Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Colorado Casinos Fear Cheat and Card-Counting Attacks With Increased Table Limits!
Poker rooms and casinos have long been a bypass for cheats and blackjack card counters because of their ridiculous $5 maximum bet. I once visted one of these casinos during a ski trip, and although it was situated in a beautiful valley surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, I could hardly take the casino seriously. However, on July 2nd, the state will allow betting maximums of $100, still not enough to generate the interest of major poker and casino cheat and card counting teams, but obviously enough to get Colorado casino operators worried.
The state, which by popular vote will allow higher stakes starting July 2, hopes to stack the odds against errors and cheats. Its casinos are turning to Las Vegas gambling veterans in preparation for an anticipated influx of higher-stakes players, cheats and card counters when bet limits rise statewide this summer.
They're bringing in people such as Jimmy Payne, the former boss of the high-limit pits at the Hard Rock and Bellagio casinos.
"If there's a $5 mistake, that really doesn't affect the bottom line too much," said Payne, now the table-games director for three Black Hawk casinos operated by Golden Gaming. "But once you start talking about the higher limits, a mistake could cost you a little bit of money. On roulette, you could have a $3,500 mistake."
On July 2, casinos will raise bet limits from $5 to $100, expand to 24-hour operations, and add craps and roulette-table games — all changes approved by Colorado voters last year.
Though the $100 limit won't attract "whales" — gamblers who may win or lose upward of $1 million in a single night — it will still lead to a new wave of worries for Colorado gambling officials.
The state Division of Gaming will require more cash to be available on the casino floor because of the higher limits. With a $5-maximum bet, most casinos are mandated to have $1,800 in cash on hand for each blackjack-table game. Regulators haven't finalized how much additional cash will be required under the new stakes, but they do know that bigger bucks bring on bigger scams.
"If the casino is going to be opened longer and there's going to be more money available, the potential for cheats is going to increase," said Don Burmania, a spokesman for the Gaming Division.
Card counters, who aren't a concern with a $5-maximum bet, are expected to show up. Casino officials also are concerned about "advantage players," or "cross-roaders."
"Those guys are the ones that concern me the most," Payne said. "A cross-roader is a guy who makes a living taking advantage of weak spots in the casino." An example of a common weak spot is a dealer who doesn't know the exact payout on every bet in games such as roulette or craps. Roulette and craps are two of the more complicated games in the industry.
The Colorado Gaming Division hired 13 new investigators and auditors to deal with the changes--and the cheats and counters. Several casinos are beefing up their staff by about 100 positions. Many have been filled with seasoned veterans familiar with craps, roulette and higher-stakes tables.
Jacobs Entertainment, operator of two Black Hawk casinos, has hired a table-games director from Las Vegas and 10 pit bosses who have worked in higher-limit markets, assistant general manager J.J. Garcia said. The Isle of Capri Casino in Black Hawk has also turned to veterans for many of its 100 new positions. Inexperienced dealers are being trained to spot common cheating methods such as "past-post" — when a bet is surreptitiously slipped onto the table after the outcome has been determined, such as when the roulette ball has dropped into the numbered slot. Casino managers are studying higher-limit "volatility" — or how much their wins and losses will swing on any given night.
"They're not used to players coming in and winning the kinds of money they might win with the increased limits," said Bob Hannum, a University of Denver statistics professor who will co-host a training seminar for casino officials in June. "The idea is to get a sense of it . . . so they don't get real nervous when they see a guy win $1,000 in a few hands."
Understanding the fluctuations can also help casino officials identify potential cheaters.
"One of the things they do to catch cheaters is look at the wins and losses and see if they conform to the mathematics," Hannum said. "If they don't, it's a red flag to start looking more carefully at the game."
My take on this: These Colorado casinos will get hit by many minor league cheat teams but the big guys won't bother--unless they want to pick up their expenses on the way to their ski vacations in Aspen and Vail.