The 3 best casino scams of all time
By: Richard Marcus

Now that we've all heard about that big USA/Canada mini-baccarat scam that got busted last month, was it really one of the greatest scams of all-time? The answer is yes, and it did make it into my latest book "The World's Greatest Gambling Scams," but it does not make the top three. Why? For two reasons: One, it involved way too many people, which will always lead to a bust. Two, it was an inside scam. Any scam where employees of the casino conspire with outside cheaters has inherent weaknesses. They all come apart, usually because of squabbling over money who gets what cut, whose ass is more at risk, etc., etc. Another thing about this baccarat scam is that it's been done a hundred times. I did it myself when I dealt mini-bac at the Four Queens; that was in 1977.

So here are the best three scams of all time, and I'm going to present them like a beauty pageant, meaning we will start with number 3, then go to the runner-up, and finally the prize-winner.


SCAM #3 THE FRENCH CIGARETTE PACK SCAM


The most spectacular French casino scam ever took place in the summer of 1973. A ham radio buff employed as a roulette dealer at the Casino Deauville on the Atlantic coast built a radio transmitter into a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, embedding the tiny weightless receiver into a roulette ball made by a sculptor friend that he snuck into play. His brother-in-law placed the bets while his sister, a sexy raven-haired temptress, softly pressed an invisible button on the cigarette pack as the ball was spinning, sending it into a controlled dive which resulted in the ball's landing in groups of six numbers with ninety percent accuracy. In a week the Casino Deauville was beat for five million francs ($1 million at the time).

The owners of the casino could not figure out what was hitting them. First they thought the wheel itself was defective and that somebody had measured it. They had experts come in and completely dismantle the wheel, examine every working piece integral to the ball's spinning around the disk and the wheel's revolutions in the opposite direction. When the astonished owners were told that the wheel was in perfect balance, and that there was not even the slightest imperfection which could produce biased outcomes, they began suspecting the dealer. They watched him secretively from above, but his motion was the same every time; he was doing nothing out of the ordinary to control the movement of the ball. It always made the same number of revolutions before going intoits descent.

The scam was truly a marvel, and neither the ball nor the cigarette pack ever malfunctioned. Like most ingenious scams do, it came apart for a reason that had nothing to do with the scam. The problem was that the dealer's sexy raven-haired sister was a bit too sexy and drew the attention of the principal casino owner who wanted to make her his mistress. He had subtly approached her in the casino several times while she was working the gadget. Being a chain smoker, he was often asking her for a cigarette with his apologies. The raven-haired beauty was cool and able to operate despite the man's presence. She told her husband about his advances, but he replied that the owner's libido couldn't hurt the scam, so they continued.

Finally, the owner realizing he was going nowhere fast with the temptress began watching her from a different eye. Why was she so often in the casino, apparently alone? Why did she always stand by the same roulette table without making more than an occasional bet? And most of all, what was the connection between her and that table losing so much money whenever she was in the casino? All the answers came when the owners, at last suspecting some kind of radio interference with the roulette wheel, had an expert debugging crew come in and sweep the casino while the wheel was in action. The next time the principal casino owner asked the temptress for a cigarette, the chief of the Deauville Police Force was there at his side to confiscate the pack and put the lovely raven-haired beauty in handcuffs.

This scam was decades ahead of its time, and there was a 1984 movie made about it called "Les Tricheurs," which means "The Cheaters." It certainly was a precursor to all today's roulette scams involving computers and cell phones.


SCAM #2 THE SAVANNAH SCAM


Believe it or not, my famous Savannah scam, considered the best ever by many people in casino surveillance and investigations, was actually not. However, it was quite the worthy dauphine. It went on for five years and never got caught.

The Savannah was carried out by my own professional cheating team from 1995 to 2000. It was nothing more than a subtle variation of the old bet-and-run scam, where desperate players made simple proposition bets on roulette and grabbed the chips off the layout when they lost, before the dealer could sweep them away. By hiding $5,000 casino chips (or $1,000 chips in lower-limit casinos) under $5 casino chips on the 2 to 1 column bets (slanting the $5 chips slightly inward toward the dealer to camouflage the bottom chip), we won $10,010 each time these bets won while losing just $10 when they lost. We accomplished this by quickly switching out the losing bet containing the $5,000 chip and replacing it with $5 chips the instant the ball dropped. When caught by the dealer, we immediately resorted to a drunk-routine during which we slobbered and claimed we didn't realize the ball had dropped. We got away with it because the dealer never saw the $5,000 chip to begin with, therefore he was satisfied that the $5 chip set down to replace it was the one originally there.

When the bet won, all we had to do is claim it enthusiastically. Naturally the dealer had no idea what we were cheering about, so we had to verbalize it, "There's my $5,000 chip on the winning column bet!" Then the shocked dealer would pick off the red-chip capper and notify the pit boss, who would immediately call surveillance to verify the suspicious bet. Surveillance would run back the video, only to confirm that the bet was legit. Whenever I demonstrate Savannah at my training seminars, casino staffs just cannot believe how something so elementary could work with such devastating efficiency. The old saying, "the simpler the better."

This move was so good that after doing it a hundred times in Vegas, and being identified by Griffin, Gaming Enforcement and everyone else connected to Game Protection while I stood at the bottom of wheels and collected the big payouts, they still couldn't figure out what I was doing and were forced to pay me every time. Casino surveillance experts Bill Zender, George Joseph and Andy Anderson have called the Savannah move the best they've ever seen. But I still disagree.


SCAM #1 THE CASINO IDENTITY THEFT CREDIT SCAM


Why is this the best scam of all time? Well, if casinos just give you millions of dollars and you don't have to do anything, I'd say that that could never be beat!

Ever dream of walking into a casino, signing a marker for a hundred thousand dollars in credit, getting the chips, cashing them out and never having to worry about paying it back? It's easy. Just takes a little ingenuity, criminal genius and big balls.

It's part of today's biggest scam. Identity theft. The Roselli brothers from Monmouth, New Jersey, pulled off a beauty in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico that began in the mid '90s and lasted until January 2000. How'd they do it? They hired a computer hacker to break into the nation's credit data systems, then pilfered the credit histories of certain Americans (and foreigners) having outstanding credit ratings and several accounts. Then after opening new accounts in these people's names, the Roselli brothers applied to the credit departments of the major casinos in all three gambling capitals. They were told that stable cash balances had to be maintained in bank accounts for a minimum of six months before casinos would establish credit. No problem. The Roselli brothers, already career gangsters with fat bankrolls, had plenty of money to work with. They opened accounts in several names and stuck fifty grand in each of them. Six months later virtually all the major casinos gave them fifty-thousand-dollar credit lines in the name of each fraudulent account they had established with the banks.

The Rosellis alternated their scam between Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico every weekend for more than five years. They were completely comped in style for everything: penthouse suites, gourmet meals, Dom Pérignon, you name it. They signed markers, got their chips, then used "offset" betting procedures to make the pit bosses believe they were losing all their chips while cohorts were winning them on the other side of baccarat and craps tables. Then with the same fidelity an honorable person returns his books to the library on time, the Rosellis promptly paid their outstanding markers. This got their credit lines jacked up, since they showed tons of action and paid their markers within a few days of leaving the casinos, a gesture just loved by casino credit departments. The fifty-thousand-dollar casino credit lines soon became a hundred thousand, then two hundred thousand, then half a million, and even a million in some of the classiest casino mega resorts. And the Rosellis kept on signing, playing, signing and playing, all the while giving the impression of losing big. Naturally their operation became complex and employed dozens of loyal associates from New Jersey, but as long as the casino bosses never caught on to the fact that each Roselli was more than one person, they would never know they were being victimized in the biggest casino credit scam in history.

It was ballsy, at times incredibly hairy, but the brothers pulled it off. New Year's weekend, 2000, they showed up in Vegas for the last time. They planned on beginning the new millennium with a bang. They made the rounds of casinos in which they had big credit lines in fifty names, carefully working each shift (day, swing and graveyard) as to avoid running into pit bosses who might address them with a name different from the one they were using at that moment to sign markers. Then after spreading their false gambling action all over town, with bets as high as $100,000 per hand, they absconded with the chips never to be seen again.

Total take: $37 million. And the real beauty of it was that neither the casinos, the FBI nor the US Secret Service realized a scam had taken place until six months later. First the casinos sent polite reminders to the addresses (real apartments in upscale neighborhoods) the Rosellis had set up for the scam, asking for payment of the markers. Then when those went unanswered they turned to dunning letters demanding payment or else there would be legal action. Next came phone calls from their credit departments, but they fell upon professional answering services unwittingly picking up the phones for fraudulent businesses. And they called again and again more letters, too, even certified, but no one ever answered the door for the mailmen. All that took six months before the FBI was finally alerted. By that time the Roselli brothers were lying on a beach somewhere very far from American casinos.

And one last detail: The Roselli brothers didn't exist either. The real Roselli brothers whose ID they thieved died long before their scam was conceived. So in fact, the FBI and Secret Service have no idea who they're looking for. But I do. They're looking for shadows.


Richard Marcus (retired casino cheater) has
authored a number of books on cheating
scams. His latest book, The Worlds Greatest
Gambling Scams is available online at
www.richardmarcusbooks.com



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