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Last Updated: Monday, 6 December, 2004, 17:36 GMT
Gambling on a scam's success
By Clare Babbidge
BBC News

Laser technology apparently used by a gambling trio to pocket more than 1m at London's Ritz Casino is the latest of many examples of punters trying to turn the tables on casinos with elaborate scams.

Las Vegas being hit by lightning
Some punters hope technology will help luck strike in Las Vegas
"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em", advises Kenny Roger's The Gambler - but rather than "know when to walk away", many people over the years have tried to beat the odds stacked against them with an ace up their sleeve.

In response, casinos have had to increase security and stay one step ahead of the game.

Films such as Ocean's 11 with its multi-million dollar heist on a Las Vegas safe portray defrauding wealthy, and impenetrable casinos as the perfect crime.

The public imagination was also caught by Dustin Hoffman's autistic character Raymond in Rain Man who was able to "count cards".

'Irritate other players'

Card counting - the practice by which skilful blackjack players keep track of which cards have been played in order to calculate which are left - is not illegal.

But if a casino suspects a player of counting they may ask them to leave the table or indeed the casino.
I could have a tonne of fun, certainly women were going to love me and it was great
Gambler Anthony Curtis

In October BBC's Horizon told how a team of US science students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scooped millions of dollars at Las Vegas casinos by using the technique in the mid-1990s.

Gambler Anthony Curtis told the programme: "The buzz for me was the potential, it was unlimited, and I could make money without punching a clock.

"I could have a tonne of fun, certainly women were going to love me and it was great."

Roy Ramm, compliance and security director for casino group London Clubs International (LCI) said card counters were "usually obvious".

If somebody is using some sort of computer technology, you take away that element of chance, which is what gambling is about, and casinos will go bust
Roy Ramm
London Clubs International
"They usually occupy a certain part of the table, and may stare intently at the cards, " he said. "They tend to irritate the other players".

Mr Ramm, a former police commander at Scotland Yard, said card counters may do so mentally or some "carry a device in their boots".

In either case, he said LCI casinos will "not play to them" as it is considered unfair to other players and likely to cause problems.

In the recent London case, a group of gamblers allegedly used a laser scanner linked to a computer to gauge numbers likely to come up on the roulette wheel.

Mr Ramm said laws on the use of technology in casinos were something of a "grey area".

The Theft Act from the 1960s makes it an offence to go "equipped to cheat".

"But I think police are struggling to apply it to casino games", he said.

Sophisticated scam

He said casinos were hoping the Gambling Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, would give them greater protection.

"If somebody is using some sort of computer technology, you take away that element of chance, which is what gambling is about, and casinos will go bust, " he said.

Dealer at a black jack table
Card counting is done by skilled black jack players - or using hidden devices

He said the odds needed to be stacked "slightly in the house's favour" for it to keep running as a business.

But there are times when the law is clearly broken by casino chancers.

Last year a croupier in Melbourne, Australia, was jailed for her part in a sophisticated scam that defrauded a casino of 1.8m Australian dollars (719,000).

The baccarat dealer had met a man, against whom she did not testify, who allegedly showed her how to shuffle cards in such a way that the face could be seen.

A high roller won $1.4m Aus (559,000) at her table, and the balance of the casino's loss was made up of people who copied his bids.

In another continent four years earlier a sting which was estimated could have cost the South African gaming industry $10m a year was uncovered by an eagle-eyed casino.

Behaving strangely

Officials at Caesar's Casino in Johannesburg first suspected something when blackjack takings dropped by 11% within three weeks.

Security men began scrutinising players and surveillance and found at least five gamblers behaving strangely - either darting their eyes over the card decks or making bets of widely different amounts.

Sophisticated methods aren't really used
Roy Ramm
Investigations found the patterns on the backs of the 10, jack, queen and king were almost imperceptibly different. The casino said it had received 4,000 marked packs - although it was never clear who was behind the scam.

Many methods have been used by casinos to stay ahead of those hoping to beat the establishment.

Las Vegas has its 'Black Book' of people who face a criminal charge if they enter a gaming establishment.

In the UK, casinos are helped by sharing information and have requirements for identification and information.

Roy Ramm said high-tech cameras and "very astute" supervisors watching punters' games and body language were important ways of stopping fraud.

"You have to be on your guard, " he said. "A lot of people think the casino is fair game.

""But I would say 99% of players are honest".

He added that security officers still occasionally saw basic cheating, such as people trying to distract the dealer to put on a late bet.

"The mere fact that people still do this is an indication sophisticated methods aren't really used", he said.



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