Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Poker Cheating Poker Cheats at B&M and Online Casinos

American Poker Cheats vs European Poker Cheats: Who's best at poker cheating? Read my Bluff magazine article and decide for yourself.
Of course we Americans do not hold a monopoly on poker cheating. Europeans, South Americans and Asians are just as capable as we are in figuring out ingenious ways to cheat in public cardrooms. It might be true that Americans represent the greatest percentage of poker cheats in the world, but they also represent the greatest percentage of honest players. But what about the types of cheating that go on in brick and mortar cardrooms on both sides of the Pond? Are they different? Does the cheating going on in Las Vegas and Atlantic City vary from that happening at poker clubs in London and Paris? And what about the cheaters? I’ve said that Americans represent the greatest percentage of cheaters, but, relative to their poker population, does the same ratio hold true for European cheaters? Do they make up the same percentage of the Continent’s professional players?
Let’s start off with cheating before getting to the cheaters. The answer to whether cheating differs on either side of the Atlantic is both yes and no. Cheating in its basic forms is more or less the same on both sides of every ocean. Collusion in the US works exactly the same as it does in Europe, follows the same basic principle of whipsawing victims between the raising and reraising of cheaters. The same goes for card-switching, card-marking, tournament chip-dumping and softplay. In short, no cheater in, say Sweden, is going to come up with a new way of marking cards unknown in Vegas. By the same token, Vegas’s oldest sharpies are not going to come up with marking methods that boggle the minds of Europe’s most diligent cheaters.
But wait! What about high-tech cheating? Does that vary between the two continents? For the time being, it does. I’m not saying the technology is different; it’s the same: mainly tiny hidden digital cameras filming hole cards that are screened on monitors outside the casino and transmitted back to the cheaters inside via cellphones and audio devices. But what is different is the prevalence of high-tech cheating. Whereas in the US high-tech (non-slot) scams are virtually unheard of, in Europe they have indeed been happening. First it was the roulette cell phone scam in London’s Ritz Club in 2004, then the hidden-camera three card poker scam that rocked several more London casinos a year later—and I have heard of others happening in European poker rooms. Why the lack of computers and hidden cameras in American poker scams (besides the private-game con in Atlantic City’s Borgata)? The answer is obvious: In the US, employing any kind of equipment to cheat at gambling is a major felony; in most of Europe it is either a much lesser crime or one of unclear classification. What is clear is that the world’s cheaters are much less inclined to try high-tech poker scams in the US than they are in Europe.
There are also subtle differences between European and American poker cheating. The most important one lies in the first difference that Americans will (hopefully!) notice upon stepping foot in Europe: people are speaking languages other than English. This is even true in the United Kingdom. On my last trip to London it seemed that White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestants actually formed a distinct minority, and when you get inside the city’s card clubs, sometimes that doesn’t change.
So how does the use of multiple languages at the poker table affect cheating? Well, first of all, a lot of players can’t understand what a lot of other players are saying. This breeds countless opportunities for players to say things to other players they don’t want non-targeted players to understand. Things like “I have ace-king suited” and “Raise me after the flop.” And sometimes this information-sharing is completely innocent, though it can still lead to collusion play by players ignorant to the fact they’re involved. Take this example: Two Mideastern gentlemen sitting in a pot-limit game at the Victoria Casino speaking their native Pashto or Dari tongue. In oblivious high spirits, one says to the other without intention, “I finally have a pair of bloody aces! It’s about time!” Unbeknownst to them, a third person sitting at that table understands their language. If he so desires, that person can now use the compromised information to his benefit, and if both their hands are verbalized between them, the third speaker of the language has that much more of an edge. It’s not a big edge, but that verbal form of collusion when done with intent will have a negative effect on your earnings...or losses. I have noticed foreign-language speakers in Europe, especially in the UK, who upon entering a poker game without any ill-willed intensions, turned to their native language to give each other a boost after taking bad beats.
As in the States, UK poker clubs prohibit the speaking of any language at the tables other than English. But in order to totally enforce this, poker rooms would need bugs installed in the tables—which, by the way, is not an unheard of practice in Great Britain. But still, the anti-cheating spies clandestinely listening to the flows and crosscurrents of all that poker-table gibberish would have to be fluent in many languages to weed out the cheat talk from the normal poker chat.
In reality, this English-only rule cannot be strictly enforced. I mean, how many times can a floorperson keep coming over to admonish certain players at the table to “Speak English, please!” You would think such harassment would both tire out and embarrass most floormen charged with that disciplinary function. It would also chase a lot of honest foreign-language-speaking players from the games. And if the British ever went to extremes in order to enforce this speak-English-only edict at UK poker tables, imagine what the French would do! As most of you veterans of European travel know, the French have more pride about their language and safeguard it more than any other people in the world do theirs. If French players at poker tables in London are subject to “Speak English, please,” aren’t native Anglophones playing poker at the Aviation Club in Paris going to get a huge dose of “Parlez français, s’il vous plaît?” You can bet your Anglo ass that the French, who in general terms plainly despise the British, will not put up with the English language on their poker tables if the English are going to reject the language of Molière on theirs.
So all in all, neither country enforces the language rule strictly and therefore many foreign languages prevail at European poker tables, which at times results in collusion play.
Another significant difference pertaining to European cheating is one that has nothing to do with the method utilized but rather the consequences of getting caught. In American casinos and cardrooms, any attempt of cheating at gambling, no matter what the game or the amount of money in question, and whether or not equipment was used, is an automatic felony (with the exception of some Midwestern states and Indian reservations). This means that if you’re caught shortchanging a poker pot by a $1, you can theoretically be arrested and charged with a felony. In all of Europe, however, cheaters caught in the act are handled differently: a lot less severe. In Great Britain, for instance, all gambling establishments, whether they’re full-fledged casinos or just poker rooms, are private clubs policed by their own security. Brick and mortar casinos in the UK are not permitted to advertise and likewise do not want any negative publicity. Cheating is negative publicity, so instances of it are normally hushed up very efficiently. A prime example of this was the roulette scam that beat the Ritz Club out of $2 million in 2004. Although the scam received widespread publicity when it was uncovered, three other London casinos that fell victim to it kept quiet.
When poker cheats are spotted committing their act in a typical UK cardroom, even if it’s as flagrant as marking cards, their punishment often consists of nothing more than being rounded up by the internal security staff and hustled off the premises without further incident. Any of those caught cheating who are members of the establishment will automatically have their memberships revoked, and word of the episode will spread to all casinos and cardrooms throughout the UK, whose committees will follow suit with swift revocations. But this is not nearly as serious as it sounds. The key element is that the police are generally not called and no charges are ever pressed against the cheaters (with rare exception). Whereas in the US players face real prison time when caught cheating, their British counterparts are only subject to getting tossed out the door with a warning not to come back. With the revolving-door entry of guests in UK gambling establishments, those barred find ways to reenter using fake ID and disguise kits.

But what about these European cheaters? Have they kept pace with the Americans? We certainly know they’ve kept pace as far as legitimate poker players go (the Swedes have even outpaced the Americans). But answering this question is not as readily obvious as the expansion of poker in Europe. However, I do have a way of measuring it. Many Europeans who read the blog on my website richardmarcusbooks.com report both confirmed and suspected cheating incidents in their home brick and mortar poker rooms. As my book “Dirty Poker” has been just as available in European bookstores and Amazon websites as it has been in American bookstores and Amazon US, and as I write for both European and American poker magazines, I get equal exposure proportionate to the populations of both continents, therefore, I can derive a pretty fair opinion based on the e-mails I get from players on either side of the ocean. Based on reports and suspicions of collusion play, card-switching, card-marking and tournament cheating that includes chip-dumping and softplay, there is no question that—and for you Europeans this is good news—cheating incidents in direct proportion to US cardrooms are happening less in European cardrooms. By following mathematical formulas based on the number of rooms, tables and players in each country and dividing them by the number of estimated Americans and Europeans who play live poker, and then inserting the cheating complaints into the equation, I feel quite confident with my statement. My overall conclusion is that you are less likely to be cheated at any given time at a European B&M poker table than a US one, including in tournament play.

Why? Does it have something to do with the general fact that US cash games and tournaments have higher limits and prize money? Partially. Which brings us back to the question of whether or not European players make up a percentage of professional cheaters equivalent to their populations. Well, I am quite aware of several European professional poker cheating teams, but in spite of that, I can tell you that they do not yet quite match up to their demographic numbers when compared to Americans. Why? At that I can only guess. Being an ex-professional cheater myself, I would think that history and levels of cheating experience have something to do with it. I would also say poker cheating is just more in Americans’ blood than in Europeans’. It’s probably got something to do with a connection to America’s Wild West days, where two of every three players were cheating at least some of the time.

Another good thing I can tell you honest European players is that those among your countrymen who cheat on a professional level spend most of their time doing so in the good old USA. Why ? Come on, you know the answer to that one! There’s a heck of a lot more cash over there than there is here! And that’s not deflated by a weakened dollar.