Inside Asian Gaming

Casino Scams High-Tech Poker Threats As poker takes off in Asia and the sums involved grow, cheaters will employ increasingly ingenious methods to make off with players’ money. Infamous casino scammer turned anti-cheating expert Richard Marcus warns of the potential high-tech security scams to be aware of in brick and mortar cardrooms For several years now, we’ve been hear- ing about high-tech scams in online poker games. First came collusion-type cheating engineered by players using multi-PCs and multi-IP accounts. Then came poker “bots” whose software programs are now believed capable of incorporating artificial intelli- gence into strategy decisions. And recently, we’ve heard reports of hacked security codes and high-tech money laundering involving criminals washing their illicit earnings while playing poker online. But what about good old-fashioned low- tech or non-tech poker rooms? Are they safe from crafty cheaters using high-tech wizard- ry to earn ill-gotten gains? Well, until two years ago it appeared that they were. Besides some weak and rather unprofessional attempts to use hidden com- puters to track played cards (especially in stud games) and calculate playing and bet- ting strategies with that knowledge, nothing much about sophisticated technology was heard through the real-world poker-cheat- ing grapevine. Something up her sleeve That changed in 2005. In September of that year, a woman playing three-card pok- er at the Mint casino in London, England, aroused suspicion while winning at an exor- bitant rate—34 of 44 hands, which is highly unlikely at that game. The same woman had been noted winning at similar rates in other London casinos offering three-card poker. Another thing Mint security personnel no- ticed was that a white van was parked in the proximity of the Mint’s front entrance—as also observed during her previous wins at the other casinos. An immediate on-site investigation was launched, and it was discovered that be- neath her sleeve, the woman was wearing a harness on her arm that housed a tiny digi- tal micro-camera. Sitting in the back of the van outside, security staff found a computer techie hunched over two computer screens. One was for the live camera feed, the other to play the recordings of what the woman’s hidden micro-camera was filming inside the casino: the cards coming off the dealer’s pack as he dealt them facedown to the play- ers and himself. By positioning her arm on a downward slope from the dealer’s hands as he dealt, the woman’s camera was able to film the cards’ faces.Back in the van,the techie slowed down the digital images on the screen and perfectly read the cards. He then relayed the info back to the woman and another man—also an ac- complice—at the table, through the hidden earpieces they wore. The two cheating play- ers were thus able to play their hands with an enormous edge on the casino. True, three-card poker is not poker, but it is a step closer to it than say blackjack or roulette. It is certainly a poker derivative game. But if this incident was not enough to make you wary about possible goings- on in brick and mortar cardrooms, in July this year, we learned of another frighten- ingly high-tech scam that did involve pok- er in a brick and mortar room, just not a public cardroom. Of course I am referring to the high- stakes private-game scam in the Borgata hotel in Atlantic City, recounted in my article “The Walls Have Eyes” in the August issue of Inside Asian Gaming, which took place just before the start of Atlantic City’s preeminent poker tournament, the Borgata Open. For those of you unfamiliar with the details, the scam took place in a luxury Bor- gata hotel suite that was rigged with digital cameras in the walls. These cameras filmed players’ hole cards while they peeked at them rather than the cards coming off the dealer’s deck. In place of the van used in London’s three-card poker scam was the ho- tel room next door to the suite, where two techies viewed the camera images on laptop screens and relayed the info to the earpieces of their cohorts playing in the high-stakes game.It was very similar to the London scam inasmuch as digital video and radio equip- ment were used to spy on cards that were supposed to be unseen and transmit the in- formation back to the table. Borgata bust cover-up? Rumors circulated and still persist that there was more to the Borgata scam than was revealed by the New Jersey Casino Con- trol Commission and therefore the press.This scam was not made public until early July, a month after it allegedly got busted.Why? Ear- ly reports claimed that the scam was directly connected to the Borgata Open and took place at the same time as the tournament was being held. The natural supposition was that the big tournament players’ hole cards were being secretly videoed and the infor- mation given to a syndicate of tournament cheaters lined up against them at the tables. Whether this is true and a cover-up is in place to protect the integrity of big-time tourna- ment play doesn’t really matter. The fact is that high-tech cheating has arrived in brick and mortar poker, and you need to be aware of it, because in the future it will grow. To date, here is what I am aware of con- cerning actual high-tech cheating in brick and mortar ring games. There are perhaps half a dozen professional teams working with micro-cameras across the world, but that number is about to increase.They oper- ate in a similar fashion to the London three- card poker team. Videoing players’ hole cards in a public cardroom scenario is generally too difficult to pull off.The problem is that in spite of the availability of sophisticated miniature digi- tal camera equipment, cheaters still have to get the right angle and viewpoint of players’ hole cards to video them.Most poker players are already wary enough of this. They natu- rally protect their hole cards while peek- ing at them, in most cases keeping them adequately hidden from any eyes—either human or man-made and fitted into optic lenses—lurking behind. Unless cheaters have some kind of tiny periscope hidden somewhere in the cushion of every player- spot on the table, effective videoing of hole cards would not be viable. But videoing the faces of the cards com- ing off the deck during the deal—that’s a dif- ferent story.This can be done with a master’s INSIDE ASIAN GAMING | Dec 2007 38