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!

Friday, May 10, 2013


When I talk to civilians about professional gambling a question I often get is, "Do you wear disguises?" I have on a couple occasions worn a disguise, and I think the topic of changing your appearance is an important one. My first attempt at disguise was a character I called "The Mover From Vancouver." (This was 30+ years ago.) I had a pair of green coveralls, the kind a mechanic wears when working on cars. I put those on, along with a Red Man (chewing tobacco) hat. I popped the hood of my car and rubbed some grease into my hands, and to complete the look bought a cheap cigar. My story was that I was a truck driver from Canada, and I talked like a real hoser, aye. I played at the old Aladdin in Las Vegas, and the one good thing came out of it. When you chew on a cigar you get little pieces of tobacco in your mouth. I was sitting on first base, and I would turn my head toward the pit, and spit the tobacco flakes. Trust me, no boss hung around my side of the table. The bad thing was they just thought it odd that a guy dressed like me was betting two hands of $500. Later that day I ran into a friend who said, "I saw a homeless guy outside the Aladdin today that looked just like you." Yeah, not the best disguise.

The lesson - make sure your character looks like he can afford to bet big money. And, if you want to keep bosses away, spit tobacco at them.

Around the same time one of my teammates had a lot of heat from the Griffin Agency. He had black hair, and a beard, and almost always wore a suit and tie. He shaved the beard, dyed his hair blond, got a black satin jumpsuit open to the navel, and wrap-around sunglasses. Enter - Neon Leon! To complete the disguise he had a little bottle that he held up to his nose, and pretended to snort cocaine. Today that sounds completely insane, but in the late 70s and early 80s cocaine was everywhere. People wore coke spoons as jewelry. I even saw people wearing crucifixes that were coke spoons! Neon Leon played at the Marina for about an hour, losing a few thousand dollars. On his way to the cage he was grabbed by security, and hauled into the back room. Not for counting! They thought he was there to make a drug deal! Neon showed them he had no drugs, the bottle was empty, and explained that this was all a disguise because he was a famous card counter, and if the pit bosses knew who he was they would not let him play blackjack. The security guards called up to the blackjack pit and told them the story. The pit bosses started laughing, and told them, "Tell him he can come back and play all he wants."

The lesson - make sure your character doesn't look like a criminal.

One friend had a lot of Griffin heat so he got himself a cheap wig, and fake beard. He was sitting on a BJ game in the Silver Slipper where he was very well known. A boss came walking through the pit, glanced at him, and did a 180. He walked over to my friend and said, "Is that a fake beard?" My friend rather sheepishly said, "Yeah." The boss said, "I thought so." and walked away.

The lesson - if you are going to get a wig or fake beard don't get the cheap one.

When I first started playing I had a dark brown, bushy fro, a dark mustache, and rather large tinted glasses with big gold frames. After a while I got pretty well known around Las Vegas, and decided it was time for a major change of look. I got contact lenses, cut my hair very short and dyed it blond, shaved the mustache, put on a neck brace, and walked with a limp using a cane. One day I was playing at the Sands, and I could tell that bosses were having conversations about me. They knew I looked familiar, but they just couldn't put their finger on it. I decided to finish out the shoe I was playing when a woman boss came back from a break. She took one look at me and said, "What happened to you?" I said, "I had a  car accident." She said, "No, I mean to your hair!" I told her that I had done it for a part in a movie back in Los Angeles. That story worked with her, but I left before she started describing me to the other bosses.

The lesson - one boss in 500 is just sharp. There are some that just aren't going to be fooled. I tend to think women are more observant than men, but maybe that is just my sexism.

My friend D was very, very well known in Atlantic City after the famed "experiment." He decided to make a serious project out of changing his appearance. He started working out, and lost a lot of weight. He had his name changed, grew a goatee, permed his hair, and dyed his hair and beard black. He then added skin tint to darken his skin to the point that he looked African American. To really seal the deal he went to DMV and had his drivers license photo taken with his new look. He borrowed a full length man's mink coat from a friend. (What kind of friend owns a men's full length mink?) He showed up  at Resorts with two young girls, and a Dr's bag. He walked up to a blackjack table, and poured $100,000 out on the table saying, "Boys, I came to play." The disguise worked perfectly, and they treated him like royalty. When the play was over he flew out to CA and I picked him up at the airport. I took him to a car rental place, and the guy behind the counter took one look at his driver's license and said, "You kind of lost your tan." (D had shaved, and was no longer wearing the skin tint, and his hair was back to light brown. He casually said, "Oh, I was wearing makeup when that photo was taken." The guy behind the counter called the police! Fortunately the police weren't interested, and D was able to rent the car.

The lesson - If you take the time to do it right disguises can work wonders.

When I was a dealer one night the pit was buzzing. I asked what was going on, and a boss said, "See that woman on table 4? That's a guy!" I remember thinking that this caused such a distraction that players could be doing anything on the other tables and no one would notice. In my interviews John C. of the MIT team talked about playing in drag, and Cat Hulbert tried dressing as a man. Neither of them got away with it for long.

The lesson - Switching gender probably won't work as a player, but might work great to turn the pit for someone else.

The most complicated disguise we tried happened when I was working in the movie business. We hired a special effects makeup artist to make over a teammate. C was a bald white guy. She stretched elastic behind his head, and glued it behind his temples. This pulled his eyes back making him look Asian. She then got very small pieces of plastic tubing and inserted them in his nostrils to make his nose bigger. She topped it off with skin tint, and a black wig. She taught C how to apply all this, and the procedure took about an hour. C thought he looked completely ridiculous, and the casino would spot it immediately. We were playing in Korea at the time, and looking Asian would be a big plus. He put on his getup, and when he stepped into the elevator a guy looked at him and said, "What part of India are you from?" He got a lot of extended life in Korea off that disguise.

The lesson - Paying for professional help can pay off.

My friends have tried it all: wigs, beards, makeup, eye stretching, fat suits, and even dressing up as Santa Claus. Some worked, most did not. Everyone I know eventually gave up on the disguises, even the ones that worked well, because they are just too much hassle. You spend an hour or more applying this disguise, and then go out and sometimes only get to play for 20 minutes. The makeup runs, the tint gets on your hands, and then on the chips. You can't rub your face or scratch your nose without fearing that you smeared something. Eventually everyone gets sick of it. So what's a player to do? I'll talk about that in part 2. Stay tuned.


Nyne said...

Great post!
You mentioned making sure you look like you can afford to bet the money, but something else I like to consider is using a look that doesn't make it obvious you might be carrying much or any cash. In other words, make it so that your look makes your bets look plenty plausible, but not so flashy that you are going to get robbed in the parking lot or non-casino locations. Some examples might be removing your fancy watch as soon as you are out of the casino and dressing down before going for an offsite dinner. Looking like you can afford to make the bets and not making yourself a target can be conflicting goals, but it's something worth thinking about.

Richard Munchkin said...

I definitely agree. I'll have to write something about personal security in the future. That is an important topic.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post and all the stories. :)

Anonymous said...

Good one!

I'm not 100% sure that I agree on the importance of having the look that you can afford to bet big money. I see quite a few people that look like they live in the trailer park who are some of the biggest players in the casino. There's a guy who's always playing at the Silver Legacy, in a wheelchair, with some terrible nervous system condition or partial paralysis. He generally gets a reserved table, and always has a messy pile of black chips in front of him. His chin is just about on the rail--and no, he is NOT using this position to good effect!

Maybe it depends on the city. Maybe it's a Reno thing. Las Vegas could be different. But I suspect that a decidedly blue collar look could work in the south.

From unfortunate experience, I agree completely on the bad wig comment. Unless the look that you're going for is meant to include an obviously cheap wig.

One time at the Taj Mahal, a guy really DID snort coke at my table. Now that sort of got in the way of our play....


Nyne said...

I've also seen some big bettors who didn't look like they could afford it. I used to play at a place that had a regular who would always show up in old coveralls and was allowed to bet up to 3 hands at 2 times the posted table max (he even tried to talk them into letting me bet above the posted max...unsuccessfully). But this guy was a known player who had a very large passive income stream (despite his look) and was a terrible blackjack player.
I think that even though some people bet big without looking like they can afford it, that's still going to draw attention unless they are a known player. I definitely aim for a look where it's plausible I could afford to bet at my actual betting level to avoid the extra attention that could come with the big bets otherwise. There are reasons to go in looking like a low limit degen at times, but if I'm betting a lot, I don't want that to be inconsistent with my look.