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Two trips down Memory Lane

13 October 2009

The September news that a dealer in East Chicago, Ind., had been arrested as part of a cheating ring brought back memories of one of the most eye-opening weeks of my time covering casinos and casino games.

The East Chicago dealer was one of seven arrested nationwide. Charges say they had been flown to Houston to learn a false shuffle. Confederates would then know the order the cards were coming out in blackjack and baccarat and could wager accordingly.

Dealer-player collusion is rare, but it's the form of cheating that's most dangerous for the house.

I've seen the false shuffle in action, though not with any money on the line. It's been a little over a decade since I witnessed Jim Kilby's demonstration, and the memory still amazes me.

Kilby is a former casino dealer, manager and advantage player, who went on to become a University of Nevada at Las Vegas professor, casino consultant and author of texts on casino management. When I saw him in the late 1990s, he was teaching a session at the Harrah's Institute for Casino Entertainment, a one-week introductory crash course in casino operations. The students: Some bright up-and-comers in different departments throughout the Harrah's organization, and one reporter.

On Kilby's night, the topic was scams, the kinds of things surveillance and security needed to watch for. He had a deck of cards and read all the values from the back — they had been marked with a red dye so faint that most of us couldn't see the marks even when we were told they were there. Someone training to read the marks would start with a stronger solution, and when they could read the cards perfectly would dilute it, then dilute it again.

Then there was the dice cheating scam, involving sneaking an extra die into the game. You don't want to try it. It's a felony.

At one point, Kilby opened a brand new deck of cards, fanning them out so that we could see every suit was in order. Then he shuffled, riffling and stripping, until he apparently had a good mix. Finally, he turned the deck face up and fanned them out again.

There they were, every suit still in order by card denomination, as if no one had ever touched them.

Players might fear a dealer capable of a such a shuffle might cheat them, but it's a far bigger danger to the house. If the dealer has partners filling the table, and they know what order the cards are coming out, they know whether to bet big or small, whether to hit or stand in blackjack, whether to bet banker or player in baccarat. That can cost the house tens of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

That's not only lost profit for the casino, it's lost tax dollars for the state. And that's serious business.

** * ** * **

Another piece of news took me down memory lane. On Sept. 25, former Vegas World casino operator and Stratosphere Tower developer Bob Stupak died at age 67.

Stupak's Vegas World was on the Las Vegas Boulevard site where the Stratosphere stands today. It's back to Vegas World days that my memory took me. Stupak was a larger than life, flamboyant type who filled his casino with offers that were too good to be true, as well as introducing twists on standard casino games such as Double Exposure Blackjack — with all dealer cards face up — and Crapless Craps — where 2, 3 and 12 are point numbers.

Typically, full-page magazine ads would tout a virtually free Las Vegas vacation. Prices and packages varied, but one standard was priced at $398. That would bring your room for three nights, $200 in table games play, $200 in slot play, meals, show tickets and other extras.

Sounds great, right? You put up $398 and you get $400 in play, AND you get your room and the other extras.

The reality wasn't quite that good. For slot play, you were given special tokens that could only be used on certain low-paying games. Table play used one-way scrip — bet $5, and if you won, they gave you a regular $5 chip, but took away the scrip. That $200 in table scrip was the equivalent of wagering $100 in regular chips.

Still, it wasn't a bad deal, just overhyped. I knew people who swore by Vegas World, and I knew people who hated it.

I never took the full "virtually free vacation" deal, but I did a mini-variation a couple of times. Stupak would plug a free $50 gambling bankroll. It was a timed program. When you registered, you'd be given a few tokens for the special slots. An hour later, you could claim table scrip, then back another hour later for more slot tokens, and so on. To do all the redemptions and get the full $50 in play, you'd have to check in once an hour for four hours.

I used to drive between Vegas World and the Sahara to kill time between distributions. I'd make a few bucks off the free table play, though I never got anything back from the slot play. A free $50 it wasn't, but it was kind of fun. No doubt there was more than a bit of the huckster in Stupak, but a bit of fun is always welcome.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski