Monday, November 19, 2007

Casino Scam Of The Month

December, 2007: Las Vegas Chip Cup Scam

This is one of the most simply ingenious scams of all-time. It has happened dozens of times across the world since its invention in the early 1970s. The most well known incident of the Chip Cup Scam occurred in the 80s in the giant Sun City Casino in what was then Bophuthatswana, South Africa. More than 30 individuals were involved, both casino employees and outside players. The method used to steal was a clever, but old-time device known as the "Las Vegas Chip Cup." It's nothing more than a hollow tube painted and designed to look like a stack of small denomination casino chips. The Chip Cup is made slightly larger than a standard 39 millimeter casino chip so that it can easily slide over a stack of standard casino chips. The casino chips then become hidden inside the hollowed cup. A real casino chip of small value is glued to the top of the aluminum cup, which is painted and speckled to look like a stack of five small denomination chips. In Sun City, the Chip Cup was painted to resemble a stack of five 10-Rand chips (South African currency). The beauty of the chip cup is that a player introduces the cup into play and also takes it out. The dealer and player work the scam together. In American casinos, the Chip Cup scam is normally done on a craps table. This is because the dealers stack chips straight up in front of them on a crap table, as opposed to laying them down horizontally in a table rack, as in a 21 game. Chips stacked straight up in front of a dealer make it easier for the chip cup to be placed over the chips, though it can be done without much difficulty in chips lying horizontally in table chip racks. In 1980s South Africa, craps was not popular in casinos, being mainly an American game. The big-money game in Sun City was "Punto-Banco", basically the same game as American Baccarat. In this game, unlike the Las Vegas Baccarat games, chips are stacked straight up in front of the dealers.

The scam works like this: The player/cheater, known as an "agent," sits next to the dealer who is standing. The agent places the hollowed empty Chip Cup on the layout as a bet. It looks like a 50-Rand bet, a stack of five 10-Rand chips. There were other legitimate bettors wagering 100-Rand chips on the game. If the bet wins, the dealer/cheater simply pays the bet as he would any legitimate bet, by stacking five 10-Rand chips next to the Chip Cup. What the cheaters really want is for the bet to lose. When the bet loses the dealer/cheater picks up the empty chip cup and in the process of picking up losing 100-Rand chips, he secretly slips the Chip Cup over four 100-Rand chips, so that there are four 100-Rand chips hidden inside the Chip Cup. If there are no 100-Rand chips in play, the dealer can momentarily place the Chip Cup on top of the stack of 100-Rand chips in his working well, and suck up four of them. By gently squeezing the Chip Cup, the hidden chips inside are held in place.

After the dealer finishes putting the losing chips collected from the table into his working well, he makes sure the Chip Cup sits on top of the stack of 10-Rand chips. Then the agent simply "buys" the loaded chip cup back from the dealer. He throws 50-Rand cash on the table. The dealer simply hands the loaded Chip Cup back to the agent as change. The cheaters have thus netted 350 Rand, the 400 Rand loaded inside the Chip Cup minus the 50-Rand cost to buy it. The real strength of the transaction with the chip cup is that the house has just won big bets from the legitimate players. The process then continues in accordance with the camouflaging action on the table.

A key element in the success of the Chip Cup scam at the Sun City casino was the involvement of bit bosses (known as "inspectors" there). They were key to the scam because they coordinated the dealers' schedules, designating which games the crooked dealers would deal on, how their breaks would be patterned and everything else needed to put the crooked dealers at the tables with the best opportunities to put the Chip Cups into play. The inspectors often sent a crew of three cheating dealers to one game, preferably games where the house was winning. This practice helped disguise the cheating activity, as the inspectors who were not involved and surveillance personnel would be watching the Punto-Banco games where the house was losing money. Crooked floormen were also in on the scam, and could easily alert the cheating crews if a boss not involved approached a table where the Chip Cup was in use.

Another key element to the scam was the involvement of a cage employee. This senior cage cashier allowed the agents to cash out considerable sums of chips without being questioned. At the time, South Africa had strict currency transaction policies. Large cash-outs should have been recorded and brought to the attention of upper management. Finally, it would be the currency transactions outside the casino that proved to be the downfall of the scam and its perpetrators. Many involved in the scam, mainly dealers and inspectors, were noticed spending large amounts of cash around town on various luxury items, which eventually drew suspicion as to where they were getting that money.

Over the course of several months, the cheating group was estimated to have taken the equivalent of $3 million dollars from the Punto-Banco tables.