Poker & Casino Scam of The Month
Since the advent of poker and casinos, including online poker and online casinos, there have been countless poker and casino cheat scams both online and in brick and mortar poker rooms and casinos. The vast majority have been run of the mill poker and casino scams, but some of them over the years have been truly ingenious, bilking casinos, poker games and online poker and casino players for millions. The cheat scams on this page are among the most brilliant of them.
French Cigarette Pack Scam
We have all heard about roulette computers, scanners and cell phones used to predict with great accuracy in which groups of six or so numbers the ball will land in a roulette wheel. Well, those scams, including the most well-known one at the London Ritz Casino in 2004, are great, but how 'bout the ideal scam where you not only predict where the roulette ball will land but actually take control of the ball and make it land there!
There have been five major instances of this scam in the annals of lawful casino gaming. Here is the best one. Enjoy it thoroughly, as it is my own personal favorite casino scam of all-time. And I had absolutely nothing to do with it!
The most spectacular French casino scam ever took place in the summer of 1973. A ham radio buff employed as a roulette dealer at the Casino Deauville on the Atlantic coast built a radio transmitter into a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, embedding the tiny weightless receiver into a roulette ball made by a sculptor friend that he snuck into play. His brother-in-law placed the bets while his sister, a sexy raven-haired temptress, softly pressed an invisible button on the cigarette pack as the ball was spinning, sending it into a controlled dive which resulted in the ball’s landing in groups of six numbers with ninety percent accuracy. In a week the Casino Deauville was beat for five million francs ($1 million at the time).
The owners of the casino could not figure out what was hitting them. First they thought the wheel itself was defective and that somebody had measured it. They had experts come in and completely dismantle the wheel, examine every working piece integral to the ball's spinning around the disk and the wheel's revolutions in the opposite direction. When the astonished owners were told that the wheel was in perfect balance, and that there was not even the slightest imperfection which could produce biased outcomes, they began suspecting the dealer. They watched him secretively from above, but his motion was the same every time; he was doing nothing out of the ordinary to control the movement of the ball. It always made the same number of revolutions before going into its descent.
The scam was truly a marvel, and neither the ball nor the cigarette pack ever malfunctioned. Like most ingenious scams do, it came apart for a reason that had nothing to do with the scam. The problem was that the dealer's sexy raven-haired sister was a bit too sexy and drew the attention of the principal casino owner who wanted to make her his mistress. He had subtly approached her in the casino several times while she was working the gadget. Being a chain smoker, he was often asking her for a cigarette with his apologies. The raven-haired beauty was cool and able to operate despite the man's presence. She told her husband about his advances, but he replied that the owner's libido couldn't hurt the scam, so they continued.
Finally, the owner—realizing he was going nowhere fast with the temptress—began watching her from a different eye. Why was she so often in the casino, apparently alone? Why did she always stand by the same roulette table without making more than an occasional bet? And most of all, what was the connection between her and that table losing so much money whenever she was in the casino? All the answers came when the owners, at last suspecting some kind of radio interference with the roulette wheel, had an expert debugging crew come in and sweep the casino while the wheel was in action. The next time the principal casino owner asked the temptress for a cigarette, the chief of the Deauville Police Force was there at his side to confiscate the pack and put the lovely raven-haired beauty in handcuffs.
This scam was decades ahead of its time, and there was a 1984 movie made about it called “Les Tricheurs,” which means “The Cheaters.” It certainly was a precursor to all today’s roulette scams involving computers and cell phones.
The only negative about the scam: the cigarettes were not really French. They were Marlboros!
Las Vegas Chip Cup Scam
This is one of the most simply ingenious scams of all-time. It has happened dozens of times across the world since its invention in the early 1970s. The most well known incident of the Chip Cup Scam occurred in the 80s in the giant Sun City Casino in what was then Bophuthatswana, South Africa. More than 30 individuals were involved, both casino employees and outside players.
The method used to steal was a clever, but old-time device known as the "Las Vegas Chip Cup." It's nothing more than a hollow tube painted and designed to look like a stack of small denomination casino chips. The Chip Cup is made slightly larger than a standard 39 millimeter casino chip so that it can easily slide over a stack of standard casino chips. The casino chips then become hidden inside the hollowed cup. A real casino chip of small value is glued to the top of the aluminum cup, which is painted and speckled to look like a stack of five small denomination chips. In Sun City, the Chip Cup was painted to resemble a stack of five 10-Rand chips (South African currency). The beauty of the chip cup is that a player introduces the cup into play and also takes it out. The dealer and player work the scam together.
In American casinos, the Chip Cup scam is normally done on a craps table. This is because the dealers stack chips straight up in front of them on a crap table, as opposed to laying them down horizontally in a table rack, as in a 21 game. Chips stacked straight up in front of a dealer make it easier for the chip cup to be placed over the chips, though it can be done without much difficulty in chips lying horizontally in table chip racks. In 1980s South Africa, craps was not popular in casinos, being mainly an American game. The big-money game in Sun City was "Punto-Banco", basically the same game as American Baccarat. In this game, unlike the Las Vegas Baccarat games, chips are stacked straight up in front of the dealers.
The scam works like this: The player/cheater, known as an "agent," sits next to the dealer who is standing. The agent places the hollowed empty Chip Cup on the layout as a bet. It looks like a 50-Rand bet, a stack of five 10-Rand chips. There were other legitimate bettors wagering 100-Rand chips on the game. If the bet wins, the dealer/cheater simply pays the bet as he would any legitimate bet, by stacking five 10-Rand chips next to the Chip Cup. What the cheaters really want is for the bet to lose. When the bet loses the dealer/cheater picks up the empty chip cup and in the process of picking up losing 100-Rand chips, he secretly slips the Chip Cup over four 100-Rand chips, so that there are four 100-Rand chips hidden inside the Chip Cup. If there are no 100-Rand chips in play, the dealer can momentarily place the Chip Cup on top of the stack of 100-Rand chips in his working well, and suck up four of them. By gently squeezing the Chip Cup, the hidden chips inside are held in place.
After the dealer finishes putting the losing chips collected from the table into his working well, he makes sure the Chip Cup sits on top of the stack of 10-Rand chips. Then the agent simply "buys" the loaded chip cup back from the dealer. He throws 50-Rand cash on the table. The dealer simply hands the loaded Chip Cup back to the agent as change. The cheaters have thus netted 350 Rand, the 400 Rand loaded inside the Chip Cup minus the 50-Rand cost to buy it. The real strength of the transaction with the chip cup is that the house has just won big bets from the legitimate players. The process then continues in accordance with the camouflaging action on the table.
A key element in the success of the Chip Cup scam at the Sun City casino was the involvement of bit bosses (known as "inspectors" there). They were key to the scam because they coordinated the dealers' schedules, designating which games the crooked dealers would deal on, how their breaks would be patterned and everything else needed to put the crooked dealers at the tables with the best opportunities to put the Chip Cups into play. The inspectors often sent a crew of three cheating dealers to one game, preferably games where the house was winning. This practice helped disguise the cheating activity, as the inspectors who were not involved and surveillance personnel would be watching the Punto-Banco games where the house was losing money. Crooked floormen were also in on the scam, and could easily alert the cheating crews if a boss not involved approached a table where the Chip Cup was in use.
Another key element to the scam was the involvement of a cage employee. This senior cage cashier allowed the agents to cash out considerable sums of chips without being questioned. At the time, South Africa had strict currency transaction policies. Large cash-outs should have been recorded and brought to the attention of upper management. Finally, it would be the currency transactions outside the casino that proved to be the downfall of the scam and its perpetrators. Many involved in the scam, mainly dealers and inspectors, were noticed spending large amounts of cash around town on various luxury items, which eventually drew suspicion as to where they were getting that money.
Over the course of several months, the cheating group was estimated to have taken the equivalent of $3 million dollars from the Punto-Banco tables.
High-Tech Poker And Casino Scams
High-tech casino and poker scams are the most insidious to hit the casino world. Most of the attention they have been getting in recent years relates to online poker, but since the early 2000s, they have been proliferating in the real brick and mortar casino world as well.
The first major high-tech casino scam made headlines in 2004 at the Ritz casino in London, England. There, a sophisticated casino cheat team used laser scanners hidden in cell phones to track the revolutions and speed of roulette balls spinning around the inner cylinder of the wheel. Then with microcomputers they were able to calculate with reasonable proximity where the balls would land. The scam netted the team $3 million over just a few sessions of play, and although the team was eventually caught and prosecuted, a judge ruled that no laws had been violated because nothing the team did affected the outcome of the roulette games.
In September 2005, we learned about high-tech digital-camera casino scams when a woman playing three card poker at the Mint casino in London aroused suspicion while winning at an exorbitant rate over a long period of time. Security officials also noted that a white van was parked in the proximity of the Mint’s front entrance. An immediate on-site investigation was launched, and the woman was found to be wearing a harness on her arm that housed a tiny digital micro-camera covered by her sleeve.
In the van outside, officers found a computer “techie” hunched over two computer screens, one for the live feed, the other to play recordings of what the woman’s hidden micro-camera filmed inside the casino: the cards coming off the dealer’s pack as he dealt them facedown to the players and himself. By positioning her arm on a downward slope from the dealer’s hands as he dealt, the woman’s camera was able to film the cards’ faces. Back in the van, the techie slowed down the digital images on the screen and perfectly read the cards. He then relayed the info back to the woman and another man through hidden earpieces they wore.
In July, 2007, we learned of a frightening high-tech scam pretty close to a public brick and mortar cardroom that was victimizing players. This was a high-stakes private-game scam in the Borgata hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It took place in a luxury hotel suite rigged with digital cameras in its walls that filmed players’ hole cards while they peeked at them. In place of the van used in London’s scams was the hotel room next-door to the suite. That’s where two techies viewed the filmwork on laptop screens and relayed the info to their cohorts playing in the high-stakes game. It was very similar to the London scam inasmuch as digital film and radio equipment were used to film cards that were supposed to be unseen and transmit that information back to the table. Steve Forte, an ex-casino security consultant and a member of the Richard Marcus Poker and Casino Cheaters Hall of Fame, was the alleged mastermind of this high-tech scam and was arrested and indicted along with three other persons.
To date, there are a handful of professional teams working micro-cameras in brick and mortar cardrooms, but that number will increase. Filming players’ hole cards in public cardrooms is generally too difficult if not altogether imperfect. The problem is that cheaters still have to get the right angle and viewpoint of players’ hole cards to film them, and most poker players naturally protect their cards. But filming the faces of cards coming off the deck during the deal is a different story. Just like the London trio filmed the cards coming off the deck at the three card poker table, a cheating team can very accurately gauge the angles necessary to accomplish the same feat at the Texas hold’em and seven-card-stud tables. Of course particular dealers would either inadvertently aid or hinder the efficiency achieved by the cheaters, but there are many dealers out there who, from the right angles, consistently expose enough of the downward spiralling cards’ faces to the tiny lenses up someone’s sleeve or hidden in a woman’s open handbag.
High-tech poker scams are moving toward marking the playing cards. Modern tools such as Isotope imaging and improved laser technology have begun to revolutionize marking cards and other forms of cheating at brick and mortar poker tables. We are beginning to see, or at least suffer unknowingly, the effects of tiny laser pens that card-markers use to shoot beams onto the backs of their hole cards, which result in tiny discolorations that can only be seen with special lenses and at certain angles. And these laser guns are made to look like the normal assortment of objects players routinely surround themselves and their chips with at poker tables. Although at present these highly sophisticated scams are in their infancy, when they are all grown up, which won’t be long, they will be as effective as the insider online poker scams.
Online Poker Cheating Scams
For the first time, my scam of the month is not one that takes place in real brick and mortar casinos and poker rooms but rather online. Due to the enormity that has become online poker cheating the last few years, I can no longer keep this page true to only real casino gambling scams. The huge online poker scams that have rocked UltimateBet and Absolute Poker the last two years are simply the culmination or “outing” of what has actually been going on since the advent of online gaming.
Don’t forget, the latest giant scam at UltimateBet started back in 2005, if not before that. We only heard about it and the other scams preceding it when they were uncovered, mainly through suspicious online poker players posting their doubts on various poker forums.
The main thrust of these scams is crooked employees working for the sites manipulating the software programs to allow players’ hole cards to be read. Then using a variety of screen names and other real people to log on to the sites using those screen names, accounts are opened and the real people playing these accounts can see their opponents’ hole cards, which is nothing less than a key to robbing blind their opponents at any and all online poker tables they pick to their liking, including, of course, major online poker tournaments.
The main ingredients to these scams are computer geeks who know how to write and code software, and, believe me, there are tons of them out there, as well as a few crooked employees working within the sites’ security systems. I first exposed the ability of online poker cheaters able to read opponents’ hole cards in my book “Dirty Poker.” But at the time, I was talking about players’ doing this from the outside without any help from corrupt employees at the sites.
Back in 2004 I witnessed the use of a powerful software tool appropriately called “Peeker,” which as sure as you’re seeing these printed words allowed users to see their opponents’ hole cards. Today, this type of hole card spying is much more difficult from the outside, and I am not even sure if it is still viable. Which is the reason that hole-card-reading cheat scams have evolved from the outside in, meaning that they now originate solely from those people within the sights privy to the software codes and security systems that are supposed to protect you, the players. It is not accurately known at this time how much money has been cheated out of players in online cash games and tournaments by inside hole card readers, but if I had to guess, I would bet it is a vast fortune.
Just the UltimateBet Scam alone, which had gone on for at least three years, would be in the tens of millions. And don’t forget, there have been other scams, some possibly of the same magnitude, that have never been uncovered, and still others that are going on right now as I write this page!
Does this mean you, as the legitimate player (I hope!), should practice extra vigilance when playing online poker? Absolutely not! Why? Because there is nothing you can do to protect yourself from this type of evil scam. You can only find out about it, or even discover it, after you’ve already become a victim. Then does this mean that you should reduce or stop altogether your involvement in online poker games and tournaments? Again, absolutely not. In the overall scope of things, and in spite of how big these scams are, there is no more poker cheating going on online than there is in the brick and mortar cardrooms. It only seems that way because of the tremendous volume of play and money clicking across the virtual casino world.
Casino Chip Counterfeiting
There is one kind of lucrative counterfeiting operation that has nothing to do with falsifying legal currencies: that is the little clay-cindered suns you call chips and casinos call checks. Much easier to falsify than paper money currencies and without the necessity of basement printing presses in China and Eastern Europe, there have been several counterfeit chip scams in casinos across the world, most of which have taken place in Las Vegas and Macau. Some colorful characters over the years have taken to the mold and knocked off casino chips.
One of these conniving traffickers of phony casino currency was Charles O’ Reilly, who went by the moniker “Chipper Charley” for the obvious reasons. His specialty was black $100 chips. In the 1960s and ’70s he had racks full of fake ones from several Las Vegas casinos stashed in the garage of his house.
But his real ingenuity was more in converting them to cash than in making them. Not only did casino chip counterfeiters need to worry about the quality of their fakes, they had to know the ins and outs of casino policies concerning chip inventories and storage procedures. Thus Chipper Charley figured he needed some help from the inside. Being he was a good-looking and charming con man, Chipper went about the town’s casino cages charming the pants off lady cashiers, not much concerned whether or not they were physically appealing. What mattered was that they had access to casinos’ chip drawers in the rear of the cage.
What Charley had learned was that casinos’ racks of black chips stored deep in the darkness in the rear of these drawers virtually never saw the light of day. That was because casinos carried huge excesses of black chips and when lucky gamblers at the $100 tables accumulated too many, the dealers changed them into purple $500 chips or even yellow $1,000 chips. So in daily operations those black chips in the backs of the chip drawers never needed to come out—or be examined.Before you could say, “Cash me out,”
Charley had his female troops cashing out fake black chips all over town. His motley crew of lady tellers working in the casino cages would then sneak the fake chips they exchanged for real cash into the backs of the drawers, hopefully never to be pulled out until the casino discontinued that series of chips, which they normally did every seven years or so. At that point when they discovered the fakes, Charley would be long gone and lying on a beach in Rio with a lot of real greenbacks to spend.
Didn’t work out that way, though. During a rare ten-day rain spell the Las Vegas valley got flooded out. Water seeped into the casino cage at Caesars Palace and even into the vaunted chip drawers. Upon removing the racks of black chips to sop up the water, a pair of honest female cage workers, one of whom had been unsuccessfully hit on by Charley, discovered the phony chips and called the cage boss. An immediate sting operation was put into effect by the Enforcement Division of the Gaming Control Board and the FBI. Chipper Charley was the last of the gang to get stung, and when he got out of jail ten years later he turned to “stringing” dimes into coin slots of public pay phones and settled for ten-cent jackpots.
Today, chip-counterfeiting operations still exist, although some casinos are making it much tougher, especially those tagging RFID chips into the casino chips. This radio frequency identification technology, which is also being considered for use in some of the world’s paper currencies, is able to verify by radio frequency whether or not any casino chip is legitimate, unless, of course, the counterfeiters counterfeit the RFID chip!
Another common and sometimes very lucrative casino counterfeiting operation was the falsification of slot tokens, back in the days when all casinos used them instead of keeping electronic count of player credits at every machine, as most major casinos in the world do today. The most infamous of these slot-token counterfeiters was Louis Colavecchio, known as the Casino Counterfeit King, whose counterfeiting of $1 slot tokens bilked millions from Las Vegas’s and Atlantic City’s casinos in the 1980’s and early ’90s. Eventually greed and an intensive FBI/New Jersey Casino Control Commission investigation brought him down.
Slot-token counterfeiting is now obsolete, but other computer-generated slot machine scams have since been proliferating, mostly worked by employees cheating casinos from the inside.
High-Tech And Ingenious Slot Machine Scams
This month's Scam of the Month is dedicated to the high-tech and ingenious slot machine scams that have proliferated in casinos and racinos (racetrack casinos) over the past few years, those involving crooked employees and those done without the inside help.
In the past, slot machine scams were almost always done by lone slot-cheat whizzes who hired three or four lesser capable people to work with them, always one other person besides themselves to collect the jackpots they rigged. Old-time slot scammers such as Cheating Hall of Famers Dennis Sean McAndrew and Tommy Glenn Carmichael primarily used mechanical hardware tools to trick the machines and manipulate their random number generators into spilling their guts and jackpots. Then Cheating Hall of Famer Ron Harris, an ex-Nevada Gaming Control Board computer programmer and technician, turned his talents into finding flaws and "gaffs" in the state's slot machines to rig big payouts and jackpots, in some cases using a series of numerical coin drops into the old insert-slots to trigger jackpots.
In the past few years there have been TITO (Ticket-In-Ticket-Out) scams where dishonest casino employees rigged tickets to steal downloadable credits from unaware slot players. Cheating employees have also bilked casinos by tampering with promotion credits given out for increased slot play. One such case took the Gulfstream Park racetrack and casino for more than $1 million. Other inside casino slot scams have employees creating phony jackpots collected by their cohorts on the outside.
In 2006, high-tech slot cheats discovered a new way to cheat slot machines, raking in more than $1 million from the Orleans casino in Las Vegas before management caught on to their scam. They used computers to cheat the slots. Nevada Gaming Control Board officials pointed out how these and other similar slot-cheat crimes were showing gaping holes in the security of casino slot machines, despite their built-in high-tech anti-cheat sensors and detectors.
The big slot-machine cheat ripoff at the Orleans casino began in the fall of 2006 and involved three casino slot employees who over a period of several months manipulated the software that prints out slot machine payout tickets. They worked with a pair of accomplices posing as happy-go-lucky slot players who cashed out the tickets. The Orleans employees printed the winning tickets on test machines in a back room of the casino, using software enabling the machines to mimic slot machines on the floor of the casino that were turned off. Although the phony winning slot tickets were printed for small amounts of money to bypass suspicion from the casino bosses, never more than a few hundred bucks apiece, the accumulation was steady and massive to the tune of more than $1 million. This phony slot-ticket cheat scam was one of the first major inside employee slot scams that began to spread like an epidemic throughout American casinos.
In 2009, the Meadows Racetrack and Casino near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania fell victim to a $500,000 slot scam when an enterprising slot cheat named Andre Nestor caught on to a glitch in a slot machine and then used employees to exploit the glitch without them being aware that they were furthering a major slot-cheat scam. State Gaming Control Board officials said nobody noticed the scam at first because the machine did not register the jackpots. Bit obviously Nestor did. The glitch only affected the display screen of the machine. The jackpot that displayed on the screen did not coincide with internal records of the machine. Gaming officials still do not know how Nestor and his crew caught on to the glitch, which was triggered when the "double-up" feature of the game was enabled. Nestor very cleverly gained the trust of employees by giving them big tips, a strategy often employed by professional casino and slot cheats. He also bragged to the racino's employees that he'd been a successul professional gambler in Las Vegas. They became very impressed with the bigtime slot player and therefore vulnerable to his manipulaiton of them.
Nestor's associate, former police officer Kerry Laverde, posed as Nestor's bodyguard during their big slot scam. He would dramatically flash his badge to the racino employees and let them know he carried a gun for his boss's protection. The third paricipant in Nestor's scam, Patrick Loushil, was used to divert employees' attention and cash out jackpots for Nestor. Racino technicians activated the double-up feature at Nestor's request, but one of them returned to the machine after his supervisors told him that the double-up feature could not be used without the permission of the Gaming Control Board.
The technician thus disabled the feature but neglected to save his programming changes, leaving the double-up option available. None of the other technicians noticed the inadvertent oversight, and for the next two months Nestor and his crew exploited the glitch through a complicated set of keystrokes that caused the machine to display jackpot winnings that didn't exist.
Finally, on August 28, 2009, state Gaming Control Board Agent Josh Hofrichter got suspicious when he noticed Loushil trying to cash out a jackpot won by Nestor. Three days later, when Nestor returned to the rasino, he went directly to the same machine and tried to claim a $2,350 fraudulent jackpot. When Nestor attempted to collect the winnings, he was under surveillance by Pennsylvania state troopers. He was informed by casino cage employees that the jackpot could not be baid until technicians verified that the internal controls of the machine were operating properly. At that point, the calm and cool Nestor apparently panicked and tried to flee the casino. He and his crew were quickly arrested and charged with one of the biggest slot scams in casino history.
Blackjack hole-carding is the art of getting a look at the dealer’s hole card and using that information to shift the overall odds of the game in the player’s favor. Hole-carding first became popular in Reno, Nevada, and Downtown Las Vegas in the early 1930s when gambling casinos were first legalized in the US and all blackjack games were dealt from the hand instead of a card shoe. At that time, and continuing up until the early 1990s, blackjack dealers had to “peek” at their hole card whenever their up card was a ten or an ace. Unlike today, there were no digital card readers to tell the dealers whether or not they had blackjack.
In the old days, there were two basic types of hole-carding operations. One was when a member of the hole-carding team would position himself behind the target blackjack dealer’s game, on the other side of the pit. From there he would spy weak dealers who lifted their hole cards high enough to be read from the rear. Then when he captured its value he would signal it to his partners playing blackjack at the compromised dealer’s game. The premise of the operation is that players can adjust their blackjack strategies optimally with the knowledge of the value of the dealer’s hole card. That information is especially invaluable in double-down and splitting situations.
The second blackjack hole-card operation took advantage of dealers who may not have been readable from the rear but exposed the face of their hole card when sliding it off the top of the deck and tucking it underneath their up card. These dealers were vulnerable to be read from either first or third base, the two end seats at the blackjack table, depending on their dealing motion and fluidity and whether they were right-handed or left-handed.
The “hole-card readers” usually wore baseball caps to shield their eyes and intentions and often hunched lower at the tables to get the necessary field of vision. Good hole-card readers or “hole-carders” managed to maneuver into optimum reading positions without appearing obvious or tipping off the dealers or their supervisors.
Some dealers were very readable, exposing the value of their hole cards more than fifty percent of the time. With the advent of the automatic card-reader devices now seen on virtually all blackjack tables across the world, hole-carding from the rear has been virtually wiped out, since the dealers no longer need to lift the their hole cards to peek at them. But good hole-carding teams still flourish on handheld blackjack games, reading the dealers’ hole cards from first and third base when the dealers slide them off the deck and spiral them downward to tuck underneath their up cards.
Even though the amount of handheld blackjack games has greatly diminished over the last twenty-five years, there are still enough of them, especially in Nevada, for professional hold-carding teams to take advantage. These teams usually work at an advantage of two to three percent over the casino, which is much stronger than an overall card-counting advantage. However, most hole-carding teams count cards while conducting their operation, increasing their overall edge to as much as four percent.
There has been a great question as to whether or not hole-carding constitutes cheating. People have been arrested in Nevada for doing it, although I am not aware of any actual convictions. The general consensus seems to be that as long as the hole-carders are not doing anything to manipulate the dealer’s dealing mechanics, and as long as there is no conspiracy involving the dealer willfully exposing his hole card, there is no actual cheating taking place. The bottom line is that proficient blackjack hole-carding teams earn more money per hour than the best blackjack card-counting teams.
In the 2003 casino film “Cooler” with Alec Baldwin and William H. Macy, the term “cooler” was applied to Macy’s character in the film who was called in by the casino owner, Baldwin, to cool off gamblers’ winning streaks. Macy would rush into a hot craps table where a shooter was on a big roll making tons of winning numbers, then all of a sudden, as if Macy somehow applied voodoo to spook the hot shooter and “cool him off,” the shooter would roll a seven and his streak would be over.
Not only was that whole plot improbable and ridiculous, but the creators of the film misused the term “cooler.”
A cooler in a casino is actually a card scam that has been used by cheating dealers to rip off casinos across the world, and the term denotes cooling off the casino table rather than hot players on a roll.
How does it work?
Firstly, it happens on casino games using cards, not dice. It has been performed on blackjack, baccarat (mostly mini-baccarat) and poker tables. The cheating dealer is the main player in the scam, working with a least one confederate but usually two or more. The scam itself is switching in entire decks of cards that have been prearranged to deal winning hands to the players at the crooked dealer’s table. If the game uses multiple decks, such as blackjack and baccarat, the entire amount of legitimate decks in the shoe will be switched out for a replacement shoe that has been prearranged for the players to win. In baccarat, where there are no player decisions to upset the order or placement of the cards as they come out of the shoe, this scam has several times resulted in more than a million dollars of illicit profits off a single switched in “cooler,” the term itself meaning the shoe that has been switched in by the dealer and his partners to “cool off” the casino, or better yet, put the casino on ice!
Often a floorman and/or pitboss are involved in the scam, as can be a surveillance operator/operators in the eye-in-the sky. If not, the dealer’s cheat team will use a distraction to remove pit personnel from the scene when the actual switching of the decks of cards takes place. A person working with the team will simply approach the floorperson or pit boss on the game from the other side of the pit and ask any question, which will take the supervising person’s eyes off the game. The same can be done with other legitimate players at the table who are not in on the scam, but sometimes every player at the table is involved. All that is needed to pull off the switch is a second, basically the time for a quick handshake. Then the dealer loads the cooler into the shoe and deals out successive winning hands to his confederates, giving the casino a really “cool” bath.
The cooler scam has been pulled off most in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Macao. In the mid ’90s in Macao, one dealer cheat team scored $6 million when they took all 14 seats around a baccarat table that got very cold for the casino. Steve Forte, the ex-anti-cheating casino game protection expert who gained notoriety in 2007 for allegedly masterminding the Atlantic City Borgata high-tech poker scam, was arrested some twenty years earlier for attempting to switch in a cooler, also in Atlantic City.
I don’t know what went wrong with that attempt, but it’s probable that surveillance caught it on tape, which is always the biggest threat to those cheating dealers looking to switch in coolers. In today’s super-surveillance casino world, I would say that surveillance people would have to be involved for a successful switch-in of a cooler. And if you’re wondering where the cheat team gets the legitimate casino decks of cards to form the cooler, there are numerous possibilities including stealing them with the help of other crooked employees who oversee card inventories and use, as well as getting them directly from companies that print the cards, as has happened in both Australia and South Africa. The “cooler” is one very hot scam!
Casino Credit/Identity Theft Scam
Why is the casino credit/identity theft scam not only the scam of the month but the best scam of all time? Well, when casinos just give you millions of dollars and you don’t have to do anything, I’d say that that could never be beat! Ever dream of walking into a casino, signing a marker for a hundred thousand dollars in credit, getting the chips, cashing them out and never having to worry about paying it back? It has happened countless times. Just takes a little ingenuity, criminal genius and big balls.
The best casino credit scam was pulled off by the Roselli brothers from Monmouth, New Jersey from 1995 to 2000. They victimized casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico. First they hired a computer hacker to break into the nation’s credit data systems, then pilfered the credit histories of certain Americans (and foreigners) having outstanding credit ratings and several accounts. Then after opening new accounts in these people’s names, the Roselli brothers applied to the credit departments of the major casinos in all three gambling capitals. They were told that stable cash balances had to be maintained in bank accounts for a minimum of six months before casinos would establish credit. No problem. The Roselli brothers, already career gangsters with fat bankrolls, had plenty of cash to work with. They opened accounts in several names and stuck fifty grand in each of them. Six months later virtually all the major casinos gave them fifty-thousand-dollar credit lines in the name of each fraudulent account they had established with the banks.
The Rosellis alternated their scam between Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico every weekend for more than five years. They were completely comped in style for everything: penthouse suites, gourmet meals, Dom Pérignon, you name it. They signed markers, got their chips, then used “offset” betting procedures to make the pit bosses believe they were losing all their chips while cohorts were winning them on the other side of baccarat and craps tables. Then with the same fidelity an honorable person returns his books to the library on time, the Rosellis promptly paid their outstanding markers. This got their credit lines jacked up, since they showed tons of action and paid their markers within a few days of leaving the casinos, a gesture just loved by casino credit departments.
The fifty-thousand-dollar casino credit lines soon became a hundred thousand, then two hundred thousand, then half a million, and even a million in some of the classiest casino megaresorts. And the Rosellis kept on signing, playing, signing and playing, all the while giving the impression of losing big. Naturally their operation became complex and employed dozens of loyal associates from New Jersey, but as long as the casino bosses never caught on to the fact that each Roselli was more than one person, they would never know they were being victimized in the biggest casino credit scam in history. It was ballsy, at times incredibly hairy, but the brothers pulled it off. New Year’s weekend, 2000, they showed up in Vegas for the last time. They planned on beginning the new millennium with a bang. They made the rounds of casinos in which they had big credit lines in fifty names, carefully working each shift (day, swing and graveyard) as to avoid running into pit bosses who might address them with a name different from the one they were using at that moment to sign markers. Then after spreading their false gambling action all over town, with bets as high as $100,000 per hand, they absconded with the chips never to be seen again.
Total take: $37 million. And the real beauty of it was that neither the casinos, the FBI nor the US Secret Service realized a scam had taken place until six months later. First the casinos sent polite reminders to the addresses (real apartments in upscale neighborhoods) the Rosellis had set up for the scam, asking for payment of the markers. Then when those went unanswered they turned to dunning letters demanding payment or else there would be legal action. Next came phone calls from their credit departments, but they fell upon professional answering services unwittingly picking up the phones for fraudulent businesses. And they called again and again—more letters, too, even certified, but no one ever answered the door for the mailmen. All that took six months before the FBI was finally alerted. By that time the Roselli brothers were lying on a beach somewhere very far from American casinos.
And one last detail: The Roselli brothers didn’t exist either. The real Roselli brothers whose ID they thieved died long before their scam was conceived. So in fact, the FBI and Secret Service have no idea who they’re looking for. But I do. They’re looking for shadows.
Baccarat Edge Sorting Scam
This is the scam that Phil Ivey allegedly used in his alleged attempt to rip off Crockfords Casino in London, UK, for some $12 million! This article on the subject appeared in Global Gaming Magazine, and it explains the details of the scam rather well.
In recent years, there's been a huge increase in the number of casino table games around the world that allow players to handle the cards. From the masses of high-limit baccarat "squeeze" games in Macau to the lower-limit poker derivative games in Vegas party pits, an increasing amount of players' DNA can be found in our discard holders. But this isn't a story about holding hands and transferring bodily fluids. This is a cautionary tale about the increasing threat of marked cards. Not by players bending, crimping, juicing or inking the cards at the table but by the companies who manufacture our cards. I'm not suggesting that card manufacturers are purposely marking cards with the intent to collude with players or casino management to rip off casinos.
In 1999, a South African card manufacturing plant was compromised by a rogue employee who "altered" the printing plates. All the Aces and 10s of an unsuspecting casino were marked, giving the employee and his friends an advantage on all the blackjack tables. The scam was eventually picked up after casino management noticed the blackjack hold percentage dropped 3 percent over an extended period. Investigators believe the scammers also sold the information to gamblers for a flat fee. That was the industry's first major wake-up call for the need for tighter security measures and controls in casino card manufacturing plants.
The current threat is less sinister in intent, but mired in negligence and—dare I say it?—economics. It involves the quality of manufacturing, or more specifically, the lack of. Over the last few years, it appears an increasing amount of playing cards are being shipped to casinos with back designs that can be exploited by clever advantage players. The back designs are flawed because they have been badly cut during the manufacturing process. The badly cut cards result in a non-symmetrical appearance that may be exploited by "edge sorting" and "playing the turn." In layman's terms, the cards are being marked at the manufacturing plant.
To get an idea of how bad it has become, last year I visited the Gamblers General Store in Las Vegas and bought used decks of cards from nine major Strip casinos. Five of the nine decks were badly cut to the extent that they could have been exploited and used in an edge sorting scam. This good deck-to-bad deck ratio is actually a little lower than the 70 percent of badly cut decks I discovered firsthand in my visits to casinos around the country in the last year.
The Problem to understand the problem, we must understand the importance of the back design of a casino playing card. The design should be symmetrical. If you took a pin and poked it in the middle of the back of the card, then turned it 180 degrees, it should look exactly the same as it did before you turned it. If it doesn't, your casino may be exploited by smart advantage players using a method known as playing the turn.
Here's an example. A casino uses a back design that shows an arrow pointing upwards. As the cards are dealt from the shoe, players can see that the cards are all faced the same way by looking at the backs of the cards. If a player or dealer was to turn favorable cards 180 degrees, they would be able to identify them before they were dealt because the arrow would be pointing in the opposite direction. By sorting the cards and playing the turn, players can gain an advantage over the house primarily by identifying the first card out of the shoe or knowing what the dealer's hole card is. Although there is an infinite number of custom back designs available, they can be broken down simply into three categories: full pattern, bordered edge and faded bordered edge.
Full-pattern cards are the most common in casinos. A lot of them are referred to as diamondbacks, as they usually have some sort of geometric diamond-like pattern that covers the entire back of the card. Bordered-edge cards use patterns but have borders around the edge of the card. The faded bordered-edge cards are similar, but the border fades into the inside pattern, giving a blurred effect. Here is the problem. If the manufacturer does not cut the cards precisely, the edges of the cards will not look the same on both sides. In other words, the cards will not appear symmetrical, and therefore, the integrity of the game can be compromised through "edge sorting" and "playing the turn." The easiest back design to sort if badly cut by the manufacturer is the full pattern or diamondback. Usually, an advantage player can spot the difference on opposite edges by the size of the diamond—i.e., half diamond, full diamond. To minimize the risk, it is commonly thought that a bordered edge is better. Not really; in some cases, the difference of border widths from the edges can stand out even more. For old guys like me, it's sometimes easier to spot a thick white stripe on one side and a thin white stripe on the opposite. Probably the best type of card to minimize the risk of bad manufacturing is the faded border edge. It's difficult to get a read on a badly cut card because of the blurry design. I'm not saying they're always perfect. Sometimes flaws in the inside pattern design of all cards can be identified. I'm just saying if all inside patterns were equal, the faded border edge would be my choice.
How Casinos Are Being Ripped Off Baccarat is the game of choice when it comes to edge sorting. The "game of kings" offers the highest limits in the casino and therefore the highest risk-to-reward ratio. Although the nuts and bolts of edge sorting have been explained, the biggest question and challenge is: How do the advantage players turn the cards on baccarat? The turn can only be played if the cards are used more than once, so that means cards must be sorted on a face-up game. So, how do the players turn the favorable cards when they don't get to handle them? Simple—they get the dealer to do it. The scam starts with the "sorters" identifying a casino that is using badly cut cards. Once identified, the leader of the team will contact casino executives (usually a VIP host) and request a reserved mini baccarat table for a big player associate who has a large amount of money to gamble. But just before the host can ask where to send the limo, the player's representative makes a special request. The host is told the big player likes to play a "special way," and they would like a dealer who speaks Mandarin and a table that utilizes a shuffling machine. It seems like a harmless request at first, but when the players arrive at the casino, things start to get interesting.
After choosing a table, the player's representative requests that the dealer deal the first four cards face down. The dealer is then instructed to tilt each card back to expose the value to the player. At this stage (this is where it gets good) the dealer will then be instructed to either turn the card over or rotate it 180 degrees and then turn it over. If a fifth or sixth card is drawn to the hand, the dealer is asked to expose the cards the same way. The player will place relatively small wagers during the first shoe. This phase of the scam is essentially the set-up phase, where the team is coaching the dealer to turn the Six, Seven, Eight and Nine cards. As standard procedure dictates, cards are always placed in the discard holder and shuffling machine the same way, the players have effectively used social engineering to sort and "mark" the high cards.
Moving forward, the team will probably play the next shoe (the other eight decks of cards that have not been sorted) for a few rounds before requesting management to shuffle up. They may make up an excuse like the blue cards are not as lucky for their big player as the red ones. Of course, their motives are purely to get the eight decks that have been sorted back onto the game. Once the set of sorted cards is back in play, the players make one more key request. They want to place their wager after the first four cards are dealt face-down. The acceptance of this rule change seals the deal for the scammers. Having turned the high cards, they can now identify where they are before they place a wager and gain an edge over the house by playing a mathematical strategy referred to as the baccarat hi-low strategy. In the last two years, a team of players has taken a number of major high-end casinos around the world for millions of dollars using the above modus operandi.
There are three keys to their success: 1) Finding a casino that uses badly cut cards on their high-limit baccarat games. 2) Finding casino executives who are willing to bend the rules and procedures. 3) Finding a casino lacking game protection knowledge and expertise. The Solution is obvious. Don't buy badly cut cards. If you read this article and decide to conduct an audit of your card inventory and find you've been sold a bad batch, there is a temporary Band-Aid solution. Add a turn in your shuffle procedures. This will mess up any sorting sequence that may have been introduced by a player or dealer.
Keep in mind that baccarat is not the only game that can be exploited with edge sorting and playing the turn. Other card games can be taken advantage of using sorting techniques. In blackjack, if you sort the Aces and 10s, you can sit on first base and have a field day with a 52 percent advantage when you know the first card out is an Ace or a 13 percent advantage if you know it's a 10. The edge gained by knowing the dealer's hole card is quite substantial too.
The root of the problem lies with the manufacturer, and as an industry we should demand better. But the ultimate responsibility for the integrity of the game should lay with casino management. The fruit shop owner doesn't blame the plantation if the banana is rotten. The responsibility starts with the person who signed off on the back design of the card. This person should have game protection expertise and understand the need for symmetry. I often hear stories of how purchasing and marketing people choose the back designs without any input from gaming or surveillance managers. Do your due diligence. Does the manufacturer you are looking to have the appropriate security and quality controls in place?
The Atlantic City Golden Nugget fiasco last year highlighted the deficiency in quality controls of a card manufacturer when the pre-shuffled cards they purchased were not pre-shuffled. A group of baccarat players noticed the predictable sequence and went on to win over $1.5 million. Casino management should be vigilant when it comes to manufacturer defects and flaws. A quality control process should be in place to cross-check the manufacturers' work. I recommend the creation of a gaming equipment manager to oversee research, development, procurement, storage and quality assurance of all gaming equipment. This would include cards, dice, roulette wheels, chips, shoes and shuffle machines. Above all, educate your gaming and surveillance people to identify and recognize the threat of marked cards. Casinos are churning through large amounts of cards these days, but we have to be careful that we don't become complacent when it comes to quality and security.
Watch your backs.
Fake Slot Jackpot Scams
In the growing age of high-tech casino scams, one rather low-tech scam continues to flourish, especially in the newer legalized casino areas such as Native American Casinos.
This is fraudulent jackpots, the type designed and carried out by casino employees who exploit casinos with poor internal controls and non-conformity to compliance measures. These insider scams, sometimes involving a casino customer and others only the crooked employees themselves, tend to go on for surprisingly long periods of time, so weak are the casino’s internal defenses against them.
What usually takes place is the employee notices gaffes in the casino’s policy, or that the policy is poorly implemented, giving the sharp crooked employee a great opportunity to take advantage of the system. Then the employee, working alone or in conjunction with another employee willing to take the risk, simply invents the jackpot.
I’m talking about the kind of false jackpot without the ringing bells and the feigned hysteria, but rather the one that is fabricated on a piece of official casino stationery.
One that never happened but gets paid out anyway.
The most notorious of these fake jackpot scams came out of New Mexico during 2005 and 2006. That’s when Lynn Gallo, a simple employee in the slots department of the Sandia Casino in Albuquerque, teamed up with Steve Roybal, an acting slots manager at the time, to create an incredible 699 fraudulent slot jackpots in the course of 15 months. If you do the math, that’s better than 1.5 fraudulent jackpots in a single day.
They once did eight in a single day!
In all, they netted $1.2 million for those 15 months, a whopping some of money for a New Mexico casino.
And their MO was as simple as it was unbelievable.
Gallo would simply fill out an official slot request payout form, and Roybal would approve it. Then Gallo would take it to the casino cage and get the cash, which cage employees believed would be paid to legitimate slot jackpot winners.
But instead it went right in Gallo’s pocket, to be split up later with Roybal.
They eventually got caught on the 700th attempt after a suspicious co-worker in the slots department notified security. Roybal was sentenced to an astounding 54 years in state prison, the most severe cheating at gambling sentence I’ve ever heard of.
Gallo lucked out—by dying before the trial started.
Over the years, there have been dozens of major false slot jackpot scams in casinos all across the US and Canada. Mostly they involved outside players who team up with casino-cheating slot employees. And they usually involve rigging the machine in one way or another.
But as far as us here at richardmarcusbooks.com are concerned, we just love the simplest of all false jackpot slot scams that are simply fabricated.
Poker Card Swapping
Players swapping cards at poker is a cheating trick that began on 19th century Mississippi gambling riverboats and spread to poker games in Wild West saloons. It is simply carried out by two cheating players sitting next to each other who switch one of their original dealt cards to improve either one or both their hands. In the old riverboat and saloon days of poker, the trick was done in five- and seven-card stud games. Today’s modern professional card-swappers ply their craft mostly in Texas hold’em games, and despite what most people think and state of the art surveillance systems, there are many professional card-swapping teams out there and most of them are quite good.
The best card-swapping pair I ever saw was in $20-$40 hold’em game at the Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens, California in 1999. In two seats across the table from the dealer sat a man in a baseball cap and a woman with medium-length dark hair. The man was seated to the woman’s left. Neither one was dressed obtrusively; they blended in perfectly with the other players at their table, and with most everyone else in the card club. To probably everyone’s eyes but mine, their actions warranted no double takes.
What I noticed first was that the man’s right shoulder and the woman’s left shoulder bobbed simultaneously. It was the slightest movement but somehow it caught my attention. Out of curiosity, not really thinking something was up, I continued watching. After the flop, the man folded and the woman stayed in the hand. From where I stood I couldn’t see the community cards on the table, but I could tell who was playing and who was not. The woman chucked her hand in the muck after someone bet on the turn.
I saw the dealer sweep the pot to the eventual winner, then watched him deal out the next hand. As soon as I determined that the couple had received their cards for the new hand, I put my sights on them closely. At that instant, their shoulders bobbed again. The man put in a pre-flop raise while the woman folded. I watched a pretty decent pot unfold, and when it was over the dealer slid him the chips.
The third time I saw their shoulders bob told me they were cheating. To confirm my suspicions I decided to make a pass of their table. As they were receiving their second cards on the next deal, I slipped right up behind them. I froze for an instant to get a good peek, and my growing curiosity, which was rapidly turning into fascination, was not disappointed. In that split second, and I mean split, the man and woman exchanged a card. It was one of the deftest movements I had ever seen, and, believe me, I had seen many. With a bare minimum of shoulder and arm movement, the man using his right hand, the woman her left, each palmed one of their cards and slid it down underneath his wrist along the inside of the arm to the other. The length of their arms also served to hide the action from the dealer and everyone else at the table. It simply blocked their view. And for added protection, they used their crooked free arms to create a barrier against anyone who might have a side view. It took a few more episodes of this to see how truly gifted they were, but I surely enjoyed the show.
I wanted to see more of it and eventually got a seat at their table, the first seat to the dealer’s left. I was directly across from the cheaters, a prime spot for viewing. The first hand I watched them play closeup, they both threw their cards in the muck. I took that to mean that even with all four cards they couldn’t make a single playable hand. At the same time, I realized how powerful their scam was. Say, for instance, the man was dealt A-7 offsuit and the woman A-6 offsuit. Neither of these is really a playable hand, especially from early position. But if the man were able to slip the woman his ace in exchange for her 6, she would then have the A-A monster that poker players like to call "American Airlines." The man could then fold his 7-6 and the woman could take her shot with the beneficiary of the switch. The same could be done to create nut flush and straight draws. If between their four cards they could find an A-K suited or better, they would have much the best of the game.
The next hand they went into action. I timed my glance at them so it would pick up their move without lingering. I watched the woman receive her second card and the man his a split second later. There was a tiny hesitation before their shoulders bobbed and their hands and arms jerked ever so slightly. By moving their heads a bit while shifting backward, they stole a glance at each other’s cards. Then they made an instantaneous decision as to which cards to switch, and followed through. It was all lightning quick.
The flop came K-9-8 with flush possibilities. However, when the woman raised the initial bettor, I doubted she was chasing a flush. I secretly put her on at least a pair of kings and maybe even trips. Her partner folded his hand and lightly feigned disgust. I folded mine as well. A queen came on the turn, followed by a 4 on the river. There were no possible straights or flushes. The woman bet out, got called and won the pot. What did she reveal at showdown? You guessed it: a black pair of kings to form a set.
I watched the couple really clean up the game, $1,500 profit between them in two hours. And I’m sure they practiced restraint; they simply could not show strong pocket pairs every time they entered a pot for fear of drawing suspicion. I saw the same couple three more times over the years and was always amazed by their skills. I did see other card-swapping teams working poker rooms across the world and never did I witness one of them take heat. Card-swapping is also being done in the "carnival" poker-based casinos games such as three- and four-card poker, where the convivial atmosphere around these games supplies card-swappers with many opportunities to work unhindered and with great camouflage.
How do you spot card-swappers at your game? Well, if they´re good, you would have to be extremely lucky. Their moves are virtually undetectable. If you want to read more on this scam, check out the article on my magazine page entitled "Poker Pro Magazine Article on Card Swappers."
Craps Railing or Railbird Scam
Railing is one casino scam that takes lots of balls. On craps tables running hot with a lot of action, there are usually several players gathered around them with chips swelling in their table racks on the rail. These players are always bending down to place their bets and pick up their chips from the layout. Their movements are in unison. When a shooter rolls a winner, the players bend down harmoniously to collect their winnings. On a loser they do the same, replacing the swept-away chips on the layout. During these movements many of the players leave their racks exposed. Their chips could be picked away at by an agile chip-thief with quick hands willing to stick his hand into neighboring chip racks along the rail of the table. These thieves became known as “railbirds,” long before the same term was given to bust-out poker players gone broke watching poker games from the rails outside poker rooms.
Players drinking heavily as they gambled made the best targets. One aspect of stealing other players' chips that delights many railbirds is that railing other players’ chips is not ripping off the casinos; you couldn't take casino steam. Your principal danger was getting caught by the victim himself. True, there was the chance of being seen by a surveillance camera above, but that risk was minimal because surveillance operators are rarely watching out for craps players’ chips in the table racks.
The first known successful professional railing team was an offshoot of the Classon Pastposting Team, consisting of the notorious brothers Henry and Joe Classon. Cruising the old Las Vegas Sands casino in search of a potential victim one night in the late 1950s, Joe came across a tall wobbling craps player underneath a Stetson hat who seemed to never put his whiskey in the glass-holder built into the rail. He constantly held it in his left hand, handling his chips with his right. His chip rack on the rail was filled with black $100 chips.
Joe had wanted to be the first “railbird” and pass whatever chips he could pick off to his brother standing behind him, but Henry vetoed that idea and told Joe to stand behind him.
He squeezed in between the mark and another player while Joe stood behind. He already had a fistful of green $25 chips when he approached the table, avoiding the contact with the dealer and boxman that would have been necessary had he bought chips at the table. Henry knew that early chip preparation was essential, just like it was for all casino cheating scams.
The first nuance of railing was to make your mark feel comfortable with your presence. If he became nervous or fidgety, his natural move was to excessively protect his chips. More important than talking to your mark was ingratiating yourself by your movements. The key was to follow him, keep the same rhythm. When he bent over to make his bet, you made yours. When he bent over to pick up his chips, you did likewise. A little chit-chat didn't hurt but wasn't mandatory. Not all gambling drunkards were open to conversation. You had to feel your mark's vibes.
Henry bet two green chips next to the mark's black chips. He had to be careful about the placement of his chips because if the mark wasn't comfortable with them, the occasion could be blown. In the same manner that you didn't want to crowd the mark with your presence, you didn't want to crowd him with your chips either. If you bet your chips too close to his, he might feel the encroachment. If you bet too far away, he might also be disturbed for one reason or another, though too close was definitely worse than too far.
A final precondition the railbird needed to victimize his mark was a table that stayed hot. When a table went cold, it was the casino getting all his chips. Soon there was nothing left in his rack for you to peck away at. A table could go from hot to cold extremely fast.
Henry got into the guy's rhythm after just a couple of rolls. They exchanged a little small talk about how the table was running good. The guy laughed, even patted Henry on the back. He was going to be plump for the pickings.
When the mark reached down to pick up the black chips the dealer had just paid him, Henry reached down with him to pick up his greens. While they were both bent over the rail, Henry's left hand picked up his own chips off the layout while his right hand slid underneath his left outstretched arm into his neighbor's chip rack. Then with a pinching movement of his thumb, index and middle finger, he plucked three black chips from the end of the lined-up chips closest to him, and in the same motion passed them subtly behind his back to Joe, who put them in his jacket pocket. This chip pass-off was necessary to protect Henry in the event the mark caught him in the act, or accused him afterward. If that happened, Joe would instantly leave the table. Since Henry had been betting only green chips, he could defend against any accusations by asserting that he didn't have a single black chip on him. How could he be guilty of stealing this man's black chips? If casino security searched him, they'd find no black chips at all, not in his pockets, not on his person. The pass-off to Joe was their cover and had to be done in the "dark."
Henry picked away at the mark for the hour that the table ran good. It was important not to be greedy. You chose your moments for picking. If you took too much at once, the mark was bound to notice. If the table was choppy you held back. The old saying about getting your fingers caught in the cookie jar was every bit as applicable to railing craps tables. When the table finally went cold and busted out the mark, Henry and Joe met outside the casino to count up their profits. Joe emptied out his jacket pocket. There were fourteen black chips inside, $1,400.
Over the years, the Classons railed craps tables whenever their pastposting operations were taking heat and had to be put on hold. At opportune times, they were able to rail $500 chips from high-rolling craps players, making scores above $20,000. One laughable incident occurred in the late 1970s when Joe Classon snuggled up to a gorgeous and even wealthier Texas Oil Baroness at a craps table who was playing purple $500 chips. He charmed her, cajoled her and railed her—to the tune of $22,500. But the grand prix came a week later when she invited him down to her Dallas ranch and showed him some Southern hospitality he never forgot!
Today, railing is still quite prevalent in the world’s casinos, if it is little known or talked about. The modern railbird always passes off the chips he picks to his or her cohort standing behind. Notice that “his or her” is used to portray railbirds. This is because more than half of today’s craps chip thieves are women! And usually pretty women, who use their seductive charm to divert men high rollers’ attention from the chips in their table racks to the tits in their neighbors’ racks!
High and Low Tech Baccarat Cheat Scams
During the past few years, Baccarat has become the "cheat-du-jour" casino scam across the world. This, of course, comes off the heals of the huge Tran Organizaton false-shuffle scam which is detailed on this page. The first scam baccarat casino cheat scam to gain notoriety in 2011 is what has been coined "the cutter scam." This is a combination high and low tech scam where the player being offered the baccarat red or yellow plastic cut-card has a tiny digital camera affixed to a sleeve or built inside a ring on his finger. The player being offered the cut-card usually slips it into the six or eight-deck card shoe without much ado, then the dealer completes the cut where the player placed the card and loads the pack into his card-dealing shoe.
In the case of the cutter scam, the baccarat cheat with the digital camera uses the cut-card to fan through a certain portion of the cards, depending on how much camouflage he intends using, slightly seperating their edges so that the camera can film the values of the cards. This crucial information is then relayed by computer where it is processed and then sent back to the cutter and his associate baccarat cheats at the table.
Since baccarat is a casino card game which follows strict hit and stand rules, unlike blackjack where the player has the choice of hitting or standing with his own individual hand, the baccarat cheats employing the cutter scam will know the exact order of the filmed cards coming out of the shoe and then will bet accordingly.
Many claims have been made that this cutter scam has taken casino baccarat tables across the world for millions, but I am skeptical of this, since baccarat dealers can easily render this scam impossible simply by taking measures on how he holds the pack out to the card-cutter. For example, if the pack of six or eight decks were simply held by the dealer with the cards' faces inward toward him, the cutter would not be able to fan through the cards without being quite obvious, as the motion from back to front would certainly look weird. Personally, I think this scam has been exaggerated by game-protection consultants based in Las Vegas to make casinos believe they are being victimized to the maximum degree. Why would these game-protection consultants do this? Simply to get casinos to hire them for protection against the scam.
Another high-tech baccarat scam making the world-wide casino tour is the ol' slip-the-digital-camera-into-the-automatic-card-shuffling-machine. There have been a half-dozen attempts at this with the sole successful one of note taking place in the baccarat jungle which are the casinos in Macau. After several baccarat tables in a few casinos there suffered major losses, inspectors were left baffled. But then routine maintenance procedures uncovered tiny digital cameras embedded into automatic card shufflers. This usage of digital cameras in baccarat games is much more dangerous than the cutter scam as it can result in all the cards of the six or eight-deck shoe being filmed and then known in advance of the next deal by the baccarat cheats. In high-stakes casinos like those in Macau, several million dollars can be lost by the casino in the dealing of a single show when all the seats at the baccarat tables are filled with cheat-teams.
A more lower-tech scam happening on baccarat tables is good-old fashioned pastposting. As baccarat offers the possibility of off-setting wagers, where one person can wager on banker and another on player for the same amount, cheats take advantage of this to show false big-action while setting up a big pastpost move. For instance, if the cheats off-set wagers of $5,000 (there can be several people involved in the off-set), an ensuing pastposted $5,000 bet may appear as a legitimate bet since the person claiming it had already shown bets of the same high amount.
The Harley-Davidson Runaway Scam
Now there are casino cheat scams...and then there are casino cheat scams! I participated in a TV series called the "World's Greatest Gambling Scams, and also wrote a book about them. Most good casino cheat scams require lots of brains and lots of balls. But some only require the balls! Here is one of those, called the Harley-Davidson Bet and Run scam, or the Harley-Davidson Runaway, which was laid down on Las Vegas during the 1980s.
The idea was simple: bet your chips to the max on a hand of blackjack; if you win, fine, collect your money...if you lose...well, I think you get the idea...BOLT! Get your ass out of Dodge! Hence the scam's name "Bet and run." The scam was developed by the Classon Casino Cheat Team in the early 1980s. It was based on the old Downtown Las Vegas "walkaways" on Fremont Street back in the fifties. At the time, old-time degenerate gamblers down to their last bet would find a roulette table near the exit of one of the typical arcade-like casinos, just feet from the sidewalk, and bet on red or black. If the desperate bet won, the desperado would simply collect the money. But if it lost, he would scoop the chips off the roulette layout before the dealer could sweep them and simply walk out the door and disappear into the throng along Fremont Street. By the time the dealer yelled "Hey!," the guy was already gone.
One weekend in the summer of 1982, while I was working with Joe Classon and his partners, we took lots of heat on our conventional casino cheat moves. We decided then to kick back in our hotel room and began tossing around old-time casino cheat war stories, one of which was the "Walkaway" that Joe told with special flavor. After hearing it and enjoying a laugh, I suggested we all go out and do a modern version of the same move, which we we would later call the "Runaway" and add a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to the MO. The result was that we went on a tear during a few weekends in Vegas running out of casinos with losing bets and jumping on the backs of Harleys to get the hell out of Dodge! Of course when we won the bets we just simply collected the money. You can imagine the tremendous heat we took when Vegas discovered that this running out of casinos gig was actually a highly organized blitz on the Strip´s casinos.
Since our escapades, many versions of this move have been attempted, most of them desperate and most of them failures. One guy once grabbed a rack of purple chips out of an Atlantic City casino´s table rack and made it out the back door to the boardwalk. But he got tackled by security guards on the beach before he made it to his buddy who was waiting in the ocean in their rented speed boat. To read all the details how the Harley-Davidson Runaway moves went down, click here.
The False Shuffle Baccarat Scam
The Baccarat False Shuffle scam has been one of the most devastating inside dealer-collusion scams to hit casinos worldwide since the inception of public gambling. The last major case of it resulted in the biggest casino cheating bust in the history of legalized gambling. The US FBI and Canadian National Police, in conjunction with gaming regulatory and enforcement agencies from both sides of the border, busted a multi-national casino cheating ring that recruited dozens of casino baccarat dealers working in dozens of casinos and was headed by a criminal enterprise known as the Tran Organization, a tightly knit clan of hardcore Vietnamese criminals.
The scam itself is relatively simple and usually occurs on a mini-baccarat table because only one crooked dealer is needed to perform what the scam is called: a false shuffle. It begins when a group of cheaters playing at a baccarat table record a group or slug of cards during the play of a card shoe containing six or eight decks. This slug will contain between forty and sixty cards that are recorded in the order they are played and picked up by the dealer and placed in the discard rack.
After the shoe is finished, the dealer working with the cheaters will perform the false shuffle, protecting the forty-plus card slug in its original, unmixed order. The process involves a series of false shuffles and false washes (mixing cards in a swirling motion before shuffling) depending on the house's shuffling procedure. After the cards have been false-shuffled, cut and put back into play, the cheaters use the previously recorded list of cards to identify and locate the reappearance of the un-shuffled forty to sixty card slug. Once this slug is identified the cheaters can determine the outcome of the next eight to ten hands, and will use this information to bet on either the player's or banker's hand, as well as any tie hands, with perfect accuracy. By wagering a $10,000 or more table limit on eight to ten guaranteed winning hands, the cheating group can make major scores into the millions of dollars before the casino knows what hit it.
There are several elements that need to come together to make this scam successful for the cheaters, and each one of these elements must be carried out flawlessly.
Recording the cards on the previously played hands
In each situation someone on the table records a specific group of cards as they are played and picked up by the dealer. This is usually done by one player marking down the cards on one of the baccarat score cards that are provided as a convenience for the players. The best thing about this for the cheaters is that the casino itself not only supplies scorecards for the players but also actually encourages them to keep track of the winning hands, goading them to believe that they can develop some kind of betting system to beat the game, based on the outcome of the previous hands. Well, this backfires on the casino because the cheaters are keeping track not of the winning hands but of the exact order of the cards. They do this in a variety of ways so they look like they’re simply keeping score like the rest of the legitimate players.
Location of card group or slug
The cheaters will usually choose a group of cards that are played at the beginning or at the very end of the shoe. This technique makes it easier for the illegally recruited dealer to locate the slug before performing the false shuffle and easier to protect it during the process. If the dealer screws up the location of a single card, the whole scam is blown!
The false shuffle
Dealers recruited for this scam are not magicians nor do they need special skills. They simply spend many hours practicing their false shuffle technique before they are put on a table to perform the real scam. When they become efficient at it, their false shuffles go undetected by floor supervisors and surveillance operators. Some cheaters go out of their way to distract floor personnel during the false shuffle phase so they can better elude detection, but good cheating teams don’t need to do that.
Identifying the slug coming back into play
Usually at this point the cheater who recorded the slug during the previous shoe will be seated at the table with his score card in front of him. At the very least he will be standing somewhere in the vicinity with a clear view of the cards being played on the table. Once he has spotted the reappearance of the slug, he will check his score card and determine the outcome of the next hand, remembering that the cards should come out in the exact reverse order that they were played in the previous shoe. For instance if he had recorded the following sequence of cards: A, 10, 7, 9, he knows that those four cards coming out of the new shoe would be: 9, 7, 10, A, and that sequence would make a natural-9 winner for the Player hand, which he could bet and win accordingly.
In most situations, the cheater doing the recording plays only a minor part in wagering and exploiting the information. Wagering into the slug is done by one or more other cheaters positioned at the table who make maximum bets or whatever their bankroll allows. Naturally they will all be betting the same side, either Player or Banker. If they know the outcome of the hand will be a tie hand, when neither Player nor Banker wins, then they can all either bet the tie hand or let it go because it would be too obvious that they ALL knew that a tie hand would come out at odds of 8 to 1. This “fixed” play will usually last between six to ten hands, ultimately depending on how successful the dealer was at maintaining the slug and how quickly the tracking player identified the false shuffled slug of cards. Once the slug is played out, the wagering by the cheaters will often change into an “offsetting” procedure where they equally distribute their bets between Player and Banker, still betting the table maximum in order to give the impression they’re still gambling big, but in fact they’re risking nothing more than the 5% commission on Banker winning hands. When it is all said and properly done, the false shuffle scam is the closest thing to the perfect casino scam—but it usually comes apart because of other factors such as greed, infighting between the scammers and jealous girlfriends!
The Cheating career of Richard Marcus began with this scam.
The Rainbow Move
The year 1989 was a very eventful year in my life. First, my casino-cheating mentor Joe Classon retired—just like that.
I was dining on my new apartment’s terrace when Joe arrived unexpectedly and gave me the news.
"I'm fifty-six years old," he said. "I've been in these goddamned casinos since I got back from Korea. I think I had enough."
Though I had expected that one day Joe Classon would abandon the road, hearing it so sudden like that was a shocker. We'd been together in the casinos for twelve years—longer than the Beatles—and now he was leaving, breaking up the team. At least it wasn't because of a woman.
"You guys will have no problem going down the road without me, provided you don't squabble over who's boss. Personally, I feel you're the most qualified; you have the best leadership qualities of the three of you, but Duke and Jerry will never go for it. There can't be a leader anymore. If I was the general, now you three are all colonels...I'm going to call Duke and Jerry in California tonight and tell them to fly into Vegas this weekend. We're going to have a final sit-down...Sorry for interrupting you dinner."
The last time Joe, Duke, Jerry and I were all together was at Joe's apartment on Sunday afternoon that weekend in March, 1989. The night before we'd been barbecuing lobsters when Joe said, "Guys, I'm going out with a bang. Tonight at Caesars Palace I am going to do my last move—the rainbow." He was smiling mischievously.
Duke, Jerry and I were all looking at each other puzzled. You never knew what Joe Classon had in mind.
"That's right," Joe confirmed. "The rainbow. It's my final tribute to all of you..." He looked at Jerry..."It may be the most special for you because you invented the blackjack move."
"What exactly is the rainbow?" I ventured.
"Exactly that—a rainbow. I'm going to bet five red chips on a blackjack table at Caesars Palace—I wouldn't think of doing it anywhere else, considering how classy Caesars has been all these years. When I win the hand I'm going to do a five-chip switch. But instead of doing a normal move with the purples, I'm going to do an insane one. The five chips I'm going to switch in will be a yellow, a purple, a black, a green and a red. Instead of calling that move a sixteen-thirty ($1,630-total value of the five chips Joe proposed switching in), why not just call it the "rainbow."
Duke nearly fell off his chair laughing. It was infectious; we all started laughing—Joe, too. But he was dead serious. If Joe Classon told you he was going to walk naked through the Everglades, you had better warn the alligators.
"Joe," I said with affected deference, "I have never respected anyone else in my life the way I do you...but you are a fucking nut job."
We finished our lobsters, toasted the rainbow with our champagne glasses, then headed over to the Caesars Palace casino, that was now filling up rapidly as the doors to the Circus Maximus Showroom had swung open and begun spilling out people onto the checkered carpeting in the main pit.
Joe wasted no time. He found a blackjack table, bet five $5 red chips, won the first hand, and after the dealer paid him $25 in red chips did the monster switch. The floorman who came up to Joe's blackjack table, after being called in by the dealer, took a look at the chip-rainbow sitting in the betting circle and shook his head exaggeratedly, as though he were trying to dismiss the possibility that he had just seen a multicolored UFO. He then removed a pen from his shirt pocket and softly pushed the chips into a collapsed heap, and restacked them.
"How on heaven's earth did you miss that?" he asked the smiling Latino dealer named Eduardo.
"I don't know," Eduardo answered with a shrug. "I must not have slept too good last night."
The floorman left the table to get the pit boss. Not because he was steamed up but only because he wanted the pit boss to have a good laugh. The pit boss did have a good laugh and said to the dealer, "Eduardo, if you took that for a twenty-five-dollar bet, that Tequila you've been drinking must be pretty strong." He laughed, shook his head and walked away with the floorman, neither one wanting to get over it.
I had watched the whole thing in amazement. That Joe's rainbow got paid was not exactly stupefying. What I found incredible was that they didn't even question it; there wasn't the slightest iota of doubt in the heads of three Caesars Palace casino employees. In spite of the more than a decade's worth of experience I already had at casino trickery, I would have hardly believed that the rainbow could be put over on them so easily—had I not seen it with my own eyes. I wondered how long Joe had that little move in his head.
Over more champagne back at Joe's apartment, he explained it to me.
"It's all psychology, my boy..." Joe was feeling good. "Why do you think all this crap works in the first place?...Besides the straight-up roulette moves under the piece, all our moves are easy; anybody can do them. It's not the moves that knock them dead, it's the psychological effect. It's a progression of influencing people's thought patterns, making them believe what you want them to. The set-ups, the back-ups, the mix-ups...they're all part of the act...So I go and do a ridiculous move—the rainbow—and it gets paid easier than anything you've ever seen...Why?...because it is so ridiculous. No one in his right mind would do something so insane—and the casinos know that. Whatever doubts they have are squelched when they ask themselves, ‘Would anyone really try to slip in something like that?’”
Joe raised his glass and the three of us followed. "To the rainbow, to the road...to my guys." We clinked glasses and drank. Toward the end of the night we all got a little emotional. Joe was hugging all of us and everybody had a supply of tears welling up. The next day we had breakfast together at Joe's apartment, then went to the airport to see off Duke and Jerry. On Monday Joe and I spent a final day together, mostly reminiscing aloud about all the adventures we’d experienced together. On Tuesday, Joe flew to Miami where he eventually bought himself a condominium near his mother’s on the beach.
Joe Classon never came back to Las Vegas.
And I never saw him again.
The O'Leary Scam
This is the best scam of all-time for one simple reason: I was the victim!
One night twenty years ago while getting drunk in a New York Irish pub, the conversation turned to gambling and card playing. I was there with a girl I had met hours before in another pub that might also have been an Irish one; I can’t remember. There were twenty or so people engaged in this conversation and it was quite lively. Two Irish guys—I mean real Irish guys from Ireland with red hair, white skin and freckles— had everyone cracking up with their little gambling anecdotes leading to one catastrophe or another. Then a woman who was plainly Italian pulled a deck of cards and slapped them on the bar.
“Anyone want to see a great card trick?” she beamed, probably at least as sauced as I was.
Everyone pitched in with encouraging laughter to say how thrilled everyone else would be to see her card trick. She then proceeded to do that classic dopey poker-hand trick everyone has seen performed by at least four generations of his family: the one with the four hands of seven-stud ending up four jacks, four queens, four kings and, of course, four aces for the dealer.
Everybody applauded her, anyway, and then another schmuck took the cards and began shuffling. When he’d finished, he dealt three columns of seven cards face up. He said to the girl who’d just finished her crummy trick, “Pick a card, but don’t tell me what it is. Keep it in your head.”
The girl was either stupid enough or drunk enough to blurt, “Does it have to be one of the cards you dealt on the bar?” The rest of the deck was lying off to the side.
The guy indulged her with a smiling nod. She was kind of hot and had big tits, so obviously he didn’t care how dumb she was.
The girl’s drunken eyes passed over the twenty-one cards. “Okay, I chose a card.”
I recognized the trick as soon as the guy started dealing out the columns. It was one of those mathematical numbers that could never go wrong if you didn’t fuck up the procedure. The version he was doing was the one with the petals and the flowers, goading the victim to pick this petal then that one after she’d already picked the two columns that didn’t contain the card. I think the first time I saw the trick done was in kindergarten.
The woman, ever so drunk as she was, managed to play along and finished by affirming that the card the guy flicked over at the end was indeed hers.
I’d just about had my share of card tricks when one of the two redheaded Irish guys clamored, “Those tricks are for bloody boobheads!” Anyone here want to see a real good one?”
For some reason I volunteered, surely hoping it would be better than the previous two and the last of the night.
He picked up the deck off the bar and fanned them face up in front of me. “Pick any card,” he said.
I looked at him. “Just like that, face up?”
The other Irish guy piped in behind him. “Yeah, mate, just like that.”
I slid out the 9♠ without hesitation. I looked up waiting for one of them to do something.
The one next to me spoke. “What would you say if I told you I know someone back in Ireland whom I could call right now, hand him the phone without saying a word, and he’ll tell you that the card you picked was the nine of spades?”
I looked at my watch. It was eleven o’clock at night in New York, which meant it was four o’clock the next morning in Ireland. “I’d say the guy either goes to bed late or gets up early.”
They laughed heartily, then the one behind suggested slyly, “Care to make a little wager on that, mate?”
I looked at the girl I was with. I could see she knew as much about cards as I did about the theory of relativity, which was zero.
“Come on, mate,” the one who’d spread the cards said. “Why not put a little fun in the evening. Soon it’ll be the top of the mornin’.”
“Okay,” I said pulling out my wallet. “I’ll go twenty bucks saying you’re friend in Ireland can’t tell me my card if you don’t tip him off.”
“Twenty bucks!” they exclaimed in unison. Then they took turns telling me I insulted their chivalrous play. The one behind finished off with, “The phone call over there will hardly be covered for twenty bucks, mate.”
Well, whatever their gig was, it was clear they knew I’d lose the bet. And this in spite of the fact they didn’t know whom they were trying to hustle. But I was curious about their trick, plus I was in a good mood knowing I was going to get laid once I got out of there.
“So how much do I have to do this for?” I asked them.
“You got fifty.”
“Sure.” I laid the fifty on the bar. They did not hesitate to lay theirs alongside it. “Now let’s make that call.”
You have to remember that twenty years ago there were no cell phones. There was just a cranky old pay phone near the entrance. The front guy asked the bartender, “Pat, gimme ten bucks in quarters, would ya?”
“It’s okay,” Pat chimed, you can use the bar phone.” He reached underneath the bar, pulled it out and slapped it on the surface next to the nine of spades.
“Who you calling, anyway?”
“Some bloke in Ireland.”
The phone slid off the bar and disappeared faster than you could say “Dublin.”
I followed the two Irishmen to the pay phone. At least ten people followed me, everyone with either a drink or cigarette in his hand. As the one dropped a load of quarters into the phone’s slot, he piped at me, “Are you ready, mate?”
“I’m not going to say a word to my buddy on the phone about your card. I’ll just see if he’s home and pass you the phone when he comes on. Okay?”
He dialed a number, then after a few seconds said into the receiver, “Is Mr. O’Leary there?” Then he said, “Hold on,” and passed me the phone.
I put the receiver to my ear. “Mr. O’Leary?”
The cheery voice on the other end was indeed Irish. “That’s me, mate. Your card is the nine of spades.”
At first I thought it no big deal that he knew my card, but when it finally hit me that he knew my card I was flabbergasted. For some reason I thanked him before hanging up.
When I turned back to the two Irishman, they were already at the bar scooping up my fifty-dollar bill. Everyone else was asking if the guy on the phone guessed my card.
“He didn’t guess it,” I informed the crowd with a bit of thespian delight. “He knew it.”
The two Irish guys were laughing as I came over. “You want to do it again, mate?” one of them asked.
“Yeah,” I answered immediately, “but how ‘bout for less money.” I knew that I was outhustled but I wanted to see this again, figure out how they did it. I knew they wouldn’t give it up for nothing.
“Okay,” the second one said as he picked up the cards and gave them a quick shuffle with a fancy bridge. He spread them and told me to pick a card. I fingered the width of the fanned cards and slipped out the 4♣. Then the first Irishman put a twenty-dollar bill on the bar and told me to match it.
I laid the bill on the bar and followed them back to the phone. Evidently enough quarters remained in the Irishman’s pocket to make the second call. He dialed and again asked for Mr. O’Leary. When O’Leary came on the line, he told him to hold on and passed me the receiver.
I bid the familiar voice hello and he answered with “Your card is the four of clubs.”
“Wanna go again, mate?” The Irish guys were having a ball with me.
“How the fuck did you guys do that?” I demanded.
The first one gave me a peppered shrug and said, “You know magicians don’t give away their secrets.”
“It’s not magic,” I protested. “It’s a goddamn card trick.”
The second one had a great retort for that. “It’s not a trick. O’Leary just read your mind. He knows you’re thinking of your card when you get on the phone. So he just hones in on your brain and finds the part of it thinking of the card.”
“You guys got a good line of shit,” I said, and they got off laughing at me. The whole bar was getting in on it, including the bartender who seemed to have already borne witness to their little gag. I approached the bartender and asked him how they did it. He just chuckled and said in an Irish accent, “I haven’t the foggiest idea, mate?”
How the hell did they do it? That thought prevented me from both getting laid and sleeping that night. I lay awake for hours in the girl’s apartment, in her bed with her lovely body sprawled naked in the same spot where she’d finally given up on me and fallen asleep.
Not only am I a fairly intelligent person but I know how to navigate pretty well around logic. The first thing I was sure of was that somehow that Irish guy in the bar told Mr. O’Leary what my card was. The only way that certainty would not be true was if there had been another unseen phone extension inside the bar and somebody else told Mr. O’Leary the card. But after being led on a tour of the place by the bartender, during which I felt like an idiot, I had to accept the fact that there was no other phone there.
So then how did the Irish guy tell O’Leary which card I’d selected? I had been right by his side when they spoke. Twice. Each time, the Irish guy said nothing more than “Is Mr. O’Leary there?” and “hold on.” Neither utterance contained words that would indicate the nine of spades and the four of clubs. But somehow those words did indicate those cards. And it was killing me to find out.
I racked my brains. Somewhere in those lines was a hidden code that told Mr. O’Leary what my cards were. But how could the same exact lines give him the correct information for two different cards? I even asked myself if it were possible that the inflection in the caller’s voice tipped off O’Leary. But if that were the case then O’Leary would have to be sensitive to fifty-two different inflections. Impossible.
The unknown solution ate at me an entire week. Then finally, not being able to take it anymore, I returned to the pub on a busy Saturday night. The place was packed, and sure enough the two Irish guys were hustling another customer with their trick. Only this time the bills on the bar were hundreds and the guy getting taken was sweating and did not look happy.
I watched all this from a distance. The Irish guys either didn’t see me or didn’t recognize me. The victim followed them to the phone, probably for the second or third time, and upon hanging up came walking back toward the bar in disbelief, then did an about-face toward the exit. The second he was out the door, I saw one of the Irish guys pass a bill off to the bartender, who promptly stuck it in his pocket.
So the bartender was in on it as well.
They were working a major scam with this trick, or whatever the hell it was.
I came back the next night determined to crack the case. Irish pubs in Manhattan usually drew crowds every night of the week. Sunday night at this one was no exception. The Irish guys were flirting with a couple of women by the bar. I decided to wait patiently until they went into the routine. I knew they would eventually because these guys were not there for just booze and women. The place was their livelihood.
At midnight, just before I was about to pack it in, two slick looking black dudes walked inside the bar. They had that instant air of loose cash, either pro athletes or musicians. The Irish pair adroitly got them into conversation and within a half hour the bartop was crawling with hundred-dollar bills. I was thinking to myself that the scammers had better be careful with these black guys. They looked like the kind you didn’t want to fuck with. But obviously the Irish duo was very well rounded and knew how to handle whatever situation arose during the working of the scam.
Well, we’ll see about that, I said to myself.
After it happened, I realized I’d been destined to do it. But at the crucial moment I still had to make sure not to blow it. Bad timing could have blown the whole thing, and I would’ve been in a lot of pain for nothing.
As soon as the Irish guy dropped the quarters into the phone’s slot, I made my way through the thinning crowd toward him. I watched him dial and waited until I knew instinctively that the moment had arrived to make my move. I charged the pay phone and grabbed the receiver from the guy’s hand. He protested but I quickly knocked him out of the way. I then put the receiver to my ear without uttering a sound. What I heard at first made no sense. It was indeed O’Leary’s voice and it was counting…“two, three four, five, six…”
The Irish guy made a lunge at me but I knocked him out of the way again. His buddy was coming after me too, but one of the black dudes stuck out a big arm and held him at bay. By that time O’Leary had reached “king.” And then his voice rasped in my ear, “What’s the fucking card, mate! Did I miss it?”
“You sure did, scumbag!” and I hung up the phone.
There’s an old New York joke about asking a bartender what time his Irish pub closes. He doesn’t answer you with a time; rather he says, “As soon as the first fistfight breaks out.”
Well, that meant that this Irish pub would be closing real soon.
In the ensuing brawl I got whacked with a few good shots that drew blood from my mouth. The poor Irish guys, whose names turned out to be Arnold and Donald Lorrigan and who were currently on their way to the hospital ward at the Rikers’ Island jail, got the shit kicked out of them. The arresting cops asked me what it was all about, and when I told them, one of the coppers, who was also Irish, quipped, “Musta been a pretty good card trick.”
It was simply the best card trick I had ever seen. The way it worked was in reversal. It was true that the caller was transmitting the information to O’Leary, but he was doing it in reverse. That’s why virtually no one can figure it out. The key to deciphering it is that you have to know it was O’Leary speaking first, not the Irish guy. The first words I had heard from the caller were “Is Mr. O’leary there?” Upon hearing those words you naturally assume that whoever answered on the other end had picked up with a “hello” or something to that effect. Then when the Irish guy says “Hold on” and passes the phone off to the victim, you naturally think that O’Leary had just come to the phone after having been summoned by the person who had picked it up.
But it is really O’Leary who answers the phone. And instead of saying hello, he goes right into a recital of counting the cards…“ace, two, three, four…” Then when he arrives at the card you had chosen, the caller says “Is Mr. O’Leary there?” That stops O’Leary’s counting dead in its tracks. For if the last card O’Leary said was “jack,” then he knows it’s a jack.
Next only the correct suit needs to be transmitted. Once O’Leary receives the signal that the card is a jack, he begins reciting the four suits…“spades, clubs, hearts, diamonds.” As soon as he hits the correct one, the caller says “Hold on,” which tells O’Leary he just said the right suit, and passes the phone to the victim who’s about to be stunned.
What makes this trick so unbelievable is how natural the talking sounds. The set-up guy just dials a number, asks to speak with someone and then asks that person to hold on while he passes the phone to the victim. I had never been so impressed by a card trick or phone trick, whatever you want to call it. Learning it was well worth the seventy bucks I lost and the busted lip.
Over the years I’ve done that trick dozens of times, though never for profit. The most fun performing it is at parties or anyplace with large gatherings of people. Listening to people trying to figure it out is as funny as any comedy routine you’ll ever see. The ridiculous theories people put forth to solve the puzzle are as unreal as they are hilarious. You hear everything from high-tech satellites eavesdropping on the room to infrared lenses spying on the deck of cards from another galaxy.
One time at a party while doing the trick, a cute girl made me come with her into the bathroom with the lights off. She said she wanted to be sure that no one else could see which card she chose. I wondered if it was a pretext to jump my bones, but when she struck a match to create a small light while she picked the card, I realized how nuts this trick drove everybody, as it had once done to me.