Friday, April 11, 2008

Iowa Casino Cheat Cops in Training!

Imagine a bunch of cops sitting around blackjack tables learning how to cheat. Well, it's happening in Iowa! Not that there's all of a sudden been a squadron of rogue cops looking to supplement their incomes by cheating at poker and blackjack. Rather that the Iowa gaming authorities want their cops to know how to recognize casino and poker cheating methods so that they can foil any plans to victimize their state's casinos.

An article in the Des Moines Register gets to the point:

It's no ordinary casino.

No smoke wafts in the air. No one cheers a win or curses a loss. There's a lot of cheating going on as well.

One tipoff: The players have handguns on their hips and gold badges on their belts.

This is the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation's new "Gaming Lab." It's better known as the "Royal Diaz Casino" in honor of retired DCI Assistant Director Joe Diaz.

The Des Moines facility will be used to train more than 120 DCI agents about gamblers who try to cheat at Iowa's 17 state-regulated casinos. Some of the gamblers' tricks range from sliding dice on the craps table to "capping" bets during blackjack by adding chips for a larger payoff after the outcome is known. "Pinching" bets involves taking chips back before the dealer collects them.

New agents will pick up skills about card and dice games and slot machines in the lab. Veteran agents will learn about new games, plus the latest tricks by creative gamblers.

"There is a criminal element out there trying to cheat, and they are always trying to get one step ahead of the game. This facility allows us to come in and work different issues, and to develop tactics and techniques," DCI Director Steve Bogle said.

Until now, Iowa DCI agents traveled to Las Vegas, Atlantic City or Missouri for specialized casino training, an expensive undertaking, Iowa Public Safety Commissioner Eugene Meyer said. Agents are assigned full-time to each of Iowa's 17 state-regulated casinos. They work in cooperation with casino security staffs and the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

Over the past three years, DCI agents have solved 25 cheating cases in Iowa's casinos, state officials said. In one felony case, Steven Stotts, 57, was sentenced to five years in prison for capping and pinching blackjack bets at the Diamond Jo Worth Casino near Northwood.

In another case, five people were arrested for theft and cheating at Terrible's Lakeside Casino in Osceola. Larry Shepherd, 22, a Terrible's dealer, pleaded guilty to cheating. An investigation revealed Shepherd had misplayed hands by switching cards and was paying losing hands, officials said. He had paid out more than $12,000 in casino money.

The Gaming Lab is housed in the newly renovated Iowa Department of Public Safety Building just west of the Iowa Capitol. About $18,000 was spent to outfit the training facility. The gambling industry donated used casino tables that were refurbished with felt displaying the Iowa DCI's emblem.

It's important to have a first-class training facility because the state's gambling industry has grown dramatically since the first riverboat casino was launched in 1991, Bogle said. The DCI now has more agents assigned to oversee legalized gambling than it has to general crime cases.

Last year Iowa's casino industry, which employs about 10,000 people, raked in more than $1.3 billion in gross gambling revenue from about 22.5 million admissions.

Brandon Neely, a DCI agent who works at riverboats in the Quad Cities, said the training is valuable because it gives him a chance to slow down complicated games, such as craps, and to dissect what's happening. It's different than the fast-paced casino floor, where there's constant action with cards being dealt, dice being thrown and roulette wheels spinning.

Investigators work closely with a casino's video camera surveillance team, which scans every inch of a casino, Neely added. If cheating is suspected, investigators can review the tape to confirm if something illegal happened.

The introduction of coinless slot machines has made it more difficult for crooks to succeed in cheating the slots, said Ben Mems, special agent in charge of the DCI's gaming unit in Davenport, Bettendorf and Clinton.

"But we get counterfeit bills all the time. Sometimes with the bill validators now, they will take the bill, but it won't give them the money. It clogs up the machine," Mems said.