Back in 2020 I sat down with table games guru Bill Zender and reviewed our notes from the previous 20 years on casino scams. Our objective was to come up with our “Top 20.” We went back and forward on a number of scams but finally agreed on the list. I followed up our discussions and research with an article called The Top 20 Casino Gambling Scams of the Century that was published in Global Gaming Business’ annual Security & Surveillance section.
Since writing that article I’ve often thought about the commonalities of each scam. Not just the Top 20 on our list but all casino gambling scams over the last 20 years. What do most of them have in common? Could they have been prevented? What can we learn to minimize the risk of history repeating itself or to even improve game protection in the casino industry?
I’ll cut to the chase. I believe that over 90 percent of the casino cheating scams could have been prevented if two things were maintained – randomness and procedures.
Most scams (arguably all) are picked up… eventually. Casino managers know that cheating is a cost of doing business; however, most expect speedy detection and mitigation of any scam. I’ve found that quick detection and loss minimization is more often achieved by effective checks and balances, well trained staff and more supervisors on the floor dedicated to watching the games. Without these things, casinos are open to losing a lot of money.
Casinos are generally well equipped to protect their games. Unlike backroom private poker games and illegal gambling, casinos have manned 24/7 live surveillance operations using state-of-the-art camera systems. With that being said, all the cameras made in China won’t help your casino unless you have five things that are absolutely necessary to protect casino games.
What I’ve learned is that casinos have become more focused on detection than prevention. They often rely heavily on the doctrine of thou shall call surveillance to look at it, if we are getting beat. Often the damage is already done. The losses could have been prevented if casino management had focused on and applied 5 principles of game protection. These 5 principles apply to all casinos games – live and electronic. They can be applied for strengthening game protection on current games on the floor or assessing new games before they go on the floor.
- Random Outcome
The preservation of game randomness is the number one responsibility of a casino executive. It is the essence of gambling. When randomness is compromised or manipulated there is no integrity in the results and fairness is lost for both the players and the house. From a financial perspective, the house relies on randomness to deliver steady long-term profits through the mathematical house edge intrinsically built into the game.
I estimate 90 percent of casino losses incurred by cheating over the last 20 years has been caused by the compromise of randomness, assisted by at least one staff procedural violation. It simple terms, the fix was in.
The monster scams of the 21st century (so far) has been different variations of “baccarat sequence scams” where cards were recorded and identified before they were dealt. This is the casino industry’s equivalent to insider information in the stock market. To make the scam work often dealers are recruited to breach at least one dealing or shuffling procedure. I estimate close to a billion dollars have been stolen from casinos around the world using baccarat sequence scams.
When the granddaddy of all baccarat sequence scams, “the cooler,” became too risky to pull off after camera systems were introduced in the ’70s and ’80s, cheats didn’t take long to realize that the “false shuffle” was undetectable from overhead fixed cameras. It would take years of plundering and pillaging casinos across the world before casino manufacturers came up with the solution – a shuffle machine. This worked well until concealed camera technology got better and the creativity of baccarat sequence cheaters went into hyper drive.
Concealed cameras have been used by cheating teams to identify sequences of undealt cards in various ways. Cameras, either hard wired to recorders or streaming via bluetooth to the internet to an outside source, have been concealed on players and dealers. More imaginative scams include cameras planted in fake chips, dealing shoes and even shuffle machines.
Manipulating random outcomes in casino games is not exclusive to baccarat. Other examples include rigged roulette wheels, dodgy dice, marked cards and edge sorting. These methods involve tampering or compromised gaming equipment.
It is important that all gaming equipment from playing cards to shuffle machines are “integrity inspected” on a regular basis to ensure they haven’t been compromised. It should also never be assumed that gaming equipment purchased from a manufacturer will pass the integrity inspection on delivery.
In 2014 a Russian high-tech organized cheating network was discovered in the US. In probably the most sophisticated slot machine scam our industry has seen, the team led by a hacker called Alex wrote an algorithm that enabled cheats to predict future jackpots on the machines. By reverse engineering different slot machines they discovered the computer random number generators used in the machines were not random. They were pseudorandom. Outcomes were predictable. This scam had actually been perpetrated for decades by cheats who knew slot machines weren’t random. This team just scaled up and took advantage of the explosion of machines around the world and the ignorance of the casino industry towards what drives the randomness (or pseudo-randomness) of slot machines.
Not all games in the casino are 100 percent random. Games can be broken down as independent and dependent trial games. Roulette and craps are independent. The previous outcome doesn’t change the odds (probability) of the upcoming outcome. Card games like blackjack and baccarat are dependent trial games. As cards are dealt the odds change slightly depending on the amount of cards left. As the deck is depleted the state of the game and the probabilities change.
Card counting is a byproduct of card games. Tracking cards and knowing what’s left in the deck can help you in your betting and playing strategies. This is not cheating, it’s paying attention. The question players have to ponder is whether the edge gained is worth it financially and time-wise. On games like baccarat, it’s not. On other games like blackjack or side betting it can be but a lot of factors have to come into play including eluding detection and getting backed off.
Three pieces of advice for casinos:
- Understand what makes every game random and guard it.
- If your game randomizer is electronic, don’t assume it can’t be compromised.
- Scrutinize the baccarat shuffle and cut. This is a baccarat cheats “happy place.”
Willy Allison is a game protection consultant/trainer and founder of the annual World Game Protection Conference. Willy’s website is www.willyallison.com. The conference website is www.worldgameprotection.com.