Sunday, March 02, 2008

Casino Cheating According to a Pundit

I stumbled on this article by Joe Saumarez-Smith, the chief executive officer of Sports Gaming, a U.K. management consulting firm to the gaming industry. Overall, I found it to be pretty informative, although there are a few pointers I might give to Mr. Smith about some of the cheating methods going on out there.


Fraudsters, cheats and other criminals love casinos. With millions of dollars passing through the hands of fallible employees every day, a casino is like a huge bank but without the controls and paperwork.

Last year was one of the worst on record for employee thefts, according to the organizers of the World Game Protection Conference, which held its annual meeting in Las Vegas last week. That includes a scam in which three employees of Boyd Gaming Corp.'s Orleans casino in Las Vegas allegedly stole more than $1 million.

Casinos used to rely on surveillance cameras and pit bosses to monitor players' behavior. Now they have turned to newer technology to help stop the cheats.

Ideally, new casinos have systems that work like this: As customers walk through the door, cameras backed by facial- recognition software identify them and log them either as a returning bettor or a new player.

From then on, everything they do is monitored. If they sit down at a blackjack table, their profit and loss is recorded, as is how well they played by comparison with a ``perfect strategy.'' Drinks and sandwich orders are also logged, so staff can ask them if they want the same again.

Tracking software on the tables alerts the casino to unusual statistical patterns so managers can intervene before serious money has been lost. Previously, if someone managed to introduce a pre-shuffled deck of cards into a blackjack or baccarat game, it would only be spotted after hundreds of thousands had been lost and the surveillance tapes watched for hours.

Chip Sensors

Software also allows casinos to stop people from ``past posting,'' or putting bets on the roulette table after the ball has landed in the number, because it can detect when a chip has been placed.

New casinos also use radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, which let them track how much money a player is carrying. If a player sits down at a baccarat table and puts $2,000 of chips on the table, the RFID scanner automatically records them. The same scanner can tell that the player has $8,000 more in his pocket and alert the pit boss that this customer might be worth persuading to stay at the table.

These chips are also difficult to counterfeit. Fake chips have been a problem for casinos around the world and have recently been found in play in Malaysia and at Vegas casinos. The technology makes it easy to scan employees for pilfered chips.

Fake Tickets

Slot machines are now almost entirely electronic and pay out vouchers that can be redeemed at the casino's cashier. This cuts down on the amount of cash floating around the casino and creates an electronic trail of all transactions.

Undoubtedly such technological advances have made it much harder to cheat. However, there are still plenty of casinos that can't afford these controls, leaving themselves vulnerable to old-fashioned cheating methods.

Casino bosses also admit that technology makes employees complacent: If they assume that a computer is already keeping an eye on the customers, they are less likely to do so themselves.

Technology can also be used by cheaters and thieves. At the Orleans casino, three workers were charged with manipulating software to print winning tickets for slot machines, according to a Dec. 6 report in the Las Vegas Sun.

Computer Shoe

In 2001, police in Sydney arrested a man for cheating Tabcorp Holdings Ltd.'s Star City Casino out of more than A$70,000 ($64,000) by using a micro-computer hidden in his shoe, according to a report in the Sydney-based Daily Telegraph on March 27, 2001.

While watching the ball on a roulette wheel, Laszlo Kovacs tapped his foot to activate a switch, and the computer calculated how fast the ball was moving and where it was likely to land. A synthesized voice message was then transmitted to a tiny wireless receiver in Kovacs's ear, the newspaper reported.

Of course we don't know many of the ways the crooks and cheaters are employing technology now because they haven't been caught yet -- it may be many years before the most sophisticated techniques in use today are revealed.