Casinos ripe for cheating and advantage play in COVID era

March 7, 2023 9:11 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
March 7, 2023 9:11 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

A limited labor pool and lack of training among dealers and supervisors have made casinos ripe for advantage players and cheaters to prosper since the onset of the pandemic, a cheating expert and author told attendees at the World Gaming Protection Conference.

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Sal Piacente, a Brooklyn-born casino consultant, game-protection specialist, and trainer who was once a blackjack dealer, helped kick off the conference at the Tropicana Las Vegas on Tuesday.

Casino surveillance and security experts from around the world are gathering in Las Vegas through Thursday to hear about the latest threats to the casino industry.

“The way the business is growing,l it almost breeds ignorance,” Piacente said. “Casinos train dealers fast and promote them just as quickly. We have supervisors who have never dealt a game in their life and surveillance people tell me they can count cards well, but many can’t pass basic strategy tests.”

Even if the surveillance people know everything, they’re short staffed in many casinos, Piacente said. With thousands of cameras, there can be only three people watching all of the table games, slots, cage, food and beverage, and soft count. They’re also doing escorts and reviews, attending to security details, and watching the hotel.

“The chance that they’re watching the game when that move happens is slim to none,” Piacente said. “That’s why in this business, we say follow the money. Math doesn’t lie. If someone wins consistently and plays foolishly, you know something is going on.”

Piacente showed videos he took in casinos of sloppy dealing and how hole cards were exposed to players and bystanders, who can tip off players. The sloppy dealing in many cases is a result of poor training and oversight, but some dealers are also in cahoots with players.

“in some situations, it’s not on purpose, but dealers make mistakes accidentally and advantage players (can capitalize). Some of it is collusion.”

Advantage players don’t want to cheat and aren’t doing anything illegal, according to Piacente, but instead use their minds to beat the game, whether watching to see if a dealer exposes a hole card or by card counting.

“COVID has given advantage players another advantage,” Piacente said. “They wear masks that hide their identity. Surveillance is now doing back-of-the-house trace investigations on it.”

Cheating takes place when dealers do false shuffles, steal chips, or ignore players who cap (add to) their bets, all of which is illegal. Cheaters even use cameras to detect hole cards, putting them on buttons, sleeves, and elsewhere.

The cheaters and advantage players get away with it, particularly in short-staffed casinos. Supervisors may be assigned to watch as many as eight games, Piacente said.

“The business is growing so fast that it’s hard to staff these places,” Piacente said. “They’re building casinos everywhere. Everyone wants a piece of the pie. No one wants to be left out of the money making. They’re adding more games and need more dealers.”

No table games are immune. Blackjack is attacked the most by advantage players, while baccarat is the most-cheated game, Piacente said.

“There are more ways to cheat at blackjack than all of the other games combined,” Piacente said. “Baccarat is the best game to cheat, because the limits are much higher and the sequence of cards can’t be disturbed once it’s known. But the best game to cheat is the one with the least supervision.”

Piacente emphasized that not only are dealers in short supply, but when they’re hired, they aren’t given the proper training. The same goes for floor supervisors.

“A lot of it is budgeting,” Piacente said. “But some of it is fear. Casinos don’t want to show their people certain things,” such as cheating moves.

While COVID has exacerbated the problem, due to the difficulty in finding workers, cheating has always been a threat, he said. Only now, it’s getting worse.

“Casinos are so short staffed that they don’t have the time to train people,” Piacente said. “That leads to a lot of sloppiness today, because many dealers don’t take pride in their job. There’s also a problem of dealers learning too many games.”

Piacente said no one knows how much revenue has been lost because of advantage play and cheating.