Cheating at Casinos with Hidden Cameras

Sleeve cameras aren't new, but they're now smaller than ever and the cheaters are getting more sophisticated:

In January, at the newly opened $4-billion Cosmopolitan casino in Las Vegas, a gang called the Cutters cheated at baccarat. Before play began, the dealer offered one member of the group a stack of eight decks of cards for a pre-game cut. The player probably rubbed the stack for good luck, at the same instant riffling some of the corners of the cards underneath with his index finger. A small camera, hidden under his forearm, recorded the order.

After a few hands, the cutter left the floor and entered a bathroom stall, where he most likely passed the camera to a confederate in an adjoining stall. The runner carried the camera to a gaming analyst in a nearby hotel room, where the analyst transferred the video to a computer, watching it in slow motion to determine the order of the cards. Not quite half an hour had passed since the cut. Baccarat play averages less than six cards a minute, so there were still at least 160 cards left to play through. Back at the table, other members of the gang were delaying the action, glancing at their cellphones and waiting for the analyst to send them the card order.

Posted on August 23, 2011 at 5:44 AM • 26 Comments

Comments

JnBAugust 23, 2011 7:31 AM

Well the problem with game like Baccarat and Black Jack is that there is a well know strategy. If people start winning without using this strategy (for example hitting on 20 knowing an ace is coming), they will be quickly spotted as cheaters.

A casino doesn't need to understand how they cheat.

It is then easier to find how someboda is cheating when you know he is.

DAugust 23, 2011 8:06 AM

@JnB I remember seing a video were Andy Block explained how card counters should do some obvious (yet inexpensive) errors from time to time, to avoid being spotted and labelled as card counters.


JeroenAugust 23, 2011 9:19 AM

I still like the story of a group who put one of their members in a wheelchair, who was then able to glance underneath the dealer's cards as they were being dealt by feigning extreme spacticity.

Since the job of sitting in the wheelchair was quite unpleasant, they rotated the job. They got caught when they messed up their schedule, and the guy who was in a wheelchair before walked through the entrance of a casino completely healthy.

EdT.August 23, 2011 9:40 AM

@JnB: Actually, I think they *do* need to know how the cheating happens - especially if the state wants to prosecute (they have to explain, convincingly, to a jury that the "winnings" weren't the result of chance.)

~EdT.

Clive RobinsonAugust 23, 2011 9:55 AM

I can guess what will happen.

Now the Casinos know such cheating can be done they will simply change the way the cards are dealt.

I suspect it would not be difficult to arange for the part of the deck cut to be re-shuffled in some way, thus reducing the likely hood of more than a couple of the cards to remain in contact with each other (assuming the shuffle is done properly).

However I suspect it won't be long before we see machines that continuously shuffle cards and the dealer presses a button to get one or more cards put out.

Sad though it might seem the days of card counting that started with "Greasy John" are coming to an end.

Which is why the likes of "Newtonian Roulette" is so much more interesting from a techies perspective.

pprboyAugust 23, 2011 9:57 AM

glancing at their cellphones? Every casino I've been in they politely but firmly tell you to put it away. Bet, pass or leave but you need to do something. I'm amazed they let them get away with the stalling

SAugust 23, 2011 10:55 AM

@Clive: There are numerous counter measures already in place: From changing the rules to using more decks.

However, they can't change too much or otherwise people are not interested in playing anymore.

DAugust 23, 2011 12:03 PM

Q for the rest: aren't there (IR) sensors that can detect the presence of CCD already? Are there patterns that can be printed on cards that completely mess up the button CCD but not visible to human eyes and won't jam the casino's video recorder?

Dr. I. Needtob AtheAugust 23, 2011 12:57 PM

Even roulette can be beaten with a concealed computer.

The first impression of any rational person to this statement is that it's impossible, but it actually can be done, and was one of the developments that led to Nevada's "device law" that forbids bringing any device into a casino.

Nick PAugust 23, 2011 1:50 PM

@ D

Yeah, there are IR sensors. TSCM professionals have equipment that can detect hidden cameras, active devices, etc. The thing is that this is expensive, specialized, noticeable equipment. It might also come across as harassment to the players. There might have been a portable, concealable version developed but all I recall are the bulky ones.

As for the cheat, I like it. It's well designed. And I have nothing against cheating casino's: they rig many games anyways. A legitimate way to game them is through video poker. Certain casino's have a payout strategy that, combined with a certain playing strategy, can make you come out on top most of the time. There was a guy who was interviewed by Popular Science or one of those mags that makes his living this way. He did say you had to find the right casino because some make their video poker games pay jack. (Rigged, see?)

Joe L.August 23, 2011 2:14 PM

surely the video could have been transmitted wirelessly to the analyzer with the results fed back to the cutter or another player with much quicker turnaround....

That GuyAugust 23, 2011 3:00 PM

@Joe

the problem with transmitting the video signal is that it's too easy for the casino to detect and/or jam the signal. Sure it takes longer doing it by foot, but there's a lot less chance of getting popped that way than walking into a casino with a transmitting radio.

Richard Steven HackAugust 23, 2011 3:18 PM

As someone who was interested in card counting decades ago, let me point out two things:

1) Card counting is not "cheating", nor is it illegal in the US. You will probably be barred from play if you are detected doing it, though.

2) As S noted above, the casinos have tried shuffling after every game and the result was considerable loss of ordinary players who didn't like that the game was even more rigged against them than usual. The loss of revenue more than offset the winnings of the occasional card counter.

In order to win at card counting, you have to go in with quite a big stake, too, to ride out the probability swings which can be considerable no matter how well developed your strategy. And also to allow yourself to lose frequently enough not to be spotted.

Clive RobinsonAugust 23, 2011 3:44 PM

@ D,

"... aren't there (IR) sensors that can detect the presence of CCD already?"

Yes there are three basicc ways to detect a camera,

1) look for the heat signiture
2) look for the timebase signiture
3) look for the cats eye effect.

All active electronics emit a heat signiture and in theory you could detect this. In practice these days they use so little electricity the heat signiture is so small you could get a greater heat signitur change from just flexing a muscle or two.

The timebase signiture was once a reliable way of detecting Videcon tube cameras because the internal beam was controled by a largish current and this would put out a charecteristic signiture that could be picked up at tens of meters. But again modern electronics uses so little power and the CCD array is not a radiator like a coil so in an electricaly noisy environment like a casino with lights, one armed bandits etc again not much of a chance and none at all if there are CRT based systems like arcade games.

which leaves the "cat eye" effect, also known as the "red eye" effect. Basicaly any optical system that is in focus sufferes from 100% internal reflection, so if you have an IR tourch shining out with a sensor mounted next to it the IR beam goes into the camera lense and gets reflected straight back out back to the source. Which is great if you are looking for CCTV cameras up high covering an area, but not good when the camera is hidden up somebodies sleve out of sight. The chances are the lens is obscured by their hand except when they have their wrist bent back slightly when riffing the cards. So a very low probability to detect.

With regards to,

"Are there patterns that can be printed on cards that completely mess up the button CCD but not visible to human eyes and won't jam the casino's video recorder"

Not realy, we all remember seeing TV presenters with ties or shirt patterns that used to change alarmingly both in colour and pattern when they moved. This was an artifact of the transmission system "colour burst" signal not the camera or the display.

If you think about it the only pattern that would be confusing to any modern camera is one that is close to or above the video signal bandwidth which then aliases back down to baseband and for a patern to generate such a signal it needs to be in a small distance range from the camera with a known scan frequency.

Another more likley effect would be to use a close to visable light stroboscope that flashes high intensity very short duration pulses at the most likley scan rate frequences. As this is well above human eye perception of a few Hz the human eye would be quite insensitive to it and as it would be just outside the human eye spectral response the eye would be "doubly insensitive" unlike the camera that has it's peak spectral response down at those frequencies.

There may be other ways such as having a ring of IR emiting LEDS around the table rapidly flashing at different high frequencies to fritz the electronic "auto iris" on the camera but you would have to experiment quite a bit.

John David GaltAugust 23, 2011 7:27 PM

I'm a lot more worried about cheating *by* casinos than *against* them. I suppose I would feel differently if I owned one.

I'm sure their security is great at protecting themselves, but I'd feel better if the people in that room were police, so that the casino can't clean me out by putting in a "mechanic" (I'm convinced this happened once, but good luck proving it).

Richard Steven HackAugust 23, 2011 8:09 PM

Cheating casinos is a problem in some places but my guess is most don't have to - the games are already rigged against you and if the cheating were ever caught, the drop off in customers would severely damage the casino.

Of course, greed isn't rational. But the Mob doesn't run the casino industry any more. My guess is casinos generally play it reasonably straight. If for no other reason than the Gaming Boards and the people who hate casinos, thinking they are "crime magnets", are always watching them.

DAugust 23, 2011 9:17 PM

@Clive Robinson & @Nick P. Thank u both. I remember reading a few years back a Russian oil magnate installed lasers on his gigantic yacht to jam paparazzi cameras, so I always wondered how that system detects CCDs at long distances, and firing the lasers before the shutter is closed. Also, security paper (like those for checks and prescription pads) messes up photocopiers, so would it be hard to come up with something similar for the cards to mess up button cams but not affect their own security cam?

Nick PAugust 24, 2011 2:26 AM

@ Richard Steven Hack

"My guess is casinos generally play it reasonably straight. If for no other reason than the Gaming Boards and the people who hate casinos, thinking they are "crime magnets", are always watching them."

Wow. You really surprised me there. I'd figure you of all people would note how much money the casino's pay their politicians, governments (via tax collection), etc. For example, one Nevada senator took in $3+ million in campaign contributions from the casino's there & paid them back with a $650 million dollar tax break over ten years. (Even drug dealers don't see that kind of ROI... ;)

Obviously, the relationship between the casino's and regulators is complex. They can get away with certain things and not others. There's no reason to trust them or believe playing fair is in their best interest. After all, we know the gaming commission allows them to rig games to provide certain payout percentages that give them a profit. It's similar to Scientific Games Int.'s scratch off tickets that are said to be rigged to net around $0.40 per $1 spent over long term. How is that "reasonably straight" again?

AutolykosAugust 24, 2011 6:32 AM

Of course most games are rigged in the sense that they don't have a 1:1 payout - after all, casinos need to live. But that's not cheating, as long as the rules are clear and respected. And like you said, they bribed the politicians to get tax breaks, not to be allowed to cheat (and while it is definitely sleazy for the politicians to take the bribes in the first case, it would be outright criminal in the second).

Richard Steven HackAugust 24, 2011 3:23 PM

Autolykos made my point, Nick. I know casinos are "crooked", like most corporations, but cheating is another matter. That would strike directly at the heart of their profits - if caught.

And as I said, "rigging" is not "cheating". I know, that's a funny concept. Call it "legal cheating". LOL

The only gambling I would ever do - because I'm not an idiot - would be in blackjack using card counting to even the odds (provided, again, I had a big enough bankroll to ride out the swings - about $50K is needed to make any serious money on a daily basis.)

I'd much prefer to do it the Danny Ocean way. :-)

Clive RobinsonAugust 24, 2011 4:01 PM

@ Richard Steven Hack,

""like most corporations, but cheating is another matter. That would strike directly at the heart of their profits - if caught"

Yup...

Let me see, News Corpse propietor Rupert "show em the bare bits" Murdoch, recently killed of the News Of The World (better known as The news of the Screws) in the UK because the editors and journolists got caught "hacking voicemail" of celebs, police officers, victims of abduction, but worst of all as Auzzie Rupert "t'bare dem bits" considered himself a "King Maker" the Politicos. Who virtualy overnight went from kising up to the old codger to riping him and his corp(se) appart like rabid dogs...

And guess what they broke US law so I guess he'll be getting a few "bitch slaps" over on your side of the puddle from either the Feds or Shareholders or both (personaly I think I'd preffer the Feds in his position shareholders tend to be oh so much worse as Canadian Conrad Black found out).

Yup getting caught can at the very least be humiliating (pie in the face - check) ranging up through wreaking the "succession plans" (-check) through to retirment in a federal facility with compleat loss of power and property...

But as we know from Enron and Enron-alikes those in walnut corridor are chancers and beleive that can get away with it. Sadly many many do which is why we have such stupid corparate policies that even in a quite short term don't make sense. That is unless you consider share options today, cash them in tomorrow, collect golden parachute the day after, rinse repeate as a valid career progression?

Richard Steven HackAugust 24, 2011 6:56 PM

I suspect Murdoch won't be dealt with that harshly, although I'm sure some lower-level corporate grunts will be thrown to the wolves - just as the grunts at Abu Ghraib were thrown to the wolves while the generals who authorized everything went on to tidy retirement and cushy corporate board jobs - and just as David Petraeus, who lost something like 90,000 US military weapons in Iraq on his watch (or sold them to someone for profit, which is more likely), is now head of the CIA after royally screwing up Iraq and then Afghanistan...

There's nothing like "failing upward"...

"Bitch slaps" is about all Murdoch'll get. Unless of course, some politicos want to "make hay" out of it, which does happen occasionally. Then the rest of the MSM bigwigs will suck up to them even more - and we'll get even less meaningful "news" than we get now (not that Murdoch's crowd was ever known for real "news".)

But Murdoch is a big supporter of Israel and Israel is running the US political system these days. So AIPAC and the military-industrial complex who both benefit from Murdoch's "news" empire will make sure Obama doesn't let him actually suffer too much.

The corruption of US society is to the bone - and has been for decades if not a century or more. It took Britain and the Euro countries hundreds of years to get to their current level of corruption which the US has exceeded in less than 200.

Nick PAugust 25, 2011 12:34 PM

@ Richard Steven Hack

"It took Britain and the Euro countries hundreds of years to get to their current level of corruption which the US has exceeded in less than 200."

I have to counter that we were an offshoot of Britain & started at their level. Additionally, many from Europe moved over here. Sure we had the constitution and revolution, but that was just a pause in the process of corruption. The strong British and European influence & roots ensured we would catch up to them rather quickly. Instead, we ended up overtaking them in imperialism, greed and corruption in record time. So, I guess America is the best at... something. It's just not the something I prefer us to be No 1 in.

Richard Steven HackAugust 25, 2011 2:37 PM

Nick: Good point, we inherited corruption. We must never forget that John Adams suspended habeus corpus during Shay's rebellion.

Just imagine if the US had been settled by Asians! We'd have another thousand years or more of corruption to inherit! :-)

My favorite line from Lee Marvin in "Gorky Park": "You see, corruption is part of us. All of us. The very heart of us."

Nick PAugust 26, 2011 12:24 PM

"we must never forget that john adams suspended habeus corpus during Shay's rebellion"

In other words, we must never forget that our government might act corruptly for its own ends? Believe me, I won't forget. They remind me too often. ;)

David E.February 17, 2013 2:30 PM

@ Richard Steven Hack
I had a friend in the '80s who counted cards in Blackjack and never got caught.

He would put several thousand for chips on his credit card when he checked into his free room, then turn in a small amount every time he took a break. He never won big, on purpose, but the turn-in made it look like he lost much more than he did when he settled his account upon checking out.

He got free rooms, free food and drinks, and free shows. He was always giving out free show passes at work. He used to brag about all the free stuff, so I went with him one weekend to watch him. He won small amounts (he aimed for breakeven to <=5% winnings over the weekend IIRC) but got loaded down with free stuff.

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