The Top 20 Casino Gambling Scams of the Century
A look back at significant casino scams since 2000.
A Casino Guys Compilation
Two years ago, Bill Zender and I sat down and started going through our notes from the past 20 years on casino scams. Our goal was to compile our “Top 20” scams for a presentation at the 2020 World Game Protection Conference. A kind of retrospective of the last 20 years where we could share our findings and lessons learned with students of the games. The conference never took place.
Our criteria to make the top 20 was simple: how much money casinos lost (estimated), how creative was it, how far spread it was (geographically) and how long did it go on for. To qualify for our top 20 the scam must have beat casinos (or players) out of at least one million dollars.
Exact numbers for casino scams are hard to come by and often underreported. So I took the conservative officially reported numbers and the insider whispers unofficial numbers, and rounded them off to the nearest million. How long and where the scam went on is almost impossible to ascertain exactly. The casino industry doesn’t keep or compile that sort of information. It should be noted that casino scams are often copycatted by different groups and perpetrated in areas of the world that don’t have cheating laws or in casinos that either don’t want to or are not required to report casino scams (i.e.,illegal casinos). At the end of the day, we only know what we know.
In this article the 20 scams we selected are listed in no specific order (more on that later). Each scam has a brief synopsis of no more than 100 words. No names of people or casinos are mentioned, the focus is on the modus operandi. This is done in the hope that even though the list may cause debate (we hope so) the historic account of these significant scams can be used as an educational reference guide for casino managers in their quest for achieving effective game protection.
The Top 20 Scams
The Baccarat False Shuffle
Crooked dealers are hired by players to conduct false shuffles. During a shoe, a player writes down the order of the cards as they are placed in the discard rack. At the completion of the shoe the dealer takes the 8 decks and proceeds to shuffle. The dealer purposely keeps a clump of up to 100 cards to the side and shuffles around it, thus maintaining the sequence of cards (slug) in the same order that was previously recorded. In the next shoe the players wait until the slug appears and are able to calculate future results and bet accordingly. Casino losses: $10-$100M
The Baccarat False Shuffle Camera
Crooked dealers are hired by players to conduct false shuffles. During the last step of the shuffle the dealer “high riffles” approximately two decks of cards followed by a “step through” false shuffle. A woman accomplice seated at the table rests her bag on the table while the dealer shuffles. The bag contains a concealed camera that records the shuffle. She leaves the table, returns to her hotel room and plays back the video to obtain the sequence of cards. She relays this information to players back at the table who wait until the slug appears and bet accordingly. Casino losses: $10-$100M
The Roulette Computer
A player uses a concealed wearable computer programmed to predict what section of the wheel the ball will fall. After the dealer spins the ball the computer user inputs the speed of the ball and the wheel by clocking reference points on the wheel head. The data is input using toe taps in a shoe wired to the computer. After the calculation is made information is relayed to the player via a miniature Bluetooth earpiece communicating what section of the wheel to bet. The roulette computer gives players a 40% edge over the house. Casino losses: $1-$10M
The Camera in the Auto Shuffler
Using various methods to distract the dealer, players swap an unsecured portable shuffle machine from a baccarat table with the same model machine retrofitted with a micro-camera inside. The camera is positioned to be able to transmit the final sequence of the riffled cards to a retrofitted cell phone installed with software that converts the video images to a text format that reveals the order of the cards and results of all the hands for the next shoe. Casino losses: $1-$10M
The Dice Sliding Teams
An old scam that keeps on giving. A skilled player slides one of the two dice so that there is a fixed parameter of results that move the house edge to the player and his associates. To get by the scrutiny of the game caller and other staff at the table, other team members provide distractions and obstruction at the moment the shooter rolls the dice to ensure the illegal roll is not picked up. Casino losses: $1-$10M
The Cut Card Camera
A baccarat player who volunteers to cut the cards has a camera up his sleeve connected to a video storage device. In collusion, the dealer turns the 8 decks 90 degrees to the player. Before inserting the cut card, the player glides it across the top of the cards and scrapes his finger nail across the corner of the cards to reveal the indexes of a sequence of cards to the camera up his sleeve. The player leaves the table after the cut, reviews the video in a private place and relays the sequence to players at the table. Casino losses: $100M+
The Jackpot Prediction Computer
A computer hacker acquires a slot machine, analyzes the (pseudo) random number generator and creates a sequence prediction program. Organized trained teams are dispersed around the world to locate the specific machine type in casinos. After locating a machine, they record or stream a portion of play with their cellphone cameras for computer analysis. After the analysis is completed the cellphone is synchronized to the time sequence of results. The cellphone sends vibration alerts to the player signaling when to push the play button. The computer guides the player to small jackpots that fly under the radar of casino managers. Casino losses: $10M-$100M
The Poker Card Reading Cellphone
A crooked poker dealer swaps a deck into a game with invisible (barcode-like) markings on the edges of the cards. A player in collusion with the dealer has software in his cellphone that can analyze and identify the markings via the camera. Before a game the player enters how many players are at the table into his cellphone. After the shuffle the dealer straightens the deck and places it on the table in view of the cellphone resting on the table. The software calculates who has the best ranked cards and alerts the player via a miniature earpiece. Casino losses: n/a
The VIP Host with Inside Information
As a precautionary measure, a casino uses a machine to check that pre-shuffled cards for baccarat (8 decks) are shuffled correctly. However, the machine exposes the entire sequence of the cards to a surveillance camera before they go to the tables. A VIP host persuades management to give him access to the casino surveillance system claiming that his high roller client requested his independent oversight. After reviewing video of the deck checker machine and recording the card sequences, the VIP host relays the “inside information” including the shoe identifier serial numbers to his high roller friend. Casino losses: $10M-$100M
The Baccarat Shoe Camera
Casino equipment maintenance employees rigged a number of baccarat shoes with a miniature camera and a remote-controlled device that pushed the first card up to reveal its index. At the commencement of a hand a player in collusion with the maintenance employees remotely activates the device to reveal the first card to the camera. The video is live-streamed back to the players cellphone. The player then communicates with other team players what to bet. By knowing the first card out for each round of play in baccarat the players gained an approximate edge of 7% over the house. Casino losses: $10M-100M
The Dealer Button Camera
A crooked baccarat dealer swaps out a button on his vest with a similar button concealing a miniature camera wired to a portable video storage device. During the shuffle the dealer video records a sequence of cards by “high riffling.” To keep the sequence intact, he follows with a “step through” false shuffle before straightening the cards and offering the cut card to an accomplice. When the dealer goes on a break he finds a private place, plugs his video storage device into a computer, reviews the video and texts the sequence back to accomplices at the table. Casino losses: $1M-$10M
The Card Mucking Teams
A baccarat player attaches a device up his sleeve known as a hold-out device. The device is like a robotic arm that holds a playing card. When the card can increase the value of a hand, the player will activate a switch that will extend the card into the players hand to facilitate a switch (muck). The switched out card is used for future hands. The “starter” card is obtained in various ways including stealing a card from the casino or counterfeiting. Casino losses: $10M-$100M
The Slot Machine Button Sequence Glitch
A player discovered that a certain type of video poker machine has a software glitch that can be exploited. The “double up bug” allows players to replay winning jackpots with higher wagers. The player sits at a machine playing one cent a spin. When he eventually scores a jackpot, he doesn’t cash out but immediately hits a specific sequence of buttons replaying the winning hand but with a maximum wager this time. Casino losses: $1M+
The Craps Call Bet Collusion Caper
Craps dealers in collusion with players pay long-odd “hop bets” that don’t exist. As the dice are rolled one of the players in cahoots with the dealers will mumble something that no one can understand, as if it was a call bet (or maybe not). After the dice comes to rest the crooked dealer will pay the player for a winning hop bet. Casino losses: $1M+
The Baccarat Card Carrier Thieves
A team of thieves gather around a card storage cabinet in a high-limit baccarat room, obstructing the view of staff and surveillance. They break into the cabinet and steal a card carrier containing 416 pre-shuffled cards stored for future use on a game. They go to their hotel room for a short period of time where they open the carrier and record the sequence of the cards before returning them to the cabinet in the same manner they removed them. They wait until the cards are put into play and bet accordingly. Casino losses: $10M-$100m
The Camera Van Teams
A player with a concealed camera up his sleeve plays Three Card Poker with a dealer who inadvertently lifts her cards before placing them face down on the table. The player positions himself so that the camera can view the card values. The camera broadcasts the live play back to a van outside the casino. Accomplices view and identify the dealer's hand and communicate with the player at the table via a hidden earpiece. Casino losses: $1M+
The Employee Slot Machine Riggers
A team of crooked slot employees with access to the inside of machines rigged them to pay out bogus credits. Using their expertise, they were able to change the “coin in” amounts and delete the history of the false and fraudulent amounts from the machines. The ill-gotten gains were cashed out by their wives and partners over a 4.5 year period who set up shell companies and multiple bank accounts to “wash” the stolen money. Casino losses: $1M-$10M
The Face-Up Baccarat Spread Camera
A casino using manufacturer pre-shuffled cards on their baccarat games introduces a procedure mandating that the dealer spreads approximately two decks of cards face-up across the table so that players can see the cards are mixed. A player in collusion with the dealer uses a concealed camera up his sleeve to record the two decks. The dealer conducts a false shuffle keeping the two deck sequence intact. The player leaves the game and reviews the video. On his return the player and his friends wait for the sequence to begin, calculate upcoming results and bet accordingly. Casino losses: $1M+
The Exploitation of Asymmetrical Cards
A woman searched for casinos that used automatic shufflers on baccarat, open faced shoes and poorly designed and manufactured cards that could be “edge sorted.” Conspiring with a big player they requested and were granted changes in the casino's standard procedures. The most significant changes were dealing cards face down and having the dealer reveal each card to them individually before she instructed the card be turned straight over, or to the side. This facilitated a scheme where high and low cards could be identified before wagering in future rounds of play, gaining a considerable edge over the house. Casino losses: $10M-$100M
The Dealer Memorizing Cards
During the baccarat shuffle procedures, an unsupervised dealer takes approximately 20 cards, thumbs through them face up and commits the order to memory. He then conducts a false shuffle that leaves the 20 card sequence intact. In collusion with the players at the table he waits until the memorized sequence appears and calculates the results of the next 3-5 hands in his head. Before each hand is dealt, he discretely gestures to his accomplices playing at the table what to bet on. Casino losses: $1M-$10M
But Wait, There’s More…
There are plenty more scams that just missed the cut. Some are slight variations of scams on our list. Technology advancements in concealed cameras, wireless and computer technology have made some of the scams more sophisticated and efficient but the principles of gaining inside information remain the same.
In most of the scams listed there is more to the story. In some cases, I’ve purposely left some of the details out. In others, I admit I just don’t have all of the details. I also have no doubt there are other scams that could make our top 20 that we simply don’t know about. But hopefully there is enough information included to help casino managers understand major threats, review their own practices for vulnerabilities and take the necessary steps to reduce the risk.
At the World Game Protection Conference in February, I will discuss a lot of these scams in more detail in my CORE training seminar on table games protection. We will have a chance to dissect the scams and discuss what we learned as an industry to better protect our games.
World Game Protection Conference attendees will also have a chance to win a copy of Steve Forte’s latest book Gambling Sleight of Hand: Forte Years of Research. Simply read this article and while at the WGPC complete the survey on the show app naming in order your top 5 scams from our list. As a survey participant your name will go into the draw for the prize. On the last day of the conference we will hold a draw for the prize and announce the “WGPC Attendees Top 5 Casino Scams of the Century.” Willy