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R. Paul Wilson On: Casino Security vs. Modern Deception

The methods of deception, much like many elements of life, seem to cycle through periods of relevance. New generations find themselves ensnared by age-old ruses and stratagems, proving that games, irrespective of platform or venue, remain susceptible to shenanigans. Whether today, tomorrow, or a decade from now, I remain fascinated by the dynamic nature of vulnerabilities - how they morph, enabling once-sealed avenues to become accessible again.

This endless cycle of deception reveals an ever-changing landscape where the old and new intertwine. Each era brings forth its own set of challenges, yet the core tactics of deceit persist, adapting to contemporary contexts. Observing this evolution, I am captivated by the resilience of these tactics and the continuous quest to safeguard against them, recognizing that vigilance must be perpetually renewed.

A High-Stakes Baccarat Strategy

In a privately-owned casino near Lake Tahoe, I once engaged in а baccarat game using a shuffle-tracking device, previously utilized in Korea under unique conditions not mirrored in our chosen casino. Our preparation entailed a reimagining of both the operational use of the computer and the method by which our primary player would be signaled how to bet.

By my definition, this endeavor would not normally constitute cheating, maybe just advantage play. Our tactics involved using clandestine technology to analyze and outmaneuver a game of chance by tracking the cards dealt and forecasting their distribution post-shuffle. However, in Nevada, specific regulations prohibit aiding one's play with such devices, even if they do not directly interfere with the game's integrity. Therefore, any baccarat strategy we devised had to safeguard our team while ensuring longevity in play.

Our solution was ingeniously straightforward - to camouflage all technological aids in plain view. We developed an unassuming yet effective signaling system for "player," "banker," or "tie" for our bettors. Having previously frequented this establishment and recognizable to its staff, we introduced a new participant to place minor stakes at the table, effectively diverting attention towards me, the usual suspect.

Baccarat is a game of sophistication and simplicity. Players choose to bet on either the "player" hand, the "banker" hand, or a "tie," anticipating which will score closest to nine with two or three cards. The game starts with two cards dealt to each player and banker positions. A third card may be drawn, following strict rules. Bets on player or banker pay even money, though banker wins carry a commission, typically 5%. A tie bet offers higher payouts, usually 8:1.

Our approach hinged on foresight rather than manipulation, yet the inevitability of being escorted for a "discussion" became a tactical edge we would use to our advantage. To begin, we enlisted our inconspicuous player to occupy a seat at the table, playing small stakes without seeking any advantage. Equipped with a hidden video camera and transmitter focused on the play area, she remained under the radar while security and management puzzled over my success. Furthermore, we employed a tag-team strategy at the table, with another player seamlessly taking over as soon as I was led away.

A Simple Yet Ingenious Tactic

The strategic placement of our camera on the baccarat table in an unassuming location prolonged our advantage, but the challenge remained: ensuring that any player taken for interrogation wasn't discovered with concealed electronics to "guide" their decisions.

Our tactic was ingeniously straightforward yet strikingly effective: two cell phones. At that time, possessing two phones might have raised suspicions, but our clever selection—a BlackBerry for its business-like appearance and a small, lipstick-sized mobile for its inconspicuous nature—averted undue scrutiny. Outside in a vehicle, a team member watched the video feed, meticulously inputting seen cards into a computer and tracking the dealer's shuffles and cuts. This allowed our system to forecast the card distribution in subsequent deals.

Upon a prediction, a specific phone vibration signaled me: right pocket for "player," left for "banker," and both for a "tie." This system proved so effective that my chip pile grew rapidly, leading to an inevitable "friendly chat" invitation from casino management.

Meanwhile, as I was being indiscreetly removed, another team member seamlessly took my place, effectively continuing our winning streak. The security team, despite finding both phones, failed to understand their purpose. By the time I was released, we had secured a substantial stack, leaving before the true nature of our strategy was unveiled.

The elegance of our strategy stemmed from a blend of seasoned experience and an innate aptitude for subterfuge. It was akin to playing a game of chess within the casino, where we forecasted our adversaries' moves. Although I often reference this cat-and-mouse dynamic to explain how advantage players and cheaters outmaneuver brick-and-mortar casinos, the reality is, our efforts to conquer baccarat were more labor-intensive than necessary!

This attack was sanctioned by the casino owner and recorded for television. The challenge, however, stemmed from the casino's tendency to play unfairly, using its knowledge of our identities and potential strategies against us. In response, I found myself employing every tactic imaginable, short of the proverbial kitchen sink, to maintain an edge. Yet, had we possessed the advantage of anonymity, simpler methods would have sufficed to outwit the game. For example, the so-called "cut card scam".

Resurgence of the Cut Card Scam

Before a baccarat game commences, the ritual of shuffling, cutting, and loading 8 decks into the shoe is a process fraught with vulnerability, marking a critical juncture in table games, one not to be underestimated. The "cut card scam" highlights this susceptibility, wherein a cheat, dubbed the cutter, gains control over the cut of the deck. By convincing the dealer to position the decks in a specific way, the cutter, under the guise of cutting the deck, employs a concealed pin or similar tool to subtly riffle the top cards, revealing their indexes.

This act, shielded by the cut card from surveillance, allows for the recording of card sequences using a hidden camera. The cutter would then discreetly exit to analyze the footage and communicate valuable card sequences to accomplices still at the table. As pre-identified card sequences come into play, the team bets heavily on assured outcomes, exploiting their advantage to maximize profits.

Once considered eradicated after causing losses in the hundreds of millions worldwide, including a notable incident at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, the cut card scam resurfaced with a modern twist. Many believed that heightened vigilance and procedural knowledge were enough to thwart this scheme, but it appears a lapse in casino security over time has breathed new life into the cheaters' efforts.

In its 2020s incarnation, the scam is more audacious and overt than ever. Abandoning the subtlety of concealed cameras, the contemporary cutter now brazenly uses a cell phone, casually placed on the baccarat table with its camera angled towards the deck, recording under the guise of a dimmed screen.

Some instances have escalated to the cutter employing physical coercion to manipulate the dealer into positioning the cards favorably, an audacious move previously unthinkable. These modern-day cutters target "weak" dealers, those perceived as easily intimidated or manipulated, exploiting their vulnerability in the absence or distraction of floor supervisors.

Astonishingly, reports have emerged of cutters recording card sequences with their phones in plain sight, using one hand for the cut and the other to operate their device. This flagrant disregard for casino security measures presents a significant challenge from a game protection standpoint, highlighting the evolving boldness of casino scams.

The sheer audacity of using cell phones and cameras openly in gaming situations, especially when an attack is not expected, underscores that our "Mission Improbable" strategy was like using a sledgehammer to crack an egg!

The Unseen Threat of Modern Technology

It astonishes me that casinos have not fully grasped the immense threat posed by modern technology to the cutting process. I've encountered at least one prototype of a device potentially in use, enabling a cheater to smoothly riffle through eight decks and insert a card seamlessly. Meanwhile, covert software, paired with a minuscule high-frame-rate camera, clandestinely records and analyzes the footage, quickly determining optimal play decisions before the cards are even returned to the shoe.

This strategy may be known, but modern methods employed to execute it are anything but. Leveraging the latest technologies, cheaters often stay one step ahead. Until casinos proactively anticipate and adapt to these modern tactics, they remain vulnerable and destined to relearn old lessons the hard way.

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