Criminals, including scammers, follow the money.
They target institutions such as banks and casinos where, they believe, there’s money for the taking. Some criminals, such as robbers, use force steal money but scammers often try a low-key approach in which they employ a plan that, they hope, will allow them to walk out with ill-gotten gains.
In some ways, it’s harder for scammers to operate today. More and more players are playing online casino games where the result is determined by a Random Number Generator that can’t be fooled. At land-based casinos, technology is sophisticated which makes it easier for authorities to identify a scam. In other ways however, the problem is more acute than ever. Thanks to the same types of technology that the casino uses to prevent scamming, a scammer doesn’t even have to visit the casino in order to perpetuate his scam.
Casinos still have the upper hand, thanks to both their own security teams and to law enforcement. But it’s interesting to revisit some of history’s most notorious casino scams and the brazen people who tried to pull them off – and sometimes succeeded.
In 1973 a Casino Deauville roulette dealer succeeded in defrauding the casino of almost $1 million. The dealer constructed a package of cigarettes that had a casino transmitter embedded in it. The receiver was placed inside a roulette ball. The package of cigarettes was given to the dealer’s sister, Monique, who would stand near the roulette table and push on the transmitter button. That would activate the ball which would then land on a pre-determined area of the roulette reel.
The sister’s husband was the bettor and, knowing on what part of the roulette reel the ball was likely to land, he would place the bets. He achieved 90% success in his wagers.
The scam was uncovered when the casino owner, who was worried about the uptake in roulette losses, tried to seduce Monique. After she rebuffed him he took notice of her and started to wonder why she always sat at the same roulette table – the one next to the table where all the wins were taking place — where she would make low bets that she never won. He called in a debugging crew which found both the transmitter and the receiver.
The trio was arrested but in the end, after returning their ill-gotten gains, they served no prison time.
The Roselli brothers (the name by which they were known – no one knows who they really were) collected almost $40 million from U.S. casinos by forging the identities of unsuspecting casino patrons from 1995 to 2000. They then built up credit with various casinos. The Rosellis were able to identify individuals with perfect credit scores using the services of a computer hacker.
They opened credit accounts with these individuals’ names and deposited $50,000 into each account. Once the casino extended credit to these accounts the Rosellis played off of the credit placing up to $100,000 in single bets to build up the credit lines.
By the end of the run, they had multiple accounts with at least $1 million in each account.
The Rosellis disappeared in 2000, taking the money and leaving their innocent victims to answer to the casinos for the empty accounts. The fraudsters were never traced, the casinos lost the money and the victims spent years trying to get their identities and credit ratings re-established.
Pai Gow John
Phuong Quoc Truong, known in the casino world as Pai Gow John, ran a card-cheating ring that was said to have netted up to $7 million from over 20 casinos in a little over 5 years. The crux of the scam was a simple false shuffle but the complexity of the fraud was that it involved up to 30 dealers in several U.S. states and Canadian provinces, scouts to assess a casino’s vulnerabilities, several players who would sit at a table together and high stakes.
The scam was executed at the poker table where one “player”/member of the ring would write down the order of the cards as they were dealt. After running through the deck, the dealer would gather the cards and shuffle them. The dealer, who was part of the scam, would do a “false shuffle” in which he would keep a group of the cards – about 40 – intact. In that way the “player” could proceed in the next round, knowing which cards were coming. That player would signal the other ring members and they would bet accordingly.
Authorities started investigating in 2003 but it wasn’t until 2007 that they were able to close down the scam.
Phil Ivey, Jr.
Phil Ivey Jr. was a professional poker player who was accused of scamming the Crockfords Casino out of £7.3 million (about $11 million) in 2012. According to the casino, during a high stakes game of Punto Banco, Ivey engaged in “edge sorting” which involves tracking imperfections on the backs of playing cards to identify the cards’ values. These small imperfections are on the backs of all cards since the cards aren’t cut symmetrically. If a person can keep track of the minor differences — for example, a deck with a diamond pattern might have cards that have a quarter diamond on the bottom left and a half diamond on the top right – they have an edge over the house.
Ivey waited until they found a deck that was asymmetric and then exploited their advantage. The case went to court and the judge sided with the casino, saying that edge sorting is a form of cheating.
Four scammers playing stud poker in Cannes were able to secretly mark cards with symbols that denoted the value of the cards using invisible ink. When the players returned to the casino they wore special contact lens that made the ink visible to their eyes only. Their first session went well and they won over $80,000 but when they came back, casino security was able to identify a suspicious series of wins.
Upon inspection, the authorities discovered the marked cards and then, the contact lens. The scammers were sentenced to jail sentences for the fraud.
The Cutter Gang’s scams ran at casinos in the Philippines and in the U.S in 2011. They targeted the baccarat table where they used a tiny camera hidden in their sleeves to separate the cards and ascertain information when they were invited to cut the deck at the outset of each round. After the cut the player who had cut the cards and who had the information on his camera would excuse himself from the table. He would pass the camera on to another player who could use that information in his betting.
The authorities shut down the scam in 2011 but they weren’t able to gather enough evidence to prosecute members of the gang or even to collect the $1 million that they had collected. The gang then tried their scam in the Philippines where they were re-arrested but they managed to escape and were never found.
In 2004 a group of gamblers came to the United States from Eastern Europe. They won over $2 million at casino roulette tables by combining their knowledge of physics with an understanding of how the roulette wheel works. The scammers scanned the roulette wheel with their smartphone camera so that they could read the orbital decay. Orbital delay involves a calculation based on the speed of the ball and the dimensions of the wheel. With that knowledge it’s possible to forecast in which section of the wheel the ball is most likely to land (the technique is called “sector targeting”).
The scam was detected and the participants were arrested but authorities couldn’t find any legal basis for prosecution and they were allowed to keep their money.