Friday, June 18, 2010

High-Tech Casino Cheats Scoring Big in Macau By Scanning Electronic Baccarat Card Chips!

Macau pit supervisors and surveillance operators are double- and triple-checking high-rolling gamblers who are spotted in the VIP high-stakes gambling areas wearing lots of thick jewelry. Why?...Because this type of flashly jewelry can be housing very sensitive scanners that can cheat the casinos out of millions!

Macau casinos have been using electronic, or cards with embedded computer chips inside them, at their baccarat tables. They have been doing this in order to protect their games from the widespread cheating that has been plaguing the peninsula's casinos, especially to protect their baccarat games from card-switches. But they didn´t count on high-tech cheaters being able to read the cards with sensitive scanners. And the baccarat cheats doing it are hiding the scanners in their expensive jewelry, be it bracelets, necklaces or rings.

So what is Macau surveillance MO to combat cheating by scanning?...simply be on the lookout for gamblers winning big who are wearing lots of expensive bling.

Although no one has been caught with a scanner, Macau casino operators say they have lost more than HK$30 million. Now that's not as much as American dollars but it's still a heck of a lot!

How can these operators find the scanners?...well, it seems they cannot conduct efficient debugging operations to uncover them, and they can't very well risk the embarrassment of searching all their high rollers wearing expensive, bulky jewelry, so about the only thing they can do is make changes to their electronic card devices for which they have already invested huge money. Until this is done, surveillance will simply have to watch with their eyes what is going on in the VIP high-betting areas. They will have to pick up on strange behavior and perhaps body language telling them that scanners may be in use.

According to one casino manager, "The casino where I work requires all service assistants in the VIP hall and big-bet areas to pay special attention to customers wearing big rings and report to security if anything suspicious is seen." She added that other casinos have instituted the same policy.

The "security-smart" chips are supposed to combat cheaters by keeping track of all the bets being made electronically, which effectively combats scams ranging from pastposting to money laundering at the casino cages. But the scanners are permitting the cheaters to scam the value of the baccarat cards before they're dealt, by cracking the inner codes in the chips.

Another casino manager said, "About three weeks ago there appeared to be some extremely lucky customers in the VIP hall and big-bet areas. All of them played baccarat. They lost when the bet was small but won every time a game was heavily backed. Someone even won more than 100 games non-stop and collected a few million dollars."

The electronic cards work by having chip-codes for all the face values of the cards in the deck. They are connected to the dealer's electronic dealing shoe, each card recorded as it is dealt. A central computer calculates the results at the end of each shoe. The dealer does the same, entering the cards dealt each hand manually. If there's a deviance on any hand, an alarm goes off and the words "scanner-scam" ring in the casino's ears.

How did the Macau casinos pick up on this high-tech cheating?

According to the second casino manager, "We have not found evidence of cheating, but in all games when the casino dropped big money the cards had been cut by customers with big rings or bracelets. One was holding a black cigarette case-size box when cutting the cards. We cannot exclude the possibility there are scanners in the customers' accessories. The scanner can read the code when cards are being cut, so gamblers know the order of the cards and can bet heavily on a game they are sure to win."

So, can a scanner encased in a diamond ring or any other piece of glittering jewelry really beat a casino out of millions? According to Tsang Kim-fung, a professor of electronic engineering at Hong Kong's City University, it most definitely can:

"The principle of the electronic card is the same as the Octopus card. A scanner can read the data of the chip within the card very easily. Some advanced countries are able to produce mini scanners that can be put in a ring, but it must be expensive."

How it works:

First the scanners reads the cards. Then a computer analyzes the code to determine the order of the cards. Since electronic shoes deal eight decks of cards, the cheats using the scanners have sufficient time to depart the table and analyze the results before returning and taking down the money via their bets made with advance knowledge of how the cards will turn out.

The casino manager said, "A cheat can bet small on the first few games and then go out to use a computer to analyze the order. After the order is memorized, they go back and bet heavily."

A casino owner spoke about the repercussions of suspecting prominent and legitimate high rollers:

"Our customers are rich. They wear multi-carat diamond jewelry, luxury watches. Most are superstitious and want to cut the cards before placing a bet. We've allowed them to do so in the past, and it would be hard for us to suddenly stop them from doing so now."

Allowing them to cut the cards appears to ease the function of getting a scanner into optimum position...if they have one.

Anti-cheating experts, those with high-tech know-how, say that Macau's casinos should replace the electronic cards immediately, even if they have to lose a few days of business doing so. This means improving the technology of the chips in the cards, not replacing the electronic cards with regular cards.

My Take: This high-tech threat is real and could be deadly for the casinos! If I were them, I'd go back to the regular cards without the computer chips. In that case, they'd only have to worry about "low-tech" cheating!