Casinos, gambling and cheating are three subjects people will never tire of discussing. I have friends who will not enter a gambling casino because they are convinced they will be cheated. It's a national, perhaps a global, paranoia that will never entirely go away.
Have I ever been cheated in a casino or card room? Probably. Does the possibility that I will be cheated bother me or keep me away from a casino?
Well, maybe never is too harsh a word. My truthful answer is probably never. If I became convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the poker room at XYZ Casino was employing cheating dealers or that had partners who were signaling each other to swindle the other players, I would probably avoid that casino like the plague.
My 40-plus years of gambling and writing about the gaming industry has convinced me that you have about as good a chance of being cheated in a casino setting as you do of being short-changed in a supermarket or at a bank. Mistakes happen. But the chances of being cheated in today's world of surveillance are so minor as to be nearly non-existent.
Notice I said 'nearly'. There is always an exception to any rule.
This is not to say that casinos did not cheat players in the 'old days.' Johnny Moss was a legendary gambler, card shark and -- yes -- cheat who worked in many casinos and card rooms while building his legend.
Moss and Benny Binion, who built Binion's Horseshoe from scratch, were close friends who understood each other. Their friendship had stood the test of time. It began in Texas where both of them were born and reared. They gambled illegally, learned the tricks of the trade, and met violence with violence when they killed men in shoot-outs.
Both served prison terms or were on probation. Both tired of being rousted by crooked law enforcement officers who would let you play as long as you paid off the right people. Benny took his money, went to Las Vegas, and built the world's best-known casino. Moss went to Las Vegas and worked at a number of mob-owned casinos, including the Dunes and Stardust where, for many years, the poker player or dice shooter across the table for you might have been a 'hit' man for Detroit's Purple Gang or Bugsy Siegel's crime organization.
One of my friends is a dealer who worked for Moss. He is now dealing at a major casino on the Las Vegas Strip and he recalls those days with Johnny Moss with humor and a touch of horror.
'Johnny Moss had balls of polished brass,' he said. 'There are all kinds of casino games where a skilled mechanic or dealer can cheat the public. This can range from dealing seconds even out of a shoe, to raking extra money out of a poker pot.'
'Moss taught all of his dealers how to take that extra drop out of a pot. One of his dealers was so good that one night at the Stardust, the dealer managed to rake the entire pot because the player was too drunk to understand what was going on.'
I played in a poker tournament at the Dunes when Moss was managing the poker room. He was everywhere, hurrying between tables talking with dealers, keeping the tournament functioning. He may have been a swindler at heart, but he was also a businessman who knew when to conduct business.
Any time a lot of money congregates in one place, you will find crooks. It simply goes with the territory and you should always be aware that conditions exist for cheating.
I try to make it my business to know who is running the game. If the person has a besmirched reputation, regardless of how long ago it happened, I don't just walk to the exit.
Casinos and card rooms should be subjected to the smell test. I use it in new restaurants that I am visiting for the first time, and it always works. If a restaurant smells good, the food generally will taste good. But if there is a strange odor, beware. Same with casinos.
I never trusted the Stardust, especially after midnight. People drink in Las Vegas. Twenty or 30 years ago, they drank considerably more than they do now. When you hire dealers from Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago or Los Angeles to toss around cards or hand out dice in exchange for money that is converted into chips, you are tempting human nature. When that happens...well, remember the Garden of Eden and Cain killing his brother Abel.
Here are a few tips to protect yourself from being cheated in a casino. First, stick with the major casinos and card rooms and avoid the little ones unless you know the person who is running the card room or table games.
Second, remember that the Nevada and New Jersey Gaming Commissions work hard to protect the players and to keep the games straight. This is not always the case on Indian-owned casinos on reservations. Players should be aware that they will not be nearly as well protected in an Indian casino or in a foreign country as they would be in Nevada or New Jersey where the state regulates casino gambling.
Third, check the payouts on those slot machines. Some are marked down and when that happens, the casino pockets a lot more of your money.
Fourth, check the rake in poker rooms. If the House cuts too much out of the pot for special promotions that have little or nothing to do with the poker room, complain to the management. If the management does not give you a satisfactory answer or fails to resolve the issue, find another casino for your action.
Fifth, beware of the false shuffle whether the game is blackjack or poker. Some dealers are expert mechanics who can give the illusion of shuffling while keeping certain cards in sequence in the deck to benefit the house or individual players. Any time the cards are running bad for me, I ask the dealer to 'wash' the deck. Good dealers comply with my request. Some refuse. If that happens repeatedly, I complain to the poker room supervisor or take a walk. You should do the same.
In 2004, the Venetian in Las Vegas ran afoul of the Nevada Gaming Commission and was penalized $1 million by rigging a drawing to award a Mercedes-Benz to a favored high roller who had been on a major losing streak. Several executives who were part of the conspiracy were fired and the incident was considered closed.
Finally, casinos sometimes make the mistake of hiring a crooked dealer. Casino management has the statistics to show how much profit a blackjack, poker or other table game is expected to generate per hour. If those statistics are off, the dealer may be cheating the casino. To make up for that lost revenue, some dealers do not hesitate to swindle the public and give those player dollars back to the House.