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Casinos on guard against tech-savvy baccarat ring

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Leila Navidi

Dealer Joe Carrion waits inside the high-limit baccarat room in January at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Wed, Feb 2, 2011 (2:01 a.m.)

On the eve of the Chinese New Year holiday and one of the biggest gambling events of the year for the Strip, casinos are rolling out the red carpet for baccarat players — and looking out for a group of cheaters suspected of scamming Las Vegas out of more than $1 million last month.

That’s when state Gaming Control Board agents detained a group of baccarat players at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, one of the casinos thought to have been victimized by a scam that involves having a player “cut” the deck by dragging the cut card over the top of the deck and slightly separating the cards from one another with an index finger.

Using a miniature camera tucked under the gambler’s sleeve, the player records the value and suit of each card and uses the information later.

Although the casino suspected the gambler of videotaping the cards, the camera couldn’t be seen, so the gambler and others in his party were released for lack of evidence, said casino security consultant Bill Zender, who helps casinos detect such schemes.

Cosmopolitan spokeswoman Amy Rossetti declined to comment and referred questions to the Control Board, saying it was against company policy to discuss ongoing investigations.

The scam is thought to be the handiwork of an Asian group called the “cutters” that has ripped off casinos worldwide for tens of millions of dollars, Zender said. Perfected in Asia, the group is testing the scheme on casinos in the United States, he said.

The group consummates the scam by transferring the camera images to a computer where the sequence of cards in the deck is written on a cheat sheet, he said. A different group affiliated with the cheating ring enters the casino, sits at the table and bets accordingly when the prerecorded sequence of cards emerges, he said.

Although dealers typically cut cards after shuffling them, baccarat dealers invite players to cut decks after the cards are shuffled. Like shuffling, casinos cut cards to ensure that the outcome of the cards is random. The bettor in this scam knows which cards will be played next because he immediately sits down to gamble after his co-conspirator has determined the value of the cards and while the sequence of videotaped cards is still in play.

Unlike card games such as blackjack that employ strategy and offer players choices on how to play their hands, moves in baccarat are forced by the cards players are dealt — an easier route for cheats to determine when the cards will fall their way so they can bet big, for example.

Police in Macau warned casinos there of the scam last year, according to an industry memo circulating among Las Vegas casinos. The cheaters are “extremely well-organized,” the memo said.

The suspected cheats at Cosmopolitan weren’t arrested because it wasn’t obvious to the casual observer that the gambler was using a camera during play, in violation of Nevada law, Zender said. Law enforcement needs probable cause to conduct a body search to determine whether a gambler is hiding a cheating device under his clothing, he said.

The Gaming Control Board’s enforcement chief, Jerry Markling, wouldn’t elaborate on the scam, but said an investigation of an Asian baccarat cheating ring is under way. Asian regulators and casinos, which commonly share information with casino authorities in the United States, are assisting in the investigation, he said.

Although the suspected cheats are still at large, Markling said scam artists are usually caught when they seek another score.

Knowing what the perpetrators look like will deter the first group from resurfacing but may not be a great help in combating a cheating ring the size of the “cutters,” which is believed to have dozens of members, Zender said.

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Discussion: 16 comments so far…

  1. "No probable cause" to search the perpetrators ?
    That is hilarious. Winning a ton of money, by itself,
    may not warrant looking up someone's sleeve, but
    give me a break ! It is not a full-body search ! Doh !

  2. Tom
    I think its when the player takes the plastic card to cut the cards with and uses it or his finger nail to drag across the deck from say bottom to top and this action causes the card to be exposed briefly one by one even tho its fast to the human eye it is recorded on camera and the play back can be slowed to show what the cards are, and with a program you could know what a future hand and so forth would be because of the fixed rules involved in the game.

    I think

  3. this is the typical Vegas paranoia! It is basically impossible for the players to scan each and every card that way without pulling their attention on them. And more than that: The player has to cut the deck with the card and then the dealer cuts it, hence, bringing it into a completely different order. Now, on top of that, the casinos have several rules how many cards need to be burned before the first hand is being dealt. To me, the best rule to create addtional and maximum randomness that's drawing the first card. Depending on the value of this card, the dealer now has to draw the same amount of cards than the value of the first and exposed card was. 2=2 cards, 9= 9 cards, 10, Jack=11 cards, Queen =12 cards,king= 13 cards. Ace= 1 card.

    And only once this is done the first hand is being dealt, and if there's only one card missing by the "so-called-video-scan" by the guy who had to cut the deck, the entire information becomes completely worthless.
    to me, this is just the paranoid way the casinos try to find cheats, just like they suspect a counter behind each and every serious and (from time to time) winning b-j player.

    From Switzerland

  4. the idea might work, but it's too obvious when the player "scans" the deck.you have to be extremely skilled and fast to make it not obvious, and the crew behind the scenery must be super fast to ship over the info to the players once the cut has been executed and the cards are back in the shoe for the first hand.
    Also, there must be some communication going on so the people know exactly when to bet banker and when to go on tie, etc.
    I don't think this is the cheating as it's goin on these days....

    From Switzerland

  5. Boris
    I agree these casino's use paranoia to there advantage not only for the commission but to the patrons as well, As you indicated that if someone begins to win at blackjack then they must be a cheat so now if you vary your bet by three units or more they will 86 you or ask you to leave.

    What the casino's want people to do is sit down at a $25 min table and bet $25 per hand and not wager any more when you start to win, They want you to play the same amount every time that way you will never overcome a loss and or break even, They want to condition people as to how they want you to play.

    It's getting to the point to where they want you to put say a $20.00 token in a machine push a button and the machine will flash winner/loser that's it no reels no sounds no frills just win/lose.

  6. "You been here four hour, you go home now!"

  7. casinokid, 100 per cent with you on that one. I remember that day I was playing some b-j with a friend out there at Lake Las Vegas resort casino. The spread offered by the casino was ridiculous, 10 minimum, 200 maximum, 5 minimum, 100 maximum. Idiotic. Then we started to play anyways, and after 4-5 hands or so, the "pit boss" or whatever that was in the suit eying us just like we were outlaws, came to the table and checked back with the discarded cards, obviously keeping track of the count and figuring we must have been counters. The duck but I don't care about wnning or losing 100 on a 5 dollar b-j but when the pit boss starts getting nervous because we bet 15 or 20 instead of 5 then it's time to walk on.
    You know, it was about 1 year or two before they closed for bankruptcy. I am curious what the new management will do in order to attract new players. Hopefully they have good players club welcome incentives, and perhaps some good machines in there....at least for the first 90 days of operation (before going bankrupt again....).

    From Switzerland