Busted: Analyzing and Maintaining Table Game Evidence from a Law Enforcement Point of View

Cheaters come in all shapes and sizes, using various and sundry methods, so how should investigators handle it? Table-game expert Bill Zender explains the proper procedures to employ when catching a thief.

Busted: Analyzing and Maintaining Table Game Evidence from a Law Enforcement Point of View

As a former Enforcement Division agent with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, I understand some of the limitations other regulatory officers and agents have when they deal with cheating involving casino gambling equipment. Many of these regulators have taken courses on casino gaming that are presented by several state agencies familiar with procedures of casino gambling and cheating. The state of Nevada is one of the states that teaches in-depth courses on the rule and play of the game as well as various incidents of past table game cheating, and the Nevada sessions are generally open to other gaming regulators throughout the country.

Although Nevada’s and several other states’ game protection presentations are very good, I still witness situations where the agents and officers assigned to investigating table game cheating sometimes struggle with investigating situations and how to employ the best methods of impounding the evidence necessary for the future prosecution of a cheating case.

This month’s Casino-ology article is based on a simple examination of the different processes for impounding and examining suspected marked playing cards and altered dice, and the issues surrounding the randomness of the casino roulette wheel head. The target audience of this article is the regulatory agents and officers who help protect against cheating and enforce our country’s gambling laws. However, this article should also be of interest to casino personnel who are also responsible for protecting the casino’s assets and assisting the regulatory offices that will collect evidence and information to successfully build prosecutable cheating cases.

Suspicion of Marked Cards

When impounding playing cards into evidence, whether it is suspected that the cards are marked or not, place the playing cards loosely into an evidence bag. Do not wrap the cards with a rubber band. Compressing the deck(s) with rubber bands could render any crimps or bends unreadable to the investigator examining the cards.

When inspecting the cards, hold the suspected deck, or group of cards, loosely in your hand and peer at the edges to look for corner crimps and bends down length and width of the cards. By loosening your grip, any crimped or bent cards will open and expose even the slightest physical alteration.

If physical alterations are discovered, look at opposite ends or sides of the cards to see if the cards are marked there as well. If the lower right corner is crimped, the up left corner should also be crimped. Marking opposite sides/corners allows the cheater to see the markings from any seat on the table.

Look for a specific rank pattern. For example, common cards marked for blackjack are 10-value cards (and aces). Look to see if most of those cards of certain values are marked. Remember that not all cards in play will be marked. Usually about 75 percent to 90 percent of the cards are marked when the activity of marking is done by a person(s) at the table. Anytime a deck is discovered to be 100-percent marked, the cards were probably marked off the table beforehand, and the investigation needs to consider possible tampering by an employee(s).

Second, if daub or another foreign substance is suspected to have been used to mark the playing cards, you may need to use more than the naked eye to efficiently examine the cards. Use both Ultraviolet (UV) and Infrared (IR) light sources to look at playing cards. Most analysis of playing cards suspected of being marked with a foreign substance are checked using a UV light source commonly known as “blacklight.” It’s important to note that most cards are marked with a substance that reflects IR light. Seeing IR marking presence a problem since the investigator needs to employ both an IR light source and an IR lens to see the markings. A simple solution regarding IR analysis is night vision cameras which use an IR light source. If you do not have access to IR lights and lenses, go into one of the casino’s nightclubs, spread the suspected cards on a table, and look at them through the night vision camera’s monitor. This also applies to outdoor cameras using an IR light source.

Once a marked card pattern has be recognized, note the card values and how they were marked. If your investigation indicates that the playing cards are marked, but you are unable to see markings, it is better to outsource to an expert than it is to completely disregard the possibility of marked card play.

Suspicion of Altered Dice

There are numerous ways to alter dice to make them roll certain numbers more frequently. However, there are only a few practical ways to alter dice to be used in casino table games. This includes not only the game of craps, but also dice used in alternative games like Pai Gow tiles and Pai Gow poker. Note: Don’t rule out “physical” dice used in electronic games.

The most common method for altering dice used in a casino craps would be for the cheater to use “miss-spotted” dice. Miss-spotted dice are manufactured with the same spot number repeated on opposing sides of the die. Miss-spots are designed to roll only certain numbers (or to not roll certain numbers). A simple inspection of the dice will reveal the opposing sides do not add up to a total of seven. This form of altered dice is used by cheaters since the method will provide immediate results while other forms of altered dice such as “loads” and “mis-shaped” dice provide results over a lengthy number of rolls. If mis-spots are discovered, the investigator needs to record the numbers on each dice and calculate the possible calculation those dice will roll.

In alternative games, the most common method used to control dice is known as “juiced” dice. Juiced dice are cubes that have been manufactured using a small amount of finely grounded “rare earth” which can hold a magnetic charge. These dice look exactly like regular translucent casino quality dice even though they will react to the polarity of a small magnetic field. Magnetic dice will roll an exact number (based on polarity). These dice are examined using a medium-strength magnet. When the magnet is passed over of near juiced dice, the dice will react by sticking to the magnet. During the analysis, the investigator needs to note which numbers react to the “positive” polarity and which numbers react to “negative” polarity. Magnetic dice normally would not be used on a casino crap table because the magnetic field necessary for the dice to react would need to cover an extremely large area.

Suspicion of an Altered Roulette Wheel Head

If it is suspected that a roulette wheel head has been altered, the best method for determining this possibility is through statistical analysis. The best statistical tools are standard deviation and Chi-square Goodness of Fit test.

Using Chi-square is considered the “gold standard” for evaluating any possibility that a roulette wheel head has been damaged or altered. The investigator needs to conduct a ball spin test and record the results of at least 4,000 spins (10,000 is the optimal number of spins). This should be performed by dealers or individuals who know the proper method to spin the ball. Note: The ball needs to be spun in the same direction as it does when it is in use with the wheel crown rotating in the opposite direction. By conducting a Chi-square statistical analysis, the investigator can determine which numbers hit more often (and less often) than probability would dictate (number bias).

Once the wheel head has been analyzed and bias numbers identified, the wheel head can be examined for physical alterations that would create this situation. The wheel head randomness can be affected by mis-shaping the number pocket walls (frets), altering the surface of the wheel head crown near the specific pockets, and/or by placing or spraying a substance directly into specific wheel head pockets. Note: This also may indicate that the entire roulette wheel head is worn and has developed number bias through normal wear and tear. Identifying wheel bias and using that information to gain an advantage over the game is considered unwanted by the casino but is not considered illegal.

When impounding a roulette wheel head, the investigator needs to use a wooden crate specifically made for transporting wheel heads. Any testing of the wheel head can be conducted on any level surface, but for the best result it might be wise to test spin the wheel head on the table where it was in play.

If anyone has questions regard any of this material, please feel free in contacting me at wzender@aol.com, or visit my website at www.billzender.com.

Articles by Author: Bill Zender

As former Nevada Gaming Control Agent, casino operator, professional card counter and casino consultant, Bill Zender has been involved in various areas of gaming and hospitality since 1976. In the past, Zender has instructed courses on game protection, card counting, advantage play and gaming operations at various colleges and institutions throughout the country. As a member of JMJ, Inc., Zender was an owner and operator of the Aladdin Hotel and Casino and has additional operational experience in card room casinos in California and is considered an expert in Asian gaming. Besides his practical gaming experience, Zender holds a bachelors in hotel administration and a masters in business. As a gaming author Zender has penned seven non-fiction books on gaming including Card Counting for the Casino Executive, and the Casino-ology series. Owner/consultant of Bill Zender and Associates, Zender spent was general manager at a major California cardroom casino from 2018-2019. For more information, visit billzender.com.