Top recent casino scams highlighted at game-protection conference

March 11, 2023 7:07 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
March 11, 2023 7:07 PM

Despite steely-eyed floor supervisors, large security staffs, and ubiquitous surveillance cameras, dealers and players continue to cheat casinos.

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That was the takeaway last week from the World Game Protection Conference held at the Tropicana Las Vegas. About 600 people, the second-highest turnout since the conference started in 2006, attended the WGPC, which brought together surveillance executives and staff from around the world to learn about the latest in scams and how to detect them.

Willy Allison, the conference’s founder, noted that COVID lessened the cheating for a year or two, but that changed as the nation emerged from the pandemic.

“During COVID, everything went quiet,” Allison said. “It just seems there’s been a correlation between record-break profits for casinos and a ramp-up of cheating. I attribute that to more people in casinos and fewer staff. All these employees are multitasking and no one seems to have time to focus on game protection.”

One of the bigger scams of the year, based on intelligence shared by casinos, has been dice sliding — tossing them across a crap table in such a way as to prevent them from rolling. This scam seems to have made a comeback, with newer surfaces on the table and less oversight. Allison said, “Dice sliders are coming out of the woodwork” and distracting dealers. “Three weeks ago, eight players on a team were caught in Pennsylvania.”

Dealer cheating by colluding with players has also been a problem, especially at baccarat, with such moves as false shuffles and peeking the first card. Dealer-player collusion outweighs single cheaters by two to one, Allison said.

“Last year, from what I saw in the monitor room and reports I looked at, there’s been more collusion. The internal threat is higher than the external, which was the theme of the conference.”

As for electronic table games (ETG), a former casino dealer has a reset key that he can use on a roulette game. He bets the max on red or black, tilts the machines if he loses, then uses his key to get rid of the loss.

“He’s been doing it around the country and in Puerto Rico for the last year and there are warrants out,” Allison said. “It’s obviously a glitch. The design of the game is being worked on, because he’s taken hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Neither table-game nor slot staff is familiar with ETG, which fall through a crack between both departments.

“We’re in this place in history where these things are happening and no one is taking responsibility,” Allison said. “No one has the knowledge of both the old-school games and the new electronics. The biggest issue around electronic table games is there are no humans monitoring and supervising them. They put them in dark corners and there are blind spots in the casinos. Scammers who want to fiddle or put USB ports in and mess with the electronics are left to their own devices.”

On that theme, Frank Stroembo, director of surveillance and security at the Royal Casino in Panama, said casinos face a threat from improvements in technology that the industry hasn’t been able to keep up with. It’s vital that casinos get up to speed.

Recently, a scam surfaced that involved installing a USB in a slot machine; a player who knew the buttons to push in a set order could jump into free-play mode.

“If you and I sat down, we would have never discovered anything,” Stroembo said. “But a player with a phone received the combination. We think that the scammer behind it was selling access and providing the code once you paid him for it.”

Bill Zender, a casino consultant specializing in table-game protection and the author of Card Counting for the Casino Executive and the Casino-ology series, cited problems with staff turnover and people hired or promoted to supervisory and surveillance roles with little experience in table games. Zender also agreed that ETG are vulnerable, because designers don’t have experience with game protection.

“When new technology comes out, there’s going to be vulnerabilities, but they need to think about that beforehand — before losing thousands of dollars.”

Tony Weiss, Chief of Surveillance for the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, said a lot of incidents over the last year in the industry of cheating, collusion, and advantage play have cost casinos a lot of money. Cheating groups are getting back together and he suggested that information needs to be shared in the industry.

Weiss said an edge-sorting group has been active for 15 years without being caught. It’s headed by an accomplished musician who travels the world as an advantage player and exploits the differences in cards.

Buddy Frank, a retired slot vice president who served as emcee of the conference, said cyberattacks and ransomware demands on data continue to be one of the biggest threats that casinos face, given the dollar amount and impact. When it comes to game play, he said properties will be getting help in detecting scams in the future with advancements in artificial intelligence.

“There’s been tremendous advancement in technology and better analytics,” Frank said. “AI is looking at data faster. Artificial intelligence will be a boon.”