Casino Scams – Chip Stealing and Other Ways to Deceive the House
Advantage players are constantly looking for legal vulnerabilities in any game where they can secure an edge against the house, but there's a line most won't cross.
Cheaters, on the other hand, are much more flexible about how they win, usually by any means, they can get away with, of course beyond rank scams and blatant steals, there are ingenious ploys that have cost casinos millions whenever crooked dealers team up with crooked players.
Tricks and Gambling Hacks vs the Casino System and Security
I first met Lew Brooks and Sal Piacente at a small dive bar in Las Vegas, where we spent many hours discussing advantage play, gambling, sleight of hand, and casino scams. Lew and Sal were both working in the industry; both became good friends in the years that followed, and Sal became one of the most knowledgeable experts in the industry on how to protect games.
I remember the end of that day well: once the check was paid and we were getting up to leave, Lew checked the remaining cash on the table to make sure there was enough tip for our server and once he replaced the money, clapped his hands together and quickly flashed his empty palms with wide open fingers. It was a reflex action from counting cash on the casino floor, a signal for anyone monitoring the transaction that the dealer or cashier had not palmed anything in the process. Sal said, "Hey, I trust you!" and Lew replied, "It's a force of habit. I do the same thing every time I wipe my ass!"
We all laughed, but in the parking lot, the conversation turned to how pointless that action might be in some circumstances since there are countless opportunities to steal something and then show your hands empty. Indeed, magicians have many ways to vanish a bill, a chip, a borrowed watch, or a small passenger plane while showing their hands empty immediately afterward. It's true that flashing one's palm discourages most people from taking something they shouldn't, but overall, it becomes a little pointless if security and management don't monitor what happens before or after that hand gesture.
Listening to Sal and Lew discuss methods of stealing chips and cash, I realized how incredibly vulnerable any system is to creative ideas from minds that think very differently from those who design that same security or game procedures. And soon after, I learned of a remarkable strategy (scam) that was so successful and took so much money, and was so invisible that the casinos only realized something was happening when their profits took a sudden dive into the toilet.
Chip Stealing – Choosing the Right Moment for Sleight of Hand
As the saying goes (kinda): whoever invented gambling was smart, but whoever invented chips was a genius. Stealing chips during play is a problem for all sides. As discussed in one of my previous articles, players have stolen from each other, dealers have stolen from players, and both sides have tried to steal from the house.
When players and dealers collude against a casino, passing off chips under cover of multiple scenarios has been mostly eradicated by never passing anything directly between employees and customers. For example, a player tosses down some cash and says, "a hundred dollars," but when the dealer counts, they find six twenty-dollar bills instead of five and, in the act of passing back the extra twenty, pass a hundred-dollar chip underneath the bill. To anyone watching, it seems like a natural situation that should attract no attention, and before counting and passing procedures were implemented, it may well have happened regularly.
But while procedures have made this kind of steal more difficult, that doesn't mean cheaters stopped thinking, and unlike Sal and Lew outside that bar in Vegas, actual cheaters are motivated by a lot more than intellectual curiosity. Sleight of hand is certainly one solution to these procedures. In the book "The Expert at the Card Table" by S. W. Erdnase, the pseudonymous author states that if a sleight cannot be improved or substituted, the moment at which it occurs should be changed.
Expert dealers have been known to palm chips in the process of collecting lost bets, shuffling cards with chips palmed before loading them under the deck until after cards are dealt, then tipping those chips into a secret pocket behind their apron. For this, checks are dropped through a concealed gap maintained by a special device created for that purpose. Each element of this solution requires considerable skill, but most chip thieves would substitute difficult moves (like shuffling a deck with chips palmed in one hand) yet still get away with dozens of chips in a single shift.
Gaffed Chips – A Double-Sided Collaboration
But there's a much easier and more profitable way to steal checks: gaffed chips.
Notice I did not say "safer." These scams require a crooked dealer and a number of outside agents (collaborators) to take off the money and handle gaffs as naturally as the dealer.
For example, the double-sided check is an ingenious solution that allows players to win multiple amounts compared with how much they might lose. The chip looks like a $5 check on one side and a $25 check on the other and is bet underneath a legitimate $5 dollar chip with the larger amount uppermost.
If the player wins, the dealer spreads their bet to reveal $5 and $25, which is paid off as a $30 bet.
If the player loses, the bet is taken directly to the $5 chips in the dealer's tray (with the red edge showing so there is no discrepancy for the camera), and the player asks for change for a real $25 chip. The dealer obliges, spreading five $5 chips on the layout - one of them being the double-sided chip with $25 underneath.
This procedure all looks perfectly normal to the eye in the sky, to pit bosses, and to other players.
The dealer and his agents simply repeat this procedure dozens of times, giving them a powerful edge on the game, and some teams have used multiple double sided chips to win much more.
Of all the dealer agent scams using gaffed chips, the double-sided chip may be my favorite in terms of cleverness and difficulty to pick off (to see) from the surveillance room or even over a dealer's shoulder. It really does look perfect, and so long as the dealer isn't pulled off the table with gaffed chips still in the tray, the chances of accidentally getting caught are minimal.
The Chip Cup – Brilliant but Risky Way to Deceive the Casino
The Chip Cup scam is more powerful and requires a dealer with expert timing and nerves of steel and while it can be spotted by an observant pit boss or casino security, this little gizmo cost casinos many millions before the industry even knew it existed!
The "cup" is a metal or plastic shell that fits perfectly over four casino chips and is painted to look like a stack of four $5 dollar chips with a genuine $5 check glued on top; the final gaff looks exactly like a stack of $5 from the target casino.
The scam is brilliant but risky. A player bets the fake stack (the "chip cup") and, if they win, are paid off based on a $25 bet (five $5 chips), but if they lose, the dealer collects the chip cup, handling it like any other stack of chips and moves it to the tray, momentarily placing the cup onto the row of $25 checks before correcting this apparent error and putting what appears to be a stack of $5 checks into the correct tube in the rack.
What really happened was that, as soon as the chip cup contacted those $25 chips, it slid over four of them, hiding them inside, and those chips remained in the cup as it was moved to the correct row. A player would then ask for change (or buy-in), receiving the chip cup and a hundred-dollar bonus in the process!
The same gaff can also roll with $100 checks, but the more you take, the better your cover needs to be, and dealer/player teams soon worked out how to steal four black $100 chips without ever touching the $100 tube and putting the $5 stack (the cup) directly into the correct tube on the chip tray. The method for this is clever and very hard to spot, but I'll keep it to myself for now.
The chip cup has been used in multiple table games, and one of the biggest known scams was aimed at Baccarat at Sun City in South Africa, where many millions were taken before someone realized "the count was off."
These scams are both ingenious and dangerous despite being incredibly hard to spot when they happen. Most are caught by other means, such as a sudden drop in profits for a table game or, most commonly, a member of the cheating team being arrested for some other crime and giving up their fellow cheaters in return for a lighter sentence!