. The player befriended a dealer by taking him on trips and treating him to visits with prostitutes, then persuaded him to turn a blind eye to the man’s cheating at the roulette wheel. The high-roller made late bets placed after the ball had dropped and wagered $500 a pop instead of the normal $100 limit.
A supervisor conducting an audit discovered the cheating. The suspect had successfully run his scam twice. The dealer reportedly received 20 percent of the winnings.
“The best scammer is the big player,” Hoke warned. “They are above suspicion.”
The player was arrested in a Houston airport trying to flee the country. He had been charged seven years earlier in a casino marker scam, but he cut a deal with the FBI and was set free without a criminal record.
Photo by Las Vegas Sun Archives
In one of the first cases of its kind, a surveillance officer at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore was charged with cheating his own casino out of almost $150,000 by helping a group of accomplices past post. The “eye in the sky” officer deceived pit bosses by validating late bets his partners placed on a Sic Bo table. The gamblers used sleight of hand to drop the bets after the game had started.
The cheating occurred more than 30 times over a month. It is unclear exactly how the scam came to light, but it’s likely the officer left his post, someone else observed the cheating, and his collaborators squealed. Police are now building a case.
Photo by Associated Press
Thieves in Macau scammed several casinos out of $24 million by installing cameras in card shufflers. They stole real shufflers off baccarat tables, then replaced them with shufflers rigged with cameras, mirrors and transmitters.
“It’s like the old scam of switching out the whole shoe,” Hoke said. “This is ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ stuff.”
Seven men were arrested, but more are believed to be involved. Police suspect dealers played a role because they can’t figure out how else the cheats could have switched shufflers. A worker discovered a camera inside one device during a routine maintenance check.
“Physical access to this equipment is key to this,” Hoke said. “No organization can be 100 percent secure but you can mitigate your risk.”
Photo by Ben Alford/Flickr
Two players at an East Coast casino paid dealers to mark specific cards to give them an advantage at mini-baccarat. The Mohegan Sun dealers used their thumbs to bend 8, 9 and 10 cards so the players could bet accordingly when the cards appeared. Records show the gamblers had lost a significant amount of money at the casino before they started cheating.
The men scammed the Sun out of $400,000 before being caught. The dealers reportedly received $1,000 for every day they marked cards.
Cheaters also have found ways to compromise electronic roulette slots. In one case involving a machine with a real ball and wheel, a supervisor colluded with gamblers and hit a button when the ball dropped to change the outcome of the game and help the accomplice win. In another, scammers figured out they could convert comp money into real cash without actually betting by covering all the spaces in the game. Other observant cheaters discovered that the ball and wheel on certain machines never changed speed, so they could track spins to uncover patterns.
Hoke said gaming manufacturers sometimes overlook machines’ flaws in their rush to bring new products to market. He also criticized casino operators for failing to hire enough information security directors to protect computers and other systems.
“We’re transferring as much money as banks and yet we have almost no IT security directors,” Hoke said.