Casinos in endless war with cheats

May 29, 2007 5:35 AM

In the high-tech world of casino surveillance and security, it’s hard to imagine cheating would be an easy task for those with criminal intentions.

But no casino is immune to every scheme and scam, which can be as simple as paying off a dealer and as sophisticated as the alleged plot by the Tran Organization broken up by federal agents last week.

"We’re always playing catch-up with the cheats," said Bob Del Rossi, a Las Vegas gaming security consultant. "The best cheating scam today? It’s the one we haven’t figured out yet."

Industry insiders and security consultants such as Del Rossi tell stories about hidden cameras, wireless microphones, hand signals from across casino floors and any number of other illegal tactics.

Phuong Quoc Truong, identified in the federal indictment as one of the Tran Organization ringleaders, was fired from his job as a Pai Gow dealer at the Sycuan casino in 2002.

Known as "Pai Gow John," Truong had mastered the ability to deal the joker to anyone he liked, a huge advantage in the Asian card game. He was observed for three days before he was arrested.

"He could bring up a joker anytime he wanted to," said Frank Martinez, chief of investigations for the Sycuan Gaming Commission. "It’s all in the technique."

In reality, experts say, most casino cheats are decidedly lowbrow. They may strike gold once, or several times, in a short period but have little chance of succeeding over the long term.

"There are telltale signs to cheating — large wins, people playing with the same dealers all the time," said a longtime Las Vegas casino security expert who would not allow her name to be used. "They get away with it for a while, but they’re not going to get away with it."

The level of security can vary widely from casino to casino. The Las Vegas security expert and others said some Indian casinos are only beginning to employ the same measures that Las Vegas gaming institutions have relied on for years.