Modern technology is fueling old scams, giving scammers new tools and techniques to use in their quest to gain money by cheating. Nowhere is this more evident than in the casinos where new high-tech cheating schemes are more brazen than ever.
The Grande Vegas online casino and other online and land-based casinos are constantly boosting their security to confront these technologically-advanced plots. Today, virtually all scams take place at brick and morter casinos where some recent ploys have taken security personnel by surprise.
For as long as there have been casinos, there have been casino patrons who have been looking for ways to exploit lapses and glitches to achieve an advantage. At one time, the methods were crude – using a slug in a slot machine, counting cards or finding a crooked casino dealer with whom to partner. Today however, every personal smartphone is a combination communications device, camera and computer so the potential for cheating is greater than it’s ever been.
Cheating via tech started in the early ‘70s with primitive networking that connected players on a casino floor, a camera, built into a belt buckle that was linked to a wearable computer and other such devices. As computer technology advanced, so did the casinos’ drive to counter the scammers’ technological efforts, mostly through the use of cameras that monitor people on the casino floor from the time that they enter the casino to the time that they leave. Even today, with RFID chips and facial recognition tech, the cameras – and the people that monitor them – are the casinos’ biggest weapon in the war against cheats.
Derk Boss, President of the International Association of Certified Surveillance Professionals points to the Aria Resorts and Casino, which features probably the most advanced usage of cameras in Vegas – maybe in the world. The casino has over a thousand camera. Some are high-definition digital cameras while others are analog pan/tilt/zoom (P/T/Z) cameras. There are also cameras that take 360-degree images so that casino surveillance can track specific individuals as they move through the casino, wander through the crowds and play at the tables (the cameras can read cards and count chips).
The casinos watch the tables because that’s where the cheating is most likely to occur. Cheaters still manage to get past the surveillance, at least for a while. Some of he recent scams include:
- In 2004 a gang of three was able to collect £1.3 million before they were caught at the Ritz London. They used a method that they called “sector targeting” which involved the use of a laser that was built into a smartphone. The laser was able to predict into which pocket of a roulette wheel the ball would land. At that time sector targeting wasn’t technically illegal so they weren’t charged and were able to keep their money.
- The Asian Tran organization was a group of 40 members who used microphones to share information about how dealers – who had been bribed -- were dealing the cards. With the knowledge that they shared the gang could then use computer programs to predict which cards might next be drawn. The gang collected $7 million before they were caught.
- The Cutter Gang is still operating and continues to scam card games with operators who operate a camera hidden in the user’s cufflink. By taking a photo when given the opportunity to cut a deck of cards before the deal, the user slightly separates the cards and the camera records the card sequence.
The user then heads to the bathroom where an accomplice is waiting to retrieve the data and send it to analysts. The analysts then advise the player how to proceed.
- Another gang that is believed to still be working is a Russian group that sent operatives onto casino floors around the United States to play Aristocrat slot games. The operatives would hold a phone close to the screen while pushing the slot buttons, walk away and then return to the machine to enjoy big payouts.
After reviewing hours and hours of security footage, casino investigators determined that the operative would send data back to his cohorts in St. Petersburg who were then able to crack Aristocrat machines’ algorithms so that the operative could return to the machine, manipulate the spins and collect huge payouts.
Jason England, magician, cardshark demonstrator and well-known expert on the history of cheating, says that, due to casinos’ advanced surveillance systems, most of today’s cheaters focus on the private game world. But as evidenced by the Cutter Gang and the Russian group, some scam artists are still prepared to test their technology against that of the casinos.
And sometimes, they succeed. "All you’re talking about,” he says, “at the end of the day now, is information… All the devices in the world come down to moving information from one place to another. Information management is all it is…… Cheating is a simple matter of having better information than your opponent."If I know your hole card, I’m gonna beat you. If I know the flop, I’m going to beat you. It’s all information transfer. And that’s all”
That’s the reason that cheating will never be overcome by high-tech anti-cheating technology. Because at the end of the day, a cheater can’t accept the “rules.” Scammers will always be looking for an edge or a loophole. "As some casino puts a new game on the floor," Arnold Snyder told TheVerge, "there are players in there looking at it; they're getting the data on it. That's the whole way a professional thinks: How can I beat this game?"
Snyder also reminds us that, when all is said and done, the games ARE rigged – against the player. “In every game there's a house edge they assume they have based on their analysis” he told TheVerge. “And the whole thing a professional player is trying to do is figure where they made their mistake, what were they not expecting me to do, what did they think I wouldn't be able to see that I can see. There's just too many smart people in the world working to make money at the games, that protecting them is an impossibility."