Cheating at games is part of the history of gambling enterprise. Over time the terms gambler and riverboat gambler have rightly or wrongly become closely associated with dishonesty. Jewish courts would not recognize the testimony of a gambler because his veracity was always suspect. The Gamblers, in the Time-Life series on the Old West, asserts that 99 percent of riverboat gamblers cheated at one time or another (Time-Life, Inc. 1978, 61). Graphics of Old West poker games invariably show pistols on the table, reminders to one and all that cheating was frowned upon. Carnival games and private games are most susceptible to cheating, as there is inadequate outside supervision. Licensing authorities for casinos, however, usually mandate that surveillance systems be installed and activated during play. Security rooms have monitors, and personnel watch play as monitors record action. Videotapes typically are kept for a period of time (a week or a month) in case any question arises over the integrity of the games. The racing industry has state racing authorities who are always present at tracks to make sure that the racing is legitimate, to the extent that they can.
Customer service begins with the “winwin” game: winners talk and losers walk. That is an essential ingredient for the marketing and advertising of gambling meccas such as Las Vegas. Typically, winners love to tell of their Vegas triumphs, whereas losers tout the wonderful weather and bargain rates for slop food at the buffets or for their rooms. Everyone wins, and only the winners talk about gambling. This situation fails when players feel they are cheated or exploited. For the latter reason, it is in the self-interest of casinos to minimize and mitigate the volume and effects of compulsive gambling. But they must also make sure that the games are honest. A loser who feels that the games were not honest will be very willing to tell the world about it, whereas other losers are quite content knowing that no one else knows the results of their gambling activity.
Indeed, the games in Las Vegas are honest. There could be no Las Vegas if the games were not honest. Certainly, the gambling city would not be able to attract 40 million visitors each year. But gambling games have always attracted persons who would want them to be something other than honest. Cheating has been perpetrated by parties running the games, and also by players. There are many forms of cheating. In the less-than-honorable (and usually unregulated) establishments, the instruments of gambling have been manipulated so that they do not give honest results. Dice are sometimes weighted and shaved so that certain numbers will fall. Shaved dice have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back thousands of years. Crooked dice can also be weighted to influence the way they fall.Metal pieces have been put into dice, and tables have been magnetized to affect falls as well. One reason that dice are of a clear plastic is so that they can be seen through. A clear die will also reveal if the numbering on the cube is correct. Card decks can also be altered. Extra aces can be slipped into a game. More likely, however, is that a cheater can mis-shuffle and misdeal, taking cards from the bottom of the deck or middle of the deck in order to help or hurt a particular player. Quick hands can result in the placement of cards where the dealer can retrieve them at will and deal them without discovery—of course, then there are those pistols at the table. Other cheaters at card games can become adept at peeking at cards about to be dealt, or they can have confederates peeking over the shoulders of their opponents and sending them signals. It has often been said that if you have been at a private poker game for an hour and you are still wondering who the patsy (victim) is, it is you.
Roulette wheels have been magnetized to stop at certain numbers. Bias wheels have also been constructed not to cycle evenly. Dealers or others can also use techniques—from friction to electric stoppers—to cause the wheel to end its spin on certain numbers. The big wheel (wheel of fortune) is quite exposed and vulnerable to being nudged by a foot, hand, or one’s hindquarters.
The Ping-Pong balls used in devices producing numbers for bingo games and lotteries can also be manipulated. In one case, balls were weighted down with lead paint so that other balls would be selected—hence, producing certain numbers for the prizes. Although that case was detected, one can certainly wonder if such cheating had not occurred many times before and since. Number randomizers in modern machine-driven games—slot machines, keno games, computerized bingo games—can be manipulated if one can get access to them. State casino regulators carry devices that can quickly check if the chip in a slot machine or keno machine is identical to the one that has been registered to assure fully random play. One of the agents of the
Nevada Gaming Control Board who was given the responsibility for inspecting the chips at the factory saw his opportunity, however, to be a dishonest person. He took a chip and reprogrammed it to distribute numbers in a certain sequence if a machine was played with a certain pattern of multiple coins on consecutive plays. He enlisted confederates to play the machines. Fortunately for the regulators, when his friends won the big prizes, they refused to identify themselves (as big winners must do for tax purposes), and their behavior revealed that they were not playing honestly. Of course, one thing led to another and then another, and the scheme was found out.
Unfortunately, the culprit had probably gotten away with his cheating for some time before he was caught. Ironically, the same regulator had broken another case in which American Coin, a major slot route company, was revealed to have programmed its poker machines to not allow royal flushes if a player put in maximum coins for a play. The discovery resulted in the company immediately losing its license. Before a criminal trial of company officials took place, an employee who was to be a key witness was murdered. This happened in the 1990s, and Las Vegas residents shuddered at the realization that the old days had not gone away entirely.
Regular casino chips are also subject to counterfeiting. As a chip can represent up to $100 in value (or more), casinos must be very vigilant against this possibility. Special companies make chips that can be observed by detectors that can verify their legitimacy. Slugs have always been used in slot machines. Modern machines have comparators, which can detect the size, weight, and metal composition of coins or slot tokens to make sure they are proper. Nonetheless, because a token may cost only 20 cents to make, but might represent $1 (or as much as $500), thieving persons will always seek to find a perfect (or workable) match for a machine.
Throughout history, many ways have been used to manipulate slot machines. The handles of old mechanical machines could be pulled with a certain rhythm, and reels could be stopped by design. After a cheater began giving lessons on how to do this, machine companies quickly retrofitted the machines with new handles.
Other simple, silly-sounding schemes were used to compromise machines. A hole would be drilled into a coin, and a string attached to it. The coin would then be dropped into the machine, and after play was activated, the coin would be pulled back out to be played over and over again. Slot cheats would also use spoon-like devices to reach up into the machine from the hopper tray in order to make coins flow. Other schemes involved groups that would distract casino security agents as they opened a machine or drilled holes in the machine in order to affect the spinning of the reels.
Probably the most prevalent type of cheating still going on in casinos is past posting. Quite simply, a player will make his bet after the play has stopped—after the dice have been rolled, or the cards dealt, or the dice rolled. When a dealer is trying to work a busy table, he can be naturally or purposely distracted as the cheater slips the extra chip on the winning number. If done very quickly, past posting can go undetected. A suspicious dealer or games supervisor can quickly ask officials in the security room to review their videotapes to check what happened.
Much of the gambling cheating at casinos involves collusion between dishonest dealers and dishonest players. The simple technique of paying off a loser will work if there are no supervision and no camera checks. Dealers and players may also work together by using false caps that are placed over chips. A player will play a stack of white chips ($1) covered by a cap that makes them look like black chips ($100 value). The dealer will pay off bets as if the higher amount was bet, and the cameras may not catch the deception.
Another kind of cheating is not cheating of the game, but rather cheating of government authorities. Unauthorized or unlicensed owners will seek to get their share of the profits by “skimming.” Legitimate owners may also try to skim profits in order to avoid their taxation obligations. One way they do this is to give credit to certain players who then simply fail to pay off their debts. Another quite ingenious means of skimming at one casino involved the use of miscalibrated scales that displayed the wrong value of coins when they were weighed. A thousand dollars in coins was weighed and declared to be $800, and the owners put the extra $200 in their pockets, while they paid taxes on only $800 in profits.
There are as many techniques for surveillance of cheating as there are techniques for cheating; nonetheless, cheating will continue as long as some see an opportunity. Casinos work together and trade photographs, names, and descriptions of known cheaters and then ban then from the casinos. The state of Nevada also keeps a black book list of excluded persons.
In horse racing, cheating can be as simple as collusion among jockeys to have a certain horse win. In other situations, ringers are used. A good horse is slipped into a race disguised as a horse with a bad record so that the payoff odds are much better. Horses may be drugged for better performances as well. Horsemen may have their steed run slowly in a few races to establish it as a loser. Then when it gets long odds, they bet heavily on it and have it run at its full potential. There is the story of a horse owner who told his jockey to hold back during a race. The jockey did so and the horse finished fifth,
out of the wagering and the prize money. The owner then asked the jockey if the horse had anything left in him at the end of the race, and if the jockey thought he could have beaten the four horses in front of him. “Sure,” said the jockey. “The horse had much left in him, and had I turned him loose around the corner, we could have sprinted by the four horses.” The owner thanked him for the good ride and indicated they would run against the same field in a few weeks, and he was sure the horse could win. The jockey then revealed the truth. “Sir, I’m sure we can beat the four horses that were ahead of us, but we are going to have a lot of trouble with several of the horses that were behind us.” The trouble with cheating is that there is often more than one cheater.

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