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2016 SURVEILLANCE & SECURITY: Protecting Cardrooms

How do cardroom casinos differ from regular casinos?

2016 SURVEILLANCE & SECURITY: Protecting Cardrooms

In a couple of states in North America, you may find gambling establishments that advertise the operation as being a “casino.” However, once you enter the facility, you quickly notice one missing element—slot machines.

There are number of “casinos” in California that upon closer examination provide only two forms of gaming that most people associate with the standard Nevada or Class III casinos: (1) standard cardroom poker, which is considered a “pot” game; and, (2) live table games dealt on a “rotating bank” system.

These two types of games are the only gambling games that can be legally offered in California cardroom casinos, since it is illegal for these cardroom casinos to have a direct interest in the outcome of the games. This same gambling situation presently exists in the racetracks, or “racinos,” in the state of Florida.

In this cardroom environment, casino-style games such as Pai Gow Poker, Pai Gow Tiles, blackjack, baccarat and standard alternative games like Three Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em Poker can be played legally if the cardroom does not have any involvement in the wins and losses of each gambling decision. The players themselves take on this responsibility by banking in turn at each seated table position.

In the same style as the old-fashioned “fade” craps games, the designated banking player places the amount of chips he wishes to place at risk in the wagering box in front of his position. The remaining players may now wager against the banking player (known in California as the “designated player”) up to this limit at each wager position or seat. The dealer’s sole responsibility is to manage and control the game.

After having the option to bank on the seated position, the bank rotates left (right in Pai Gow Tiles) one seated position. This format of gaming has catered primarily to the Asian customer over the last 25 years. However, the recent introduction of more mainstream casino games such as blackjack and Three Card Poker is attracting a large number of non-Asian players.

Like any gambling game, “action is the attraction.” The more money wagered by the banker(s), the more total player wagering is received by the card room. The card room derives its revenue from the fees paid by the players for each wager. The standard collection fee is $1 for every $100 wagered by the players, and $2 to $3 for the opportunity to be the banker.

The more total wagering that occurs on the table, the more the house makes per round dealt. When a table is subject to customers banking a great deal of money on each round, the players are motivated to wager more money themselves. This increase in action drives the card room’s fee collection upward.

Since the dealer is at the table only to facilitate play, his or her chip tray contains an impress or “par” amount of chips. This same impress situation is witnessed in standard pot poker games. The dealer’s chips belong to the dealer, and are used to make change for the players at the table.

All fees collected per hand dealt are in the form of casino chips, and those chips are dropped down into the drop box at the completion of the round. Any cash taken and changed by the dealer will remain in the chip tray, and is included in the dealer’s “par” bank. This cash will be converted back to chips through a transaction with another casino employee known as a “chip seller,” or at a later point, with a casino cage cashier when the dealer leaves the table with his chip tray.

This par bank concept places the responsibility for balancing the amount of value in the dealer bank onto the dealers themselves, and any missing value is the responsibility of the dealer. Subsequently, if a dealer were to steal from his tray, he is stealing from himself.

To cover all the player wagers on the rotating bank games, cardroom management has contracted with a separate business entity known as a third-party proposition player provider (TPPP) who is allowed by law to act as a player and absorb all wins and losses while wagering on the table. The TPPP accepts the responsibility of the bank and provides enough funds to cover all payer wagers at the table.

The TPPP adds liquidity to the game, just as certain brokerage firms and market-makers do regarding the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ. To be more precise, TPPP groups act as a gaming enterprise inside of a casino, accepting the table wagering liabilities normally associated with the casino.

They also assume the exposure of asset loss from advantage play, cheating and theft. The TPPP is also sensitive to the mathematical factors surrounding the operation of the rotating bank games, and in most situations has a say in the rules, equipment, side wagers and security procedures established by cardroom management.

What is cardroom surveillance’s responsibility?

The responsibilities of the surveillance team are basically the same as a standard Class III or Class III casino; however, the priorities are somewhat different. Because the cardroom does not take an interest in table game win and loss, or in the dealer’s chip tray—which is carried from table to table by the dealer, and is a “par” amount—the focus on asset protection is different. Following is a list of surveillance responsibilities in the order of importance. Notice that game protection is not No. 1:

1) Making sure the fee collected by the dealer is correct and placed into the table drop box.

Cardroom casinos generate their table game revenue through the collection of table fees from the designated banking player and the customers wagering on each hand. Surveillance operators will be assigned special observations for determining that each dealer is collecting the correct amount, posting the collection, and dropping the chips into the drop slot (or activating the drop slide to drop the chips). If the dealer is required to drop the collected chips by hand, the dealer must be seen showing a “clean” hand towards the overhead surveillance camera.

 2) Be sure that the dealers follow all table game procedures including rotation of the bank.

In California, any customer who wagered in the previous round can accept the designation of banking player, and do so for two consecutive rounds. This opportunity is offered in turn (rotation) to all players at the table. Any player offered the bank in turn has the option of declining the bank. California cardroom regulations dictate that after two rounds the bank must be offered to other players. It is the dealer’s responsibility to count the rounds, determine when the bank needs to be passed, and provide all seated players the opportunity to accept or decline the bank. Surveillance needs to conduct observations of this table game rotating bank procedure to ensure all dealers follow the procedure as dictated by house policy.

) Verify hand values and settle customer disputes.

Since the players gamble against each other, the cardroom floor supervisor acts primarily as a dispute “referee.” It is the floor supervisor’s primary duty to settle any disputes over hand ranking, amount wagered, and identity of customers participating in the hand. If the floor supervisor cannot effectively recreate the actual situation on the table, his next step is to contact surveillance.

A surveillance operator will review the table game footage during the dispute and assist the floor supervisor in making the correct judgement call. Note: Since the cardroom is not involved in wins and losses, floor management cannot arbitrarily settle a dispute by opting to pay the player. Any monetary dispute settlement is resolved by customers involved in the game. Under certain circumstances where the dispute results from a dealer error, management can elect to pay the dispute with house funds taken from the casino cage.

4) Conduct observations in order to protect the integrity of the table games.

Although the cardroom is not the direct victim of a cheating scam, management does have a responsibility to provide all customers a safe environment in which to gamble. If a cardroom gains a reputation for ignoring game protection and allowing unsafe gambling situations, it will lose customers. Unfortunately, game protection has never been a high priority with the cardrooms, and very little time and resources are spent on game protection training. The TPPP organizations, on the other hand, are usually well-trained, and are willing to work with cardroom surveillance operators to improve their game protection skills.


Protecting Rotating-Bank Games

If the cardroom collects a fee from every player wager, advantage play techniques that generate a 1 percent to 2 percent in standard casino games, such as card counting and shuffle tracking, are rendered ineffective by the additional cost to wager. In addition, most cardrooms utilize restrictive rules in blackjack such as 6:5 blackjack payoffs, and all but eliminate card counting and shuffle tracking through the common practice of using of continuous shuffling machines (CSMs).

The procedure of taking a fee per player hand, and the utilizing of the alternative 6:5 BJ rule, limits gains achievable by an attack on a sloppy dealer exposing his hole card. The professional player is highly unlikely to attack a blackjack game that can be “hole-carded” when a majority of the hole-card knowledge gain is eaten up by the fee and the game’s mathematical advantage.

Hole-carding alternative games is extremely profitable in a standard casino environment; however, the difference in game structure and the need for a fair dealer rotation in the cardroom environment limit these forms of attacks as well.

For example, in the standard casino alternative game of Three Card Poker (TCP), an advantage player spying one of the dealer’s three cards gains an approximate 3 percent advantage over the house. In the cardroom game, the standard California TCP game is structured with the bank hand concealing two cards while turning up one card. The up card is turned over after the three-card stack has been delivered to the bank hand (which is maintained by the dealer similar to the standard casino game). For game protection purposes, the up-card is the bottom card of the three-card stack—the most likely card to be exposed during the delivery by a sloppy dealer.

The dealer rotation employed by the cardroom stymies a serious hole-carding situation in rotating-bank games. In almost every cardroom, the dealers keep their own tips. To ensure fairness, the dealers are scheduled to move from table to table every 30 to 40 minutes. They will also alternate dealing on different game types.

If an advantage player were to spot a dealer unintentionally providing a readable “flash” in Ultimate Texas Hold’em Poker, they will only have 40 minutes of advantage play before the dealer moves to another game type or goes on break. In some instances, it might be several days before that dealer returns to this favorable game.

Rotating card games are still ripe for attack from professional cheaters.

Cardrooms are open for “card sequencing” attacks similar to any standard casino. Card control needs to fall under the same rigorous scrutiny as with any casino operation. The use of hidden cameras to record the final manual shuffle of cards in baccarat is extremely possible in higher-limit cardroom baccarat games.

Recently, cameras have been discovered embedded into the dealer’s chip tray in several cardroom casinos in California. Be aware of sequencing attacks in baccarat during the cut, during any required manual shuffles, and from information gained when pre-shuffled cards are maintained in card control rooms and cabinets. The ultimate card sequencing scam, “coolers” or prearranged sequences of cards, is still possible; however, the increasing coverage of surveillance cameras, and tightening of card control policies, have practically rendered “cold decking” obsolete.

Watch out for the use of “dented” marked cards in blackjack, and “daubed” marked cards in alternative games. Marking cards through punching or denting occurs when the cards are dealt face-up. Marking face-up cards is most likely to occur in blackjack games utilizing continous shuffling machines. The cards are marked earlier in the day, and are used later in the evening when the cheaters ask for an increase in table limit. The use of brush faceplates on the dealing shoes and CSMs has limited the number of marked card scams in blackjack and baccarat.

Card switching is most likely to occur on hand-held blackjack games, and alternative games such as TCP. Watch for two players sitting side-by-side and elbow-to-elbow utilizing a card swap under the cover of their elbows and upper arms. Usually a card switching team consists of four cheaters—two to swap cards, one to stand behind the switchers and block, and one to sit on the table and act as a lookout and a distractor.

TCP is an exceptionally attractive target of a card switch team.

Don’t forget about “hand switching” in games like Pai Gow Poker and Pai Gow Tiles. Just recently, a two-player team was seen switching hands numerous times during a two-hour playing session. The switch move allowed one player wagering a larger bet to take the better of two hands while the smaller bet hand was sacrificed.

Cardrooms attract this type of cheating move since the games of PGP and Pai Gow Tiles are structured to allow players to wager not only on their own, but on other seated positions at the table. In the previously mentioned situation, the switch was not hidden, but performed in full view through the use of subterfuge.

As former Nevada Gaming Control agent, casino operator, professional card counter and casino consultant, Bill Zender has been involved in various areas of gaming and hospitality since 1976. He has instructed courses on game protection, card counting, advantage play and gaming operations at various colleges and institutions throughout the country. As a member of JMJ, Inc., Zender was an owner and operator of the Aladdin Hotel and Casino. He has additional operational experience in card room casinos in California and is considered an expert in Asian gaming. For more information, visit

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