World Game Protection Conference: Top casino scams of the year detailed

March 6, 2024 8:26 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
March 6, 2024 8:26 PM

Confidence scams that netted more than $2.6 million in the U.S., when phone callers tricked cage operators into delivering bags of cash to them, ranked as the number-one casino scam of 2023.

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Attendees at the World Game Protection Conference in Las Vegas voted on what has become a popular top 10 list, leading off with the five cage incidents, including one at Circa Las Vegas in June. It was similar to other U.S. cases that prompted national alerts.

The cases involved sophisticated social-engineering tactics, including the possible use of artificial intelligence, that netted $1.17 million from Circa. A man claiming to be a Circa owner convinced a cage employee to distribute several payments for fire safety equipment. The perpetrator was later arrested.

World Game Protection CEO and founder Willy Allison said there are five known of these successful cage cons out of about 1,000 attempts. “The number we have is $2.6 million and it was probably more.”

Table-game guru and author of card-counting books for casino executives Bill Zender said, “One of the things I found interesting is that two casinos involved have owners whose styles are, ‘I want something done and I want it now.’ The scammers are targeting places where the owners are demanding and it’s not unusual to pull money out of the cage and take it to them. This is a big failure on many levels. There’s no paperwork going in. They’re talking to a guy on a phone and text messaging and taking the money out of the casino. How does that look?”

For the purposes of evaluation on the top 10 list, a scam must involve a conspiracy in which at least $100,000 has been taken from casinos. It all factors in how ingenious, far reaching, and how it was. Allison and Zender compiled the 10 top scams of the year and left it to those who attended to rank them in order, with four standing out among the others.

“What all of these scams have in common is that they’re done by groups and often it’s an inside job,” Allison said.

Number two on the list is chip-robbery gangs that netted more than $900,000, including at MGM National Harbor in Maryland, in which chips are taken from live games. A hit Parx Casino in Philadelphia last week, Allison said. “Talking to surveillance people in the Northwest, these gangs have hit five states. There’s a trend in society right now where flash mobs go into retail stores and steal everything they can. That’s the sort of thing happening here. It’s $20,000 at a time or $40,000 at a time and so forth. There’s a huge concern among staff.”

Allison said losses can be avoided with better chip-inventory control; casinos leave too many high-end chips on the floor during slow times.

“I don’t doesn’t understand why some have $25,000 chips on the main gaming floor.”

“Sometimes it’s because they don’t know what type of play they’re going to get,” Zender explained. “In North America, we let anybody walk through the door. During COVID, we could lock it down. We need to harden our entries. As long as people know they’ll be scrutinized coming in, it will stop some of it. But these guys are very determined to steal chips.”

Allison said there’s only been a couple of arrests and it appears to him that there’s a reluctance of law enforcement to touch this. “I’m worried one of our employees is going to get hurt,” Allison said. “It’s very serious and very alarming, and they are getting away with it.”

Number three on the list resulted in a bust in Las Vegas in January 2023 after $280,000 was pilfered by employees of William Hill; they rigged sports-betting kiosks so that vouchers paid out more.

“This supervisor approved 3,000 transactions and we’re talking about $90 a ticket,” Zender said. “This is a little strange. I don’t know why their audit system didn’t catch it.”

Allison said the scam was going on for about a year before employees were caught and is part of a new type of crime in casinos.

The baccarat card recorder that netted $348,000 in Austria ranked at number four. The group behind it was arrested in Denmark and the UK.

“This scam was big back in 2010,” Allison said. “Organized teams in Asia won tens of millions of dollars, then they came over to the States and hit one of the casinos in Las Vegas. It went quiet with casinos here in town, but you hear about it popping up in Europe. These groups are out there in the U.S. right now, working the baccarat games.”

“In California last summer, they dragged the cut card across the top of the cards. They have a clip on their finger that ripples the index corners of the cards and records them,” Zender said. “They’re not even using cameras anymore. They’re using cell phones.”

Zender mentioned reports last week from Pennsylvania and New York of a similar scam.

Zender said these people are no longer coming from overseas; now they’re domestic scam artists.

Another scam included manipulators of electronic that netted about $470,000 in Spain. This had been operating for about a year.

“Colluding with casino staff, they got hold of the master key to lift off the tops of the game,” Allison said. “The authorities managed to bring them down and they’re all in jail.

“The key point is that no one is watching electronic table games and these people are running amok.”

A dealer scam netted $124,000. The dealer manipulated the cards during a manual shuffle in which winning cards are passed along to their friends.

“At high-action baccarat, anytime a dealer can manually work the cards, do a wash, and sort through them, you can have problems like this,” Zender said. “I don’t understand why places that have high limits let the dealers handle the cards. This is something you don’t want in your procedures.”

Allison called it an old scam, but it highlights the fact that no one is supervising this process.

“The most dangerous process of all table games is when the cards are loaded into the shoe,” Allison said.

An inside card-marking scam took place in San Remo, Italy. The person who transported the cards to the baccarat tables marked the sixes, sevens, eights, and nines with a nick on the back logo. The employee responsible for the cards was colluding with about 10 players for about a year before they were caught.

A counterfeit-chip gang netted $727,000 from a Macau casino. Another casino got hit in Asia for $210,000, Allison said.

“In both cases, they were syndicates – large groups of people flooding the tables with counterfeit chips,” Allison said. “Usually, it’s done over periods of time and they’re dripped in so as not to be suspicious. In this case, they were flooded in over a two-hour timeframe, because they have RFID chips embedded in them. The problem is they don’t have RFID readers on the tables. You can detect the RFID chip only at the cage. I’ve heard that the issue is being rectified.”

Zender said it’s important for casinos to keep track of outstanding chips; if properties wind up with more than they had before, there’s a problem.

There was also a VIP-room chip burglary in Malaysia involving an ex-employee and a patron who broke into a closed VIP room and stole $1 million in chips, then sold them for discounted prices.