Mystery Players: How Casinos Catch the Careless, the Cheats, and the Corrupt

By Doug Kelly

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.
(To keep reading September's cover story, "The Game Is On," click here.)

♦ Photo by Blyzz/Flickr


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