I tried not to act surprised, but there it was happening smack dab in front of me: two cheaters at a blackjack table. Every few hands, when a pit supervisor was out of range, one would distract the dealer so that his accomplice could “cap” or “pinch” a bet.
Capping is when the cheater adds to the original bet while the dealer is distracted by his accomplice, who might ask a question, make a comment, or request a drink, for example. Pinching is the opposite: the cheater’s original bet is surreptitiously lessened, because the hand is likely to lose. One way to pinch, for instance, is to place a partly full drink glass over the original bet while the dealer looks away.
For nearly 30 minutes, I watched this capping and pinching take place. When the cheaters finally departed, I estimated that their take was about $250—low enough to stay off the radar screen but high enough to make a nice amount of pocket cash.
In this case, the cheaters didn’t get away. I left the table briefly at one point to make a call to my client—the casino. Surveillance officers were alerted to observe the table, making sure to zoom in to record the cheating incidents and to record the physical appearance of the cheaters so that they could be apprehended and prosecuted.
That was the exception, however. In most cases, when I am hired as a covert operative, the purpose is not to catch individual guests in the act of committing crimes but to get an overall covert view of how employees interact with customers and to ascertain whether staff members are consistently following security protocols. It is especially important that workers, even the casino managers, be kept in the dark when such an operative (we’ll call it a mystery player) hits the floor.
It’s No Mystery
Among the range of casino employees who interact with customers are slot attendants, dealers, wait staff, casino customer service personnel, security officers, and cashiers. Mystery players can provide a gaming establishment with unbiased information on how each person interacted with a customer as well as how well they adhered to casino policies.
When searching for a service provider, a client casino should first assess its own expectations and be ready to express them with the prospective candidates. This includes clearly articulating what the company wants to learn. For example, do they want details such as how many times during the mystery player’s stay the casino manager was seen making rounds on the gaming floor, how customer complaints were handled, whether the dealers shuffle per specifications, or whether dealers seem easily distracted.
Selection process. In selecting a provider, in addition to calling references, clients need to inquire about the vetting of employees and the code of conduct they are expected to follow. For example, in one case, a service provider sent a covert operative to a large hotel casino. On the night of his arrival, the agent went to one of the hotel lounges, became drunk, and bragged to an attractive waitress about his “spying” role in the casino. His purpose was known throughout the hotel long before his hangover faded, making his services worthless.
Clients should also ask about the training of potential mystery players in areas such as blending in, inconspicuously taking notes, and secreting and protecting the information they gather. For example, notes and laptop files in an agent’s hotel room or ship cabin need to be inaccessible to housekeepers or cabin stewards.