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People continue to find ways to cheat casinos

Sal Piacente has seen just about every form of casino cheating possible.

He's even demonstrated a lot of them.

The president of UniverSal Game Protection Development Inc. in Florence, Ky., advises casinos how to protect themselves against cheats -- whether players, dealers or other employees.

Cheats are a "big threat" to casinos, says Piacente, a Brooklyn native who accents the last syllable of "universal" so his company features his name.

"With the economy, more dealers are getting their hours cut," he says. "Their toke, or tip, rate decreases." In desperation, some turn to what seems like easy money.

Cheating by players is increasing as well, he says.

Piacente says cheating schemes can be elaborate: toe-activated computers inside a blackjack player's shoe track cards as they're dealt and signal when to bet more; tiny mirrors expose the dealer's hole card; a camera hidden inside a shirt button or watch catches the sequence of cards to be dealt at a baccarat game.

Baccarat is susceptible to cheats because of its rules, Piacente says. Baccarat consists of two hands -- "player" and "banker" -- and each must follow specific rules on hitting or standing in seeking a total of nine. Bettors wager on which will win.

Piacente describes one scheme: A player hiding a tiny camera is chosen to put the cut card into the eight-deck stack. He drags the cut card over the stack, slightly fanning the playing cards and recording them with the camera. Soon after the cut, he leaves to transmit the video to a confederate, who memorizes the order of exposed cards. The accomplice joins the game and watches for the first three cards of the sequence, which signal that the recorded "slug" is in play.

Knowing exactly how the next several cards will fall, the confederate can tell whether "banker" or "player" will win each hand. With maximum bets, the cheat can pocket thousands of dollars.

A leader of an outfit known as the "Tran organization" was sentenced in California in March for using a version of that scheme to win $7 million from 27 casinos over several years.

In Pennsylvania, most cases of cheating uncovered so far involve players changing their bets after the result is known, says Lt. John Evans, eastern section commander of the State Police gaming enforcement bureau. Sleight-of-hand artists "cap" a bet by adding a high-value chip to a winning wager or "pinch" by pulling one back from a losing bet.

Investigators documented 78 instances of cheating at Pennsylvania casinos in the first 10 months of the year, Evans says.

A couple of dealers were accused of pocketing chips. A craps player was accused of trying to "slide" dice -- keeping at least one from tumbling during the throw.

Sliders typically want to guarantee a six on one die because that improves the chances of throwing a 12, which carries a 30-to-1 payout. Wynn Casino in Las Vegas sued two craps players in September, seeking the return of about $700,000 the casino says they won by sliding.

A video poker investigation led to federal charges against a former Swissvale man accused of illegally getting more than $400,000 from a machine at The Meadows.

Andre Nestor, 39, and codefendant John Kane of Las Vegas face multiple charges of fraud involving video poker play between April and September 2009 in Las Vegas and at The Meadows. Nestor's trial in Las Vegas, originally scheduled to start Oct. 31, is delayed until March 12.

The indictment provides few specifics, but reports at the time said the two had slot attendants enable the "double up" feature on a specific type of machine. Supposedly, the two would make minimum bets until scoring a high payout, then hit a sequence of keys on the machine that allowed them to change the bet to the maximum and inflate the jackpot.

No one has explained publicly how the two learned the key sequence.

Nestor declined to comment to Player's Advantage this week. His lawyer, federal public defender Shari Kaufman, did not return a call for comment.

The case has sparked debate about whether what's described in the indictment amounts to cheating. As FBI agents led him from the Washington County Courthouse in January, Nestor maintained that all he did was hit keys and that he had an advantage over the casino without cheating.

The advantage, he said, was that "their programming allowed a player to win at will."

Supporters on Internet forums say the two took advantage of a software glitch comparable to a secret code in a video game.

Is that cheating• A federal court will decide.

Meadows offers poker bonus

Poker players can earn cash for their time at the tables this month at The Meadows.

Players may collect $75 after 40 hours of play at any cash Hold 'Em game, $200 after 60 hours and $500 after 100 hours. Collecting cash at any level resets a player's hours to zero. Poker Manager Billy Takacs says the casino will pay out $10,000 total; the promotion ends when the money runs out.

Money trail

Slot players lost $197.2 million in Pennsylvania casinos during October, the Gaming Control Board reported this week. That's down slightly from $197.5 million in October 2010.

The state gets 55 percent of gross slot revenue, or what's left after all jackpots are paid.

Statewide, slot machines paid out at a 90.11 percent rate in the first four months of this fiscal year; for every $100 bet, the machines return $90.11. Payout rates for Western Pennsylvania casinos:

  • 89.84 percent: The Rivers; October revenue of $22.6 million, second in the state to Parx in Philadelphia and up from $21.3 million in October 2010.
  • 89.72 percent: The Meadows; October revenue of $19.9 million, sixth in the state and down from $21.2 million last year.
  • 90.46 percent: Presque Isle in Erie; October revenue of $14.1 million, ninth in the state and down from $14.5 million last year.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Does the state collect taxes on slot machine free play• (from Tom Benton, Baldwin).

No. Casinos report the amount of free play to the Gaming Control Board, and that is specifically exempted from the 55 percent state tax. Rivers Casino had $4.2 million in free play last month; Meadows had $5.3 million. Sands Bethlehem led the state with $9.9 million.

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