Scientific Game

Casinos vs. Cheaters

Todd Haushalter, Shuffle Master’s Vice President, Business Strategy, discusses how casinos can defend themselves from prying digital eyes and light-fingered staff

Friday, 25 May 2012 17:48
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Table games in Asia are easily the highest grossing in the world. With all those chips moving across the tables, cheaters—now more than ever—are trying to get their share of the action. Growing player volumes, new openings with significant numbers of inexperienced dealers, and focus on customer service have all left us exposed at times to significant gaps in game security.

While some of the cheating throughout Asia has been well-publicized, much of it is still hidden from the public. Although nobody could have official figures, I have heard many in the know suggest that the “cut-card” scam, where players strapped cameras to their wrists (hidden by a long-sleeve coat) before cutting the cards, may have cost casinos somewhere in the US$100 million range.

Having visited almost every casino in Asia, I realize that each casino has its own approach to table game security. In this article, we will explore some of the best game security practices, lessons learned, and tactics being used by cheaters.

Casinos aren’t the only ones with cameras

Dealers and players also have cameras, and there are countless stories of cameras being used to turn the tables on the casinos. It has become all too common to meet with a casino manager who wants to add shufflers to his casino because a dealer was caught wearing a buttonhole camera and taking a video of the manual shuffle.

This scam typically happens at the end of the dealer’s shift. The USB stick is handed off to players in the parking lot who write down the exact order of the cards. Meanwhile, back at the table, the new dealer who knows nothing of what is about to happen is dealing to players who are stalling the game with slow play, spilled drinks, etc., or sometimes it is a reserved game and no stalling is required. The cheating players then sit down at the table with a coded baccarat score card detailing the order of the cards that are now in the shoe. The table then fills up with players who are all in on the scam, and the casino loses significant money. The scary part about this cheating method is that the manual shuffle procedures can actually be followed, the dealer who loses the money is clean, and no players have done anything that would draw attention other than winning. It all looks clean when surveillance watches the film to review the big win.

Most casinos have a policy of no cell phones on the table, which is good, but cameras now come in much smaller packages such as pens, key chains, watches and lighters, so casinos need to be on the lookout for anything suspicious. This balance between customer service and game security is difficult, and sometimes just results in a series of over-reactions. No casino wants to have a “nothing allowed on the table” policy until a dealer is found to be exposing cards to a camera hidden in a pack of cigarettes. Casinos also have to decide if they will grant hand shuffles as a courtesy to big players as opposed to using the automatic shuffler or taking the cards right from the factory box. If hand shuffles are only granted to big players, then we are simply ensuring certain scams only happen on high-limit tables. On the other hand, saying “no” to a big player may result in losing his business; so these decisions are not easy. Regardless of how you balance service and game security, it may very well be worth the effort to train casino staff to be on the lookout for these micro-cameras and to require special notifications of all manual shuffles conducted in the casino.

The low-tech cheaters

Some casinos deal baccarat by bringing the cards to the table in the factory sealed box, opening the eight decks, cutting the cards once and then loading them in the shoe. The danger, as some casinos have unfortunately learned, is that when dealers are opening the box and removing the cards, they see some of the card values since they cannot remove all 416 cards at once. This is innocent enough and still requires extreme precision when cutting the cards to take advantage of it, and even then it is of limited value to the cheater.

What is not so innocent, however, is when the dealer uses his fingers to lift multiple cards a few millimeters as he is removing the cards from the box. In just a few seconds, a dozen or so cards can be viewed and memorized by the dealer, while appearing like he is just trying to remove the cards from the cardboard box. The cheating players then strategically cut the cards and they will soon enjoy a hand or two (often early in the shoe) where they know the outcome in advance. With maximum bets being upwards of US$500,000 now in some casinos, it is simply incredible how much money can be lost in just a few seconds of removing cards from a box.

Proper hand clearing by dealers

We all know dealers are supposed to clear their hands before they leave the table or even touch their body, but all too often this is either ignored or done in such a casual way that it is meaningless. I have seen video of dealers shoving high value chips into their mouths while faking a yawn. Some of the casinos that are particularly concerned about chip theft perform random uniform inspections to see if any pockets have been sewn into the pants. Another good defense is to have short sleeve dealer uniforms. There are countless stories of dealers putting chips literally up their sleeves. This clearly cannot happen if there are no sleeves.

An additional defense against chip theft is to disallow the wearing of large-face watches big enough to hide a chip underneath or inside if it were redesigned to fit exactly one chip. Chips can also be hidden in headdressings. The simple way to stop all of this from happening is to ensure that hand clearing is not just an old tired practice but something that is strictly followed anytime a dealer goes near the body with his hands.

These are just a few of the tactics being used by cheaters today. Obviously, there are many more. These particular methods were chosen to highlight the fact that cheaters can be successful with either very high-tech or low-tech tactics, which is important to keep in mind. Too often we focus on looking for the complex and we miss the simple like a dealer memorizing a few cards as they are being removed from the box. As long as there are billions of dollars moving across tables, there will be those trying to steal some of it, and we must remain on the lookout for best practices to ensure the cheaters fail.

Todd Haushalter is the Vice President, Business Strategy, Shuffle Master, Inc. Prior to this he was at Wynn Resorts focusing on ways to increase casino profitability. He has lived in Macau and provided on-site assistance to casinos and gaming businesses on five continents, as well as worked in Washington DC with the American Gaming Association. He holds master’s degrees in hospitality management and business administration from University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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