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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Should You Worry about Being Cheated by a Casino?

22 December 1997

An acquaintance recently drew me aside with a warning to avoid the high-limit blackjack pit in a certain casino. "They have a way of shuffling the cards to make you lose," she whispered.

She's not the only player to believe casinos cheat. Some dealers - current and former - think so, too. There are also scaremongers who repeat rumors of dastardly doings because their business is to sell anti-cheating elixirs to gullible solid citizens. And, of course, a segment of the civilian population "knows" it's all controlled by the "mob" and "has to be" crooked. Accusations are rife, only the proof is scarce.


In fact, cheating is not unknown in modern gaming. However, it's vastly more likely that a casino will be victim than perpetrator. As Willie Sutton said in a different context, "that's where the money is." If bettors are bilked, it's under circumstances so rare as to be negligible. This is certainly true for the grand pleasure palaces operated under strict regulatory scrutiny by publicly-accountable corporations. Mom-and-pop joints may be another story. However, the slots at a gas station or laundromat may have pitiful payout percentages without being dishonest. And a roadhouse with a card table and two video poker machines, which depends on repeat business from a regular low-limit clientele, probably won't cheat its patrons, either.

The primary reason players needn't fear being cheated by a major casino is that the house earns a profit legitimately on volume, through the edge on every bet. On slots and in some table games, a casino can increase its percentages legally within reasonable bounds by raising the edge. No purpose would be served by setting the edge lower than necessary, then risking a license trying to go beyond this highly-reliable money machine.

Further, a policy of cheating players implies a conspiracy. A group of dealers coached to handle cards a special way. A craps crew given loaded dice to slip into and out of play. A team of technicians taught to alter slot programs, add remote controls to roulette, rig the keno computer. Keep it all secret? Impossible! And, anyway, who'd be smart enough to set up something like this?

Another factor is that most casinos make surveillance tapes covering almost every square inch of their gaming and money exchange activities. They know they'd be accumulating evidence of their own misdeeds if they cheated in any systematic way.

A somewhat different question is the likelihood of a player being cheated by a deviant dealer acting individually. Again, consider the risks and rewards.

Dealers may dislike individual patrons or players in general, consider it matters of personal pride or skill to win, or interpret their jobs as separating the suckers from their savings. However, the penalties for getting caught can be stiff, especially considering the casino makes the profit... there's no personal gain involved.

Some cynics have suggested that dealers may cheat players because they think doing so will help them advance in their casino careers. How do they envision the scenario? Does the pit boss notice roulette winners being systematically short-changed? Or, perhaps the dealer tells the shift manager, "You should be proud of me. I had a tourist at craps today placing the 10 as if it were a one-roll bet. I took him for more than $200." If so, the dealer has either stepped into a serious problem on the spot, or a conspiracy has been formed which will lead to trouble later.

I discussed this issue with Dustin Marks, author of the book, Cheating at Blackjack Squared. Mr Marks said he's documented plenty of cases in which casinos were cheated - by amateurs and professionals, insiders as well as outsiders - but has no evidence of major casinos cheating players. When I checked with the bettor's bard, Sumner A Ingmark, I found he had this to say:


If the tide is unrelenting,
And gets you easily where you're going,
What's the sense in supplementing,
Your speed by straining yourself and rowing?

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.