Saturday, January 12, 2008

Why'd I Really Quit? / Monday Controversial Flush Magazine Article!

Ever since I wrote American Roulette, my memoirs about my twenty-five year cheating career, and then joined the force of game protection consultants speaking at conferences and conducting training seminars, people always ask me why I gave up the cheating career, I mean why I really gave it up. Was it because I made so much money I didn’t need any more? Was it fear that I’d finally get caught and go to prison? Was it because I finally got sick and tired of it? Was I too old? Was I finally deterred by my fear of flying? Or was I enlightened by a sudden revelation that I was suffering from a morality dilemma: did I suddenly, or over the years grow to feel bad about being a cheater and criminal?

This question when put to me merits a unique answer in comparison to other ex-cheaters who have come clean. The main reason for that is virtually all of them had been forced to abandon their cheating careers without ever having to think about it, and for a very simple reason: they got caught, arrested and sentenced. Any further misadventures on the smooth green-felt playing field would have led to worse misadventures in the much rougher and colorless prison yard. So, in my opinion, when you ask the majority of ex-casino cheats why they gave it up, most of their answers claiming repentance, change of attitude, having been born again and meeting that special person who positively influenced their lives are usually tainted. Conversely, my decision was not the result of a career suddenly cut short but rather a choice to retire much like a professional athlete or politician. In spite of that, however, I would have to examine several factors to arrive at the equation that turned me from bad to good.

So, did I make that much money I didn’t need any more? Well, first of all, my ex-wife got half of it, my ex-girlfriend half of what was left, and fortunately there is no current girlfriend or I’d probably be back living with the winos underneath an overpass like I did in Vegas thirty years ago. But really, even if I did have that much money, is that ever a reason to quit? Does Donald Trump continue building skyscrapers, condos and casinos bearing his name because he needs more money? Hardly. I think you can say more or less the same for any billionaire, certainly those involved in the casino industry. If money were the sole motivating element to embark on or continue a booming career, I don’t think Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn would be racing around the globe building casino megaresorts on several continents. So, no, my giving it up had nothing really to do with money. In fact, after the first few years of it (I did it for twenty-five), it wasn’t even about the money. I had given up my own degenerate gambling habits and come to enjoy what I was doing. I considered my genre of casino cheating as an art. I especially looked at four-man-team roulette moves as choreographed performances. The one thing I never did look at cheating casinos as was committing a real crime. After all, could casinos be considered victims? Would anyone feel sorry for them? Wasn’t the cliché “casinos are licensed thieves” my own license to steal from them?

Obviously, I was overlooking things. Of course what I did was criminal. Of course casinos were real victims, and whether or not people felt sorry for them being ripped off is not relevant. I was guilty on every front. But at the time, and probably in some measure of similarity concerning motive when it comes to Trump, Adelson and Wynn, I was propelled by my ego. I wanted to succeed against the odds. I wanted to be the David against the mighty casino Goliath. I loved pitting myself against all that ominous high-tech surveillance equipment. I couldn’t get enough of out-smarting all of it. Another head trip of course was beating the bosses, surveillance departments, Griffin Investigations agents and the agents from Nevada’s and every other jurisdiction’s Gaming Enforcement Division. In short, I wanted to be the best casino cheater of all-time.

Did this attitude of mine ever change? No. When Michael Jordan was asked if he considered himself the best basketball player of all-time, he responded, “I like to think I was the best at what I did.” Same thing goes for me. I do believe I was the best casino cheater ever and surely don’t mind saying so. When asked if I have any regrets, those about being sorry for being a cheater and thus a criminal, I would be full of crap if I said I did. Of course I don’t. And I really don’t think any reformed longtime cheater is truly sorry for cheating casinos. Criminals who have committed crimes against a person, that’s something different; expressed regret is often genuine there. But when it comes to crimes against a casino or those against corporations or even those against public trust, i.e. athletes on steroids and corrupted politicians, are we really to fall for all those tearful apologies about “letting my fans and constituents down?” Should we really think that those who perpetrated vast financial swindles with spoils in the hundreds of millions of dollars are truly sorry once they’re caught? I doubt it. I’d say their apologies are more about rebuilding public images and hoping to reduce possibly long prison sentences.

“So then,” I’m often asked, “why are you suddenly wising up the casinos with all your knowledge? If you don’t regret what you have done and you’re not earning a lot of money (which I’m certainly not), why bother writing these magazine articles and offering your services to train casinos in surveillance and game protection?” The answer to that is rather simple: what else would I do with the rest of my life? The only field in which I have knowledge and something to offer is that of casino cheating and game protection. I had never done anything outside of cheating casinos my entire adult life. It was also a natural progression, the way a retired baseball player becomes a coach or manager. Take someone like Frank W. Abagnale, the infamous turned famous (subject of the film “Catch me if you can”) bank-fraud and identity-theft artist reinvented as a bank-fraud and identity-theft prevention consultant. He went from criminal to author to consultant, just like I’m doing. So then I did not decide to teach casinos what I know and explain how I did what I did and why they are so vulnerable to professional cheaters because I felt remorse for my own illicit campaign against them. I am doing this solely because I have no other viable option to fulfill my time. I am not yet ready to spend the rest of my life in retirement doing nothing, getting fat and going bald. Heck, I’d rather go back to cheating than do nothing. And something that did surprise me is that I actually enjoy teaching casino and surveillance staffs. It really makes me feel good when I see people learning from me, although it has nothing at all to do with guilt.

But what actually did make me stop cheating if it wasn’t a money issue? Was it the fear of getting caught? Even though I always knew how badly Gaming authorities wanted my butt and that if they ever got it I would most likely be facing a maximum prison sentence due to my growing notoriety, I was never worried about it. Those fears had disappeared before I turned twenty-two, and any chances for them to rekindle were quickly quashed by my ego and confidence that my cheating moves were too good to get me busted. Okay then, was I finally getting sick and tired of it? Now we’re starting to hit upon the true reasons for my retirement. The fact of that matter is that cheating casinos as a business is lots of hard work. It’s a grind. There’s neverending travel and the problem is that even if you know where you’re going, you usually don’t know exactly when you’re going or for how long. A scenario of such: let’s say that my team was in Las Vegas working roulette wheels and after several successful moves we had a miss (didn’t get paid) that took heat. Knowing that the word would soon flash across computer screens in Vegas surveillance rooms, we’d have to get out of Dodge. Then say we went to Atlantic City and took heat on the first move there. That would have meant we travelled across the country just to spend a few hours in Atlantic City. Then from there we would fly down to the Bahamas, then island-hop from one Caribbean casino to the next. When the high winter season was over it would be off to Europe, South Africa and Australia. So, yes, after more than two decades of that constant travel, we often felt more worn out than a rock group constantly on tour. In fact, we often jokingly referred to our casino trips as our Magical Mystery Tours.

Did age have anything to do with calling it a day? Well, maybe Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney can continue rocking into their 60s and beyond, but cheating casinos was getting old for me before hitting fifty. So thinking of growing old like a worn casino check certainly had something to do with it. After all, I just couldn’t imagine being a middle-aged casino cheater. Not that I’d lost much of my sprinter’s speed when having to get out of a casino quickly!

Was I really afraid of flying? I don’t know if it’s fear, but I don’t like it at all. Never did, maybe that’s why my first trip to Las Vegas in 1976 from New York was done behind the wheel of my Mustang convertible. But you can’t drive across oceans. Those half-day and better jaunts to Australia and Asia were never my cup of tea. And then there were the occasional air disasters and terrorist incidents, even though I’d quit before 9/11. Still, I thought about such a demise and that would have certainly interfered with my hopes to one day be buried somewhere on the property of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas (read my book). And speaking of global terrorism, I bet lots of you didn’t know that the late Yasser Arafat, ex-Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, once owned a casino on the Gaza Strip. Although all of his casino’s customers were Israelis (Muslims were forbidden to gamble there), some of my partners wanted to give Arafat and his casino a good ol’ American bombing, which as team leader I prudently refused. Had we been caught there, the result might have been worse than an international incident, especially for us!

Although I said before that I never struggled with the morality of being a cheater and had no regrets about cheating casinos, I did have one major regret that perhaps contributed to my retirement. That is by employing a dishonest and criminal means of making a living, I alienated myself from my family and never succeeded in having one of my own. My only marriage could not sustain the lifestyle, and while married I’d always hesitated about having children. Surely a reason for that would be the conflict I would have felt telling them what I did for a living. Can you imagine a kid of mine with his peers discussing what their fathers’ professions were? One might say, “My father’s a doctor,” then another, “Mine’s a lawyer,” then a third, “Mine’s a teacher.” I would cringe thinking of my kid saying, “My dad’s a professional casino cheater.” The only way to avoid that would be to lie. Which I had already done to my ex-father-in-law, who I met for the first time just a week before my wedding. He asked me in front of his daughter (who knew the truth), “Richard, what do you do for a living?” I responded with the lie, “I’m a casino consultant.”

Funny how now it’s the truth.


On Monday in the new issue of Flush Magazine in the UK, appears a controversial article I wrote on my opinion of the US Game Show Network's ultra high-rated TV show "High Stakes Poker." In a nutshell, I think it's full of shit!...As a matter of fact, I'm sure of it.

You can either read the magazine or read the article here Monday.