Beating the scams and cheats with surveillance technology
Darrin Hoke, vice president of operational protection for L’Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles, agreed with his surveillance staff that there was something very odd about the way a Mississippi Stud poker player was handling his cards.
The player in question was moving his hand under the table as cards were dealt, and then pressing two right hand fingers against these cards as he was looking at them. Finally, he was betting in a way that did not make sense with the face cards he was receiving, and he was winning steadily with this strategy.
To Hoke and the experienced surveillance team at L’Auberge, these actions pointed to someone who was likely marking the value of individual playing cards on their backs with a light adhesive or colored ink in a pattern that only they can detect, an illegal practice commonly referred to as “daubing.” Unfortunately, this individual left the property before they fully realized what he was doing, but from the surveillance tape they were able to capture his image and send a warning about him to area casinos.
Shortly thereafter, this same player showed up at the L’Auberge sister property in Baton Rouge, where he was once again playing Mississippi Stud and exhibit the same card handling behavior.
This time the surveillance department had a chance to switch their cameras to a UV setting that usually detects the inks and substance used in daubing. The cameras revealed nothing unusual.
Despite this setback, L’Auberge felt it had enough evidence to pull this player out of the game and confront him. They searched him and found a cell phone, cash, chips and a contact lens case. The player voluntarily gave his winnings back to L’Auberge and casino officials, lacking proof of cheating, decided to let him go. The playing cards used in the game were bagged for further inspection.
While examining the cards the next day, someone decided to try viewing them through the infrared filter of a surveillance camera. What they found were a plethora of daubing marks. When they viewed the game felt under the same lens, the sport occupied by the player was also covered with noticeable smudges and fingerprints. The player had been marking the cards with invisible luminous ink. The only mystery that remained was how he was able to view these marks since the ink he used was invisible to the naked eye.
The answer came when he eventually showed up to play a Mississippi Stud game at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. By this time, casinos throughout the U.S. were on alert for him, and when facial recognition software spotted him playing a card game at a Delaware casino, neighboring gaming facilities were warned. A Mohegan Sun surveillance officer eventually spotted him at a table game, cut to an infrared filter and taped him daubing the cards. During questioning, someone noticed he was wearing contact lenses and eyeglasses. He admitted that the lenses were infrared and allowed him to read the markings he left on the cards.
“Unfortunately these invisible inks and color matching lenses are readily available online, so you can expect more such scams in the future,” said Hoke to a gathering of security professionals at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) conference in Las Vegas. “The good news is there are tools like security cameras already inside your operations that can help you detect this. A lot of you already have IP systems; you should also have some kind of mechanism that allows you to toggle back and forth with cut filters. Then it’s just the simple process of scanning table layouts in the various filters to see if there is a problem.
“It is important to understand there are a lot of technologies and procedures out there that will have you looking at casino security in a different way.”
Indeed, few would argue that surveillance cameras remain the front line of defense at most gaming properties, and are always instrumental in uncovering and protecting the enterprise against cheats. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that more than just a cutting-edge camera system is needed to combat increasingly sophisticated gaming scams and criminals. In fact, camera surveillance is of limited value in one of the latest gaming scams growing in popularity across the country.
Officials at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City realized there was a problem at their 2014 Winter Poker Open when a mid-tournament chip inventory revealed something strange—there was a lot more money in the game that there should have been. A close examination of the chips revealed some were counterfeit, evidently introduced into the tournament by one of the players. The event was immediately cancelled and an investigation launched by the Borgata and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
A week later at neighboring Harrah’s Resort & Casino, maintenance workers responding to a plumbing issue found someone had tried to flush $2.7 million in Borgata chips down a room toilet. The chips were counterfeit and it was quickly ascertained that a player from the tournament had been staying in the room. In fact, the man was the day two chip leader before busting out. It was later determined that he had introduced more than $1 million in bad chips into the game.
Unfortunately for casino operators, counterfeit chip scams are on the rise. Hanover, Md.-based Maryland Live! Casino was actually hit twice in 2014. One scheme involved a couple that had altered $1 chips from West Virginia casinos to look like the black $100 chips used at Maryland Live!. They were able to exchange the fake chips for real ones of lesser denominations at Maryland Live! tables, which they then cashed out at the cashiers cage. The fakes were discovered and investigators used surveillance footage to trace them back to the couple, who were identified and arrested.
The second counterfeit chip case was far more alarming and potentially problematical. It too involved $100 Maryland Live! casino chips. However, instead of doctoring the chips himself, this time the scammer went online and purchased $150,000 counterfeit, look-alike chips for a reported $12,000. Eventually, $4,000 of the chips were passed before the cheat was discovered. Forensic surveillance once again uncovered the people using the chips and a search of their home and nearby property found $115,000 in counterfeit Maryland Live! chips dumped and floating in a local lake.
“It was never really all that hard to counterfeit table game chips,” Hoke said. “Anyone with an arts and crafts background can probably do it. But now people can just go online, search for offshore manufacturers who are willing to make casino chips, give the specifications and style they are looking for, and get as many as they want sent to them. And now we also have 3D printer technology to consider. I can’t imagine it would be all that tough to make a credible counterfeit chip using a 3D printer.”
Hoke believes the best way to prevent counterfeit chip crime is to be proactive. To start, properties should purchase chips with modern security features such as UV coding and microprinting. He also proposes regular chip inventories, with the understanding that whole denominations of chips be replaced once a certain percentage of counterfeits are detected. Finally, he suggests table and cage staff be specially trained to spot and recognize counterfeits.
“The key to preventing [counterfeit chip crime] is to realize where they are likely to be passed and have staff in those areas trained to identify them,” Hoke said.
SORTING OUT A PROBLEM
Training and following established procedures is also key in preventing another growing table game concern—players who use card sorts to gain an advantage over the house and fellow players on certain games.
Card or edge sorting involves players who are using a defect in card design to gain an illegal edge, according to casinos. Ideally, playing cards should all have the same identical pattern on the back. But sometimes during the production process, cards are miss-cut and the pattern on the back of cards is slightly different for different denominations. Some card players are observant enough to notice these off patterns, and if the cards are placed a certain way, can determine a range of denominations the card may be without seeing the face. This is especially helpful in games such as baccarat, were a small range of single cards (6, 7, 8, and 9) are more desirable than others.
However, in order for this advantage to work, at some time during a game the player needs to convince the dealer to turn cards in a certain way, whether they are winners or not, in order to discern and interpret the faulty edge pattern. On paper, this should make the crime easy to prevent.
“Look at recent sort issues and they all have a common denominator—a high-limit player requests cards be exposed and turned over in a very specific manner,” Hoke said. “And we do it, despite the fact we have rules in place telling us not to, because they are such a great customer. This is a mistake that is made consistently because we cater to the high roller and that high roller, at least in my estimation, can cause the most damage to your operation. Think about what a high roller can do if they are on a good streak, but then we also allow them to change some of the rules of the game… and now let’s see how much damage can be done.”
Besides adhering to rules, Hoke believes sorts scams can be disarmed by better card security and inspection. Dealers need to make sure it’s not an off-pattern deck before the game begins. Operators should look into cards with fade designs that avoid pushing patterns to the edge, and only do business with playing card vendors that vouch for quality control during the production process.
Flaws in equipment can lead to security vulnerabilities in a whole host of table games. The same can be said for slot machines as well.
On paper, slot machines would appear to be a much more secure device than table games, especially considering the mechanical and linked nature of the devices which would seem to make any crime against them easy to detect and prevent. But historically, this has not been the case. Monkey Paws and Light Wands have been used to fool video slots in the past. And now a new generation of slot cheat is looking take advantage through the use of electronic communication devices that can interfere with the function on the machine.
“We have to realize that there are people out there who spend their days looking for ways to get into the slot machine,” Hoke said. “I’m relatively confident that the machine program is safe. It is the peripheral devices I have a worry with—all these other things that now go on a slot that we are not familiar with and that can create the environment needed for a cheater to take advantage.”
To underscore this point, the FBI recently uncovered and indicted a team of Russian slot cheats who hit 10 casinos in Missouri California and Illinois. The group targeted a specific type and model of machine and, by allegedly communicating with the machine using a communication device linked to a foreign server, “allowed the defendants to predict the behavior of the…games and obtain winnings from the games that far exceeded what would be expected from fair play.”
What worries Hoke is that these slot scammers have been coming to the U.S. since 2012 and have only been discovered now.
“It underscores an important thing,” Hoke added. “We don’t know enough about slots from a surveillance and game protection perspective that can prevent some of these newer threats from happening. And that is scary.”