I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Do casinos cheat?

Like the change of seasons, every 3 months or so a post pops up on the blackjack boards; I think the casino is cheating. This dealer was dealing seconds. This latest one really caught my attention:

 "i try to usually avoid male dealers, ... he fit all the criteria. male, middle-aged and had glasses."

"90% of the male dealers i've experienced, have been either 2nd dealers or preferential shufflers. in shoe games, you have to watch out for shoes with a taller face."

Unless this guy lives in Laos I would bet a LOT of money that this isn't true. Actually, if he does live in Laos I would bet you would not be able to find a dealer that was male, middle-aged, and wore glasses. I suspect this poster also worries that the government is trying to plant a microchip in his head, and black helicopters follow him whenever he goes outside. But okay, let's talk about cheating.

First - preferential shuffling. Preferential shuffling is the act of shuffling the deck when the count goes positive, and the player has an advantage. If the count goes positive they shuffle, and if the count goes negative they keep dealing. This is fairly common in casinos that deal hand-held games, not as a matter of course, but done to players they suspect are counting cards. It is an easy way to get a card counter to leave without any back off or hassle. It is clearly cheating. In Nevada the cheating law is NRS 465:

NRS 465.015  Definitions.  As used in this chapter:
     1.  “Cheat” means to alter the elements of chance, method of selection or criteria which determine:
     (a) The result of a game;
     (b) The amount or frequency of payment in a game;
     (c) The value of a wagering instrument; or
     (d) The value of a wagering credit.

You can see that shuffling when the count is positive does "alter the element of chance..." etc. No casino has ever been charged for this. It is one of those laws that is never enforced.  Just as under this law it is illegal every time a baccarat writes down the outcome of the hands on the cards the casino provides.

NRS 465.075  Use or possession of device to obtain advantage at playing game in licensed gaming establishment.
     1.  It is unlawful for any person to use, possess with the intent to use or assist another person in using or possessing with the intent to use any computerized, electronic, electrical or mechanical device which is designed, constructed, altered or programmed to obtain an advantage at playing any game in a licensed gaming establishment, including, without limitation, a device that:
     (a) Projects the outcome of the game;
     (b) Keeps track of cards played or cards prepared for play;
     (c) Analyzes the probability of the occurrence of an event relating to a game; or
     (d) Analyzes the strategy for playing or betting to be used in the game,
Ê except as may be made available as part of an approved game or otherwise permitted by the Commission.
     2.  As used in this section, “advantage” means a benefit obtained by one or more participants in a game through information or knowledge that is not made available as part of the game as approved by the Board or Commission.

A pencil is a device that keeps track of cards. Another law that is never enforced.  Why don't some lawyers file a class action suit on behalf of all the players who lost money due to preferential shuffling? I think they will tell you that it would be a very, very long, and expensive case, and they have better things to do with their time.  

What about "real" cheating. Cheating that is not preferential shuffling? Write this down, tape it to your bathroom mirror, and repeat it every day before you go out.

The odds of you being cheated at a shoe game in the U.S. are lower than the odds of you being hit by lightning.

Yes, we have all heard about the shoe with a prism in it that can deal seconds, and you can see one in a casino. It is in a display case at Barona Casino along with a bunch of  other cheating equipment. Now if you decide to play at your local VFW Hall or at a Filipino BBQ then you are on your own. (Although when I had games at Filipino BBQs they were 100% on the square.) But in a casino? Fugedaboutit!

What about a dealing seconds in a hand held game?  I ran into this a handful of times, but all of them were about 30 years ago. In fact there were 2 notorious hole-card game on the strip in Vegas where the guy would deliberately flash his hole card and then deal seconds to bust you out. But again - 30 years ago. You do need to be more careful on hand-held game, but forget about looking for a dead thumb or any of that other stuff. If the guy is good you are never going to see it. Cheating like this is really, really rare in the US, and it is not casino policy. This is some rogue dealer doing it on his own. If you are worried about it then just avoid hand-held games.

The most common form of cheating I have experienced is the "short shoe." You start counting a shoe, and the count starts zooming up. You get to the cut card and the shoe ends at +25. You track the shuffle, and cut the big cards to the front, and the count zooms up, and you get to the cut card and again the count is +25. Now you're really suspicious so you flat bet the minimum, and you get to the cut card again, and the count is +25. Now what do you do? In my case I turn around and head to the next casino because I have never, ever seen this in the US. I saw it in Belgium, and Russia, and Korea, but never in the US.

Now the important part, the stories. After all, why do we play this game if not for the stories?

There was an illegal casino in Seoul. It was in a high-rise office building across the Han river from our hangout in Itaewon. I had a counter friend named Malcolm from New Zealand who decided to check it out. Malcolm looked, and sounded like Col. Winchester in MASH, and was fearless. (One time at the Sands in Vegas a boss was sweating his game. Malcolm looked him in the eye, and said, "What are you staring at fuck wit?" The boss blanched, and walked away.) So Malcolm goes into this illegal casino. There are 3 or 4 tables and no players. He plays a few shoes, loses a few thousand dollars, and jumps up and starts yelling at the owner. "You dirty bastard, this is a short shoe. There are cards missing in that shoe." The owner starts apologizing  says there must be some mistake, offers to get new cards, and spread the new decks to show Malcolm all the cards are there.  Malcolm says, "I want my $3,500 back that I lost." and the guy gave it to him! Malcolm then played with the new cards, and won about $6,000! When I went to play this casino the cards were fine, but after a few shoes where I had won some money they brought in new cards. The dealer was about to start shuffling them without spreading them and I stopped her. "Spread the decks so I can see the cards." She started to fan them out and we see, Ace, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5. "Oh, sorry, big mistake. I don't know how that happen." If you click the interview link on the right, and read the Darryl Purpose interview you will find a story about a casino in Korea that Darryl played where they didn't have money to pay him. This is the same casino.  So here we have a casino that was known to cheat, didn't have enough money to pay right away, and yet everyone I know made money there. (See post about conventional wisdom.)

What about the idea that casinos don't cheat because they would lose their license? Horseshit!.

A casino has less chance of losing their license for cheating than you have of being cheated.

About 10 years ago I heard from a very well known and respected blackjack authority (a name every reader here would recognize) that there was a casino in Vegas that was shorting shoes. At the time I was working on a show for Travel Channel called Cheaters Beware. As part of the show we were able to interview some gaming agents, and the head of gaming enforcement. The producer of the show asked the head of enforcement what would happen if this were true. He said, "Oh, we would take that very seriously. The first thing we would do is send them a letter stating that this had been reported." Yeah, with crack detective work like that I'm sure you catch a lot of casino cheating.

I do know a couple of dealers who stole from the casinos. One told me he did cheat players to make up for the money he was dumping off to his agents, the other said he never did because it meant he was twice as likely to be caught. I think the fact that the first guy dealt in small clubs had something to do with his need to make up the shortfall. I did know one guy who just cheated the players up in Reno. He was never asked to do it, and never paid to do it. He was a magician, and I guess just did it to be better liked by the bosses. He seems to regret it now. All of these cases were 25+ years ago. One of my favorite stories from back them was a guy surveillance saw dealing seconds. They called gaming, and started watching the guy. It appeared he was dealing seconds for no rhyme or reason. They watched him for a week, and finally busted him. They got him in the back room, and asked what the hell he was doing? His answer - "practicing." Just as an aside - every dealer I heard about back then that was fired for stealing, the next time I saw them they were dealing at Binion's. I guess the Binion's figured no one would be crazy enough to steal from them.

Don't worry about casinos cheating. Play your game and rest easy. BUT, if you ever do run into a short shoe in the U.S. email me. I will pay a finders fee if it turns out to be true. One man's trash is another man's treasure, and I think a short shoe would be a gold mine.

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about casino cheating I highly recommend, Casino Game Protection. It is expensive, but the best book of its kind out there.


ZenMaster_Flash said...

Thanx muchly for "Do casinos cheat?"

I was cheated but once, by a dealer dealing "seconds"
at John Ascuagua's Nugget in Sparks, Nevada.

The casino did not accept "light black" betting at Single Deck for those who used their intellect.

They "86'd" no Card Counters. They simply cheated them until they "got the message."

I quickly learned that they have a "mechanic" deal all 4 consecutive (single deck) "backdoor snappers" to herself ... until the patron gets the message.

The year was either 1986 or 1987 if memory serves.

Incidentally, my Dad was thrice hit by lightning.

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered about the long held statement that preferential shuffling is used against card counters. It's certainly more effective against card counters, but it can be used against anybody. It's just that only card counters can detect it. Hence, it seems like it only happens to card counters.

Were I an unethical but risk-averse dealer, I would preferential shuffle from the average gambler, and preferential shuffle the money back to my cohorts. It's not seconds-dealing money, but it's a very low risk, low skill technique.


Richard Munchkin said...

Hit by lightning 3 times!? what was his job? Installing lightning rods during thunder storms? That is amazing.

To anon, it would be possible for a dealer to try to dump to an agent that way but seems like a really "cheap chisel". The edge would be very small, and if the agent were betting serious money the dealer still might be picked off.

ZenMaster_Flash said...

Yeah, thrice struck.

1. Sweeping out a grocery store onto the sidewalk.

2. Fishing while ignoring hazardous thunderheads.

3. Standing next to a drainpipe on our home.

Richard Munchkin said...

I wonder what the world record is?

Brock W said...

Is finding a lottery retailer who cheats players worth any finders fee? A lot of people still trust the retailer to check to see if a ticket won.

Richard Munchkin said...

I don't see how this would result in a lawsuit for me so sorry, no finders fee. But the guy should be exposed.

Unknown said...

What would happen if I reported a casino for cheating and they get caught would I get my money back and can I be anonymous?

Unknown said...

What would happen if I reported a casino for cheating and they get caught would I get my money back and can I be anonymous?

Richard Munchkin said...

@Daniel Byun - You don't say in what state. In NV you could report it and most likely absolutely nothing will happen, and you have no right to even know the results of the Gaming Control's findings of their investigation. And no you would not remain anonymous.

The problem is it is very difficult to prove a casino is cheating.

X said...

Seems a bit overstated to say you're more likely to get struck by lightning than cheated, considering how common it was with the mob 40 years ago. How did the authorities get rid of all of it if it's so hard to prove? The likelihood of getting cheated by a flashing noobie dealer is probably that low, and those are the kind you like to play against, but experienced dealers? Probably a few percent of experienced dealers are able to deal seconds. The instructional materials are all over the internet.