Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Casino Cheats: Macau

"Macau casinos are the world's most secure": Macau Gaming Inspection chief

Well, I beg to differ. I have been to Macau twice since the casino development boom and I can tell you that, first off, Macau has a long way to go before they even get close to making that claim a reality. There have already been several major multi-million-dollar baccarat scams there (baccarat is the game of choice in Asia), and that in spite of their multi-million-dollar surveillance systems. The problem is that these casinos are truly gigantic, in every sense of the word. They dwarf Vegas casinos. And they do not have the best surveillance personnel over there. As I have always said, what makes the tightest and most efficient security and surveillance operations is the human element, not just state of the art equipment. If people don't know what they're watching on video or don't know how to react, the equipment becomes worthless. My ex-partners Pat and Balls have worked over Macau pretty good in the past year and they delighted in telling me that it was easy pickings.

The following article appeared in some Asian newspapers:

"Macau casinos have the tightest and most modern security of all the world's gaming venues," said the chief of the Gaming Inspection and Co-ordination Bureau (DICJ) yesterday.

Arriving back from a 10 day trip to London, which included informal discussions with European gaming regulators, Manuel Joaquim das Neves said the security in Macau is the best he has ever seen.

The statement comes after a member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board said last week that Asian casinos are vulnerable to small groups that are “very adept at cheating techniques”.

On the sidelines of an Interpol Global Conference on Asian Organised Crime, held in Singapore, Randall Sayre said Asian casinos need strong internal controls to guard against organised efforts to cheat them.

He said those attempting to cheat casinos “are not necessarily connected to traditional organised crime as one would anticipate.”

“It can be organised crime or it can be organised groups that conduct criminal activities,” he continued.

The Nevada board member's statement can not be applied to Macau, said Mr Neves.

The DICJ is responsible for ensuring casinos in Macau have adequate surveillance measures and comply with the SAR's financial regulations.

It is the level of technology Mr Neves has seen in the local casinos that gives him the confidence that Macau operators have the most advanced surveillance equipment in the world.

Once a casino is built, the DICJ inspects the surveillance equipment before the venue opens.

“We have new casinos and the systems are more modern than in other places,” said Mr Neves.

“Our security systems that we have in Macau casinos are the best in the world.”

The equipment in Macau is “without a doubt” better than “older” systems in Las Vegas, said Mr Neves.

Digital imaging technology is used to follow the activity at each of a casino's tables. Players and dealers are not only tracked live, the images are also used to resolve disputes and prove crimes.

The DICJ receives on average 20 reports a day from casinos about suspicious activities and alleged illegal behaviour.

“Fortunately they are (mostly) small things, such as stealing chips from the table and disputes over chip ownership,” said Mr Neves.

The casino's high resolution images are then called on to show what really happened and pinpoint an alleged crime.

“The video is used to clear up a lot of cases,” said Mr Neves.

“The zoom is very powerful, you can even see someone's fingernail”.
No trouble at MGM

The vice president of casino operations at the SAR's newest casino, MGM Grand Macau was also left scratching his head over the Nevada board member's comments.

“We don't have any problems with them (small groups of organised criminals),” said Gabe Hunterton.

“Our surveillance team is extremely talented and doing a very good job.”

The number of reported incidents in Macau has risen with the number of casinos, but as a percentage of overall play the cases are falling, said Mr Neves.

Casinos are yet to adopt face recognition software to pick-out previous trouble makers, said Mr Neves as “the probability of failure is very high, it is not workable”.

The DICJ has a team of 200 inspectors that work around the clock to keep tabs on Macau's 28 casinos.

The commission is particularly interested in the movements of money.

“We concentrate on money counting and (chip) refills (of tables) which can have a big effect on a casinos profitability,” said Mr Neves,

On average each of the 4,375 gaming tables in Macau refill with chips between four and five times a day.
VIP crime

Instances of reported problems in VIP rooms are “very little because the number of players is so few,” said Mr Neves.

Casino staff are able to keep track of chip movements in the small and high stake gaming rooms. However it is what happens under the table that is still a problem, admits Mr Neves.

Last year the the South China Morning Post reported that an anonymous survey of gaming executives in Macau concluded casinos had lost USD2.5 billion a year to a practice known as side-betting. The scam involves gamers and gaming promoters agreeing to multiply the value of chips on the table, thus cutting out the casino and government from their shares of any win.

“Side betting is a problem that the police are following but this is not easy to detect,” said Mr Neves, adding that he believed the reported size of the scam to be exaggerated.
Civil servants off the leash

The board will be stepping up its efforts during next week's Lunar New Year celebrations. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected, Macau civil servants, usually banned from walking onto a gaming floor, are allowed to gamble from February 7 to 9, said Mr Neves.

“17,000 more potential gamers, that is a lot of people,” he said.