People trying to cheat in casinos may soon be taking more of a gamble than they realise. Grosvenor Casinos, a major UK chain, is assessing software that can spot cheating at the roulette table and alert the croupier.
Some people cheat at roulette by placing their chips on the table after the croupier has already called "last bets". Doing so gives a player a real advantage, because as the ball slows it becomes easier to predict which quarter of the wheel it will land in, says Boghos Boghossian, head of technology at London-based Ipsotek, which has come up with the system. Cheats will often work in pairs, with one trying to distract the croupier while the other places bets.
The new software would be installed on the existing CCTV cameras in casinos. To prevent cheating, the software analyses the video feed to first monitor the speed of the ball to determine when last bets are called. It then detects whenever a hand enters the betting area of the table and leaves a chip. Footage from the cameras is used to train statistical models to look for this type of event or activity.
It can also pick out another form of cheating called "top-hatting", which hinges on each player using specific-colour chips. This is when a cheat places a bet after the ball has landed, but the stack they place includes different coloured chips, borrowed from an accomplice, at its base.
If the croupier is on the ball and spots the late bet the cheat's chips will be removed from the table. But unless the croupier is really sharp they may assume that the accomplice's chips were already there and so leave them on the table. The software spots this by keeping tabs on the colours of chips placed during betting. So when a late bet is made and removed, the system knows if other chips have been added.
"When you have 10 people around a table all trying to place bets as late as possible it can be difficult to see these things," says Sean Cunningham, director of security for Rank Group, which owns Grosvenor Casinos. The software is currently only designed to work on roulette tables but if trials go well the plan is to extend this to blackjack and baccarat, says Boghossian. The group is due to make a decision on installing the software in January.
Casinos have used surveillance cameras for some time, but having an automated system to spot cheats is like giving the croupier an extra pair of eyes, says James Ferryman, who researches automated surveillance systems at the University of Reading, UK.
It's not the first time such software has been used in casinos. One system called MindPlay, now discontinued, used embedded cameras and invisible ink to keep track of cards. But it required specialist hardware and was not successful at detecting cheats.
Ipsotek's software is different because it uses the existing CCTV network. "You're trying to pick up anomalies, or anything that is unusual in the context," says Ferryman.
Followed, one camera at a time
A system called Tag and Track can automatically track people and vehicles in a town as they move from one camera to another.
Developed by Ipsotek, the software first detects and categorises different types of object. Once identified, these objects can then easily be tracked by the camera.
What's clever about the system, claims Boghos Boghossian of Ipsotek, is that after being shown training footage it can automatically learn the location of the different cameras in relation to one another. This means it can infer when someone leaves one camera, and where they will reappear. The system was shortlisted at the Global Security Challenge in London last week.
My take: Well, all this high and higher-tech video surveillance equipment in casinos is great--but it will never deter or catch the best of the cheats like myself and other highly-professional poker cheat and casino cheat teams.