Fighting Fire with Fire: How Cheaters Cheat…and How Casinos Stay One Step Ahead of Them

In the 2008 movie 21, an MIT student tries to pay his way through medical school by joining a card counting syndicate. The group is divided into two- “spotters” or those who track and count the cards, and the “players” who manage the bets- that try to work in collusion at various blackjack tables in and around Las Vegas. To the casual viewer, the concept behind the movie might seem a bit farfetched and complicated. But in fact, the scenario had already happened in real life. The movie was based off the MIT Blackjack Team that was established in the late 70s who used card counting and other techniques to beat casinos at their blackjack tables.

There will always be people who will resort to illegal means to beat the “system.” Since there’s a lot of money involved in gambling, it has always been a hotspot for cheaters. While there’s the usual card switching and marking techniques that old school scammers used, most cheaters nowadays have become quite bold and outrageous when it came to their methods. Here are some of the most ingenious ones:

Hidden Camera/Card-Cutting Scheme

In 2011, a baccarat cheating syndicate was busted in the Philippines. The group employed the use of miniature cameras hidden under the wrists of its members. During the card cutting step of baccarat (an odd ritual sometimes performed in high stakes games), the camera recorded the sequence of the cards which are then analyzed by accomplices in another part of the casino.

Card Marking and Infrared Contact Lenses

While card marking is one of the oldest tricks in the cheaters’ book, Bruce Koloshi of Summit, New Jersey, took it to new heights. He used a special kind of luminous fluid that is only visible through infrared contact lenses to mark desired cards.

Acting Drunkenly and Using Good Old Fashioned Sleight-of-Hand

Richard Marcus, a professional scammer who cheated his way through Las Vegas, used to act drunkenly and switch lower valued chips with higher ones if he is winning on a roulette table. The drunken act is supposed to catch dealers and fellow players off guard.

How Do Casinos Catch Cheaters?

While dealers and guards are usually trained to spot people who look suspicious enough, they only have a limited number of eyes. The number one protection of casinos against scammers and cheats are their cameras- the “eyes in the sky” that can monitor every move and action of all patrons inside the casino.

The floor layouts of casinos are usually designed with “gridlocks” – these are areas wherein the traffic of people are concentrated in such a way that the cameras can take a long good look at their faces. And what’s even more amazing are the people who work behind the “eyes” – some of them are past casino scammers themselves (or have been trained by one)! Some of the high end cameras nowadays also have the capability for automatic facial recognition, making the work of these casino guardians much easier.

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