2016 SURVEILLANCE & SECURITY: There's An App For That

Casino cheating in the digital age

Seventy miles north of the world’s gambling capital Macau is Guangzhou, the world’s capital for purchasing gambling cheating devices.

Guangzhou, located in mainland China, is an international hub for electronic equipment. Most of the gambling cheating devices that can be purchased in Guangzhou are manufactured in nearby Shenzhen—just a hop, skip and jump from Hong Kong.

Surprisingly, the cheating device stores are not located in backstreets and dark alleys that only James Bond could find. They’re located on Airport Road in the Baiyun District, a main arterial from the airport to the city center. Over a dozen stores selling all the latest cheating devices are easy to find and conveniently located within walking distance from each other.

The cheating device stores are quite large facilities that house a large number of staff. Most offer online facilities where customers from all over the world can purchase and receive 24-hour support for their newly acquired “weapons of mass deception.”

One website has an “about us” page with a professional picture of a CEO (probably not the CEO—there is no name included) with a message to customers about how his company “provides unique high-technology casino cheating products and perfect technology support and service for customers. To produce superior products, our company invests a lot of money for the new product development and design every year.”

Some of the companies have multiple websites under different names, but if you look closer you will notice similarities in the website design. This suggests most of the stuff is coming from the same place.

A closer look inside the cheating device stores is quite revealing. Last year an acquaintance of mine, armed with a local translator, visited a number of the cheating device stores in Guangzhou on a research mission. His mission was to see how accommodating they could be in supplying equipment to a guy off the street that could potentially use the devices to cheat casinos.

He generally found the staff to be very friendly, and had no problem getting invited into a number of their facilities to see their operations and a wide variety of cheating devices. They took great pride in being able to provide the latest and greatest cheating devices on the market.

After seeing a number of options, he focused on card marking systems. He was shown a number of products that incorporated different “invisible” substances with different optic readers. After discussing pricing terms, he asked them if they could mark up a set of real casino cards from Las Vegas and if so, how long it would take for them to have them shipped back to the U.S.

The response? “Three days.”

Hot Sellers In 2016?

When you look at the availability and accessibility of casino cheating devices, it is interesting to note how they range from the very simple to the highly sophisticated. Some of them, like magnetic dice, up-the-sleeve hold-out devices and card-marking daub, come under the oldest-trick-in-the-book category, but others are worthy of being included in Apple’s annual product launches.

It seems if you want to cheat a casino in 2016… there could be an app for that.

Here’s a brief description of some of the types of sophisticated cheating devices currently on the market that could do some real damage if introduced into a casino game. I have also noted if the type of device has actually been reported to have been used to cheat a major casino.

Computer Analyzers: A system incorporating playing cards with “invisible” marks located on the edges of the cards that can only be identified using a special camera lens, usually built into a cell phone. The card information is sent back to a computer that analyzes the order of the cards and communicates the results to the cheat. This device is usually used on poker, but it can be incorporated into blackjack and baccarat. There has been a reported use of this device.

Camera-Rigged Casino Equipment: Table game equipment that has been rigged with a Bluetooth-transmitting miniature camera inside to enable sequences (slugs) of cards to be recorded during the shuffle. Over the last five years, there have been reported incidents of dealing shoes, shuffle machines and chip trays all being rigged with a camera.

Marked Card Systems: Different substances are being developed all the time that are impossible to see with the naked eye and can only be identified using special glasses, contact lenses or a concealed camera. Camera ranges for identifying cards are increasing all the time, and in some cases cards can be identified from 10 meters away. Numerous cases of card marking systems have been used in recent years.

Optical Character Recognizers (very new): A cell phone with an app that is programmed to identify the card indexes via the inbuilt camera and send a visual (or audio) message to the cheat. This could be used to identify hole cards, dealers flashing the top card or the first card out of the shoe. There have been no reports of these devices being used in a casino thus far.

RFID Playing Cards (very new): Playing cards with embedded radio-frequency identification chips in each of them so they can be identified by RFID readers. There have been no reports of these devices being used in a casino thus far.

The list of available cheating devices for sale to the public could go on and on. If you’re interested in learning more about the specific devices that are currently available, Google  “casino cheating devices China.”

Keep in mind the use of any of these devices to cheat a casino would generally require collusion from the inside. This could be a dealer, a floor supervisor, a pit manager or whoever is responsible for maintaining, repairing or storing casino equipment. In some cases, it may be all of the above. An exception would be the card marking systems for which inside help is not required, although as a casino manager you should never discount the possibility.

Hold The Phone

Based on the growing amount of cheating device sites on the internet, it is pretty safe to conclude that the business of casino cheating is thriving. The supply is growing. One can only assume that so is demand.

The reality is, however, that over the last decade the biggest casino scams have utilized a device that can be purchased down at the local mall, and there’s a good chance that everyone already has at least one. No, I’m not talking about guns. The weapon of choice for big-time casino crooks is a video camera.

Video cameras are everywhere. Odds are that everyone playing in a casino is armed with a video camera in the form of potentially the best cheating device—a cell phone. Most cell phones have built-in HD cameras that can record high-quality video for long periods of time. What makes the cell phone such a weapon is they have the potential to video record, compute and communicate inside information visually or by audio messaging.

To understand why concealed video cameras are a huge threat to game protection, we must understand the objectives of casino cheats. Cheats generally use one of three methods to rip off a casino: they change or make a wager after the result, they change or make a result after they wager, or they obtain inside information of the result.

By far the biggest scams over the last decade have involved dealers and players colluding to gain inside information of the result. By using video cameras at a baccarat game to record sequences of cards during or after a shuffle, cheats, via way of breaching internal procedures, are able to keep sequences intact for the next round so the results can be predicted and successfully wagered on. 

Different variations of the scam have evolved along the way with the advancements in camera technology, especially in the field of wearable cameras. Players used to be responsible for video recording the shuffles with the assistance of the dealers. Recent trends have turned towards dealers wearing concealed cameras and recording the cards themselves.

In 2015, reports surfaced from California that dealers had rigged chip trays with concealed cameras to facilitate and record a table-level view of the baccarat shuffle. Unconfirmed reports suggested the video was remotely recorded. Another unconfirmed rumor surfaced in 2015 that dealers in a high-end casino were using concealed cameras to record pre-shuffles in pre-shuffle rooms.

Time to Devise A Device Strategy

The availability of these new cheating devices and the advancement of digital technology has tipped the edge in favor of the cheats. If we acknowledge that cheating devices have never been easier to buy, utilize sophisticated technology, get results and are becoming harder for casinos to detect, then we have to devise a device strategy.

I prescribe to three basic principles when it comes to game protection. I call them the “Triangle Theory.” The three principles combine smart and effective procedures, equipment and education. When applying these principles to devise a device strategy for the future, we need to take a more innovative approach.

Procedures: Review to ensure there are minimal chances for collusion-assisted video recording of cards. If possible, automate the shuffle procedures and streamline the pre-shuffle procedures so the path from storage to the shoe is as direct as it can be. Ask yourself if there are any steps in your current table game procedures that are vulnerable to exposing cards to concealed cameras. Finally, remember that it’s just as important to enforce procedures as it is to read and write them.

Equipment: Given reports as recently as last year of casino employees rigging gaming equipment with concealed cameras, it is paramount that all gaming equipment used in the process of conducting gaming is checked and audited on a regular basis. This should be done by people knowledgeable in game protection and independent from the gaming department.

Education: Cheating devices have evolved immensely over the last five to 10 years, and continue to be developed rapidly as digital technology jumps quantum leaps. Progressive surveillance operations should be technologically led by a culture of learning and research-driven protection strategies. The best way to stay one step ahead of high-tech cheating is to know what’s out there and understand how it is used to beat casinos. I recommend time and resources to be dedicated on a monthly basis to search the internet to see what is out there. YouTube is a great resource for finding this type of stuff and using the videos to train your team.

Knowledge Bank

There have been a number of casinos hit with very large scams involving camera technology and devices over the last few years. Unfortunately, the failure to prosecute the cheats indicates a possible knowledge gap by regulatory, law enforcement agencies and the casino operators in the new technologies being used to cheat casinos.

Cases are disappearing into legal investigation “black holes” that are leaving the casino industry none the wiser and susceptible to future attacks.

To gain a better understanding of how new technology is being used to cheat casinos, it is important that all casino interested parties and stakeholders cooperate and share their investigation findings and research with each other. If we educate each other, preventative strategies can be developed and introduced to maintain gaming integrity against any threats that may lie ahead.