Casinos and slot-machine halls have shut down across Russia, under new restrictions on the gaming industry, that have put thousands of people out of work. The new law, which came into effect on July 1, 2009, and is aimed at controlling organized crime and spiraling addiction, requires all gambling business to relocate to four remote regions of the country. The government has set up special Las Vegas-style gaming zones in the Primorye region in Russia’s remote far east, the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, the Altai region of Siberia, and the Azov Sea in the south.

A few months before July 1, there was a surge of cheating with personnel involvement in a number of major Moscow casinos. With casinos about to close down and, therefore, employees about to lose their jobs, some of them decided to take advantage of their last days at work.

The lion’s share of cheating fell on different kinds of poker. Generally, cheating schemes were neither notable for their elegancy, nor sophisticated or multimove.

There was an impression that masterminds of the cheating deliberately invented primitive, easy to use combinations with the sole purpose – to implement their schemes quickly and simultaneously at multiple casinos involving as many employees as possible.
To play their part, the involved employees did not need much practice, perfecting their skills of loaded shuffling or dealing. Any dealer with over six months of experience can be quickly trained to use small deviations from normal procedures, that most cheating schemes were based on, e.g.:

•    to change order of removing played cards a little by moving the loaded block from to the bottom of deck;
•    not to shuffle 5-6 lowest cards at riffle shuffle and then discard this lowest block in the first place at strip shuffle;
•    when dealing, to hold the deck not parallel to the table but at a slight angle, raising the deck quickly before dealing the card, or just lifting the corner of the card a little, etc.

People who masterminded that mass cheating were well aware of the situation in the gambling business at that period of time.  The timing was perfect – in many casinos, pit desks were supervised by newly hired pit bosses, that could manage their subordinates rather well, but usually did not have enough knowledge and experience in the issues of gambling security. The analysis, carried out after several criminal groups had been exposed, confirmed that most illegal activity had taken place at gaming tables, supervised by inexperienced, recently appointed pit bosses.

Early in 2008, casinos started to lose part of their experienced personnel. Many of them did not want to find comfort in delusive hope that the situation in gambling business in Russia would change, and tried to get employment in other industries. Pit bosses and assistant pit bosses, highly experienced in personnel management and gambling supervision, were the first to leave.  Empty niches were hastily filled in standard order – dealers, inspectors and assistant pit bosses were promoted to higher positions and filled the vacancies. The main problem of such forced promotion was that often employees were promoted not because it was good for the business, but because there were no other candidates!

There are few really good gambling supervisors. A qualified pit boss, experienced in all aspects of game supervision, usually spends years gaining experience and learning by own and other’s mistakes, and is often taught by players – ace cardsharpers, whose skills are developed much faster than cheating protection measures and counteractions.

Climbing the career ladder any pit staff member passes all hierarchical stages, and getting promoted quickly learns the nuances of pit desk supervision. As to gambling security, he or she can acquire expertise only from those who are in the same “shop”. Every time when it comes to “information starvation”, there is an urgent need for a document containing detailed basic strategy, updated by new practices. Nearly every casino has an in-house manual (Procedures) explaining personnel functions, but often such manuals do not contain information about gambling security. This is the issue that requires more detailed examination.

It’s a paradox! Procedures – an instrument which should in the first place provide security of a gambling facility – is at the best just a reference book of game rules and dealer’s gamekeeping actions. How in the world could it happen? Let’s look into this issue.

Procedures used by most casinos have been developed “in the image and likeness” of the “folios”, that appeared in Russia at the dawn of gambling business development along with British management invited to set up first casinos. These documents are decades old! Most articles of the first Personnel Procedures are still important and constitute the basis of good work. However, with the lapse of time new and new cheating methods appeared, and there was no adequate protection against them. The situation called for drastic changes and improvement of Procedures, which, unfortunately, was not always done.

Very few people now remember that strict regulation (up to movement specification) of dealer’s actions is aimed, first of all, at easier game security control. Any deviation from specified rules of procedure should alert the supervisor. Yet, in practice even violation of shuffle rules and improper movements during card dealing do not evoke adequate response of those who monitor the game!

Since there are no in-house dealer schools, available inspectors and assistant pit bosses provide personnel training during their working shifts. This approach, along with lack of detailed procedures, leads to use of “so many men, so many minds” concept.

Looking for better working conditions, dealers often migrate from casino to casino, and rules brought from previous places often do not correspond to procedures at a new place. Senior pit personnel can just turn a blind eye to differences in performance of some elements (shuffles, spreads, etc.), if, in their opinion, the differences are not important. Procedures often do not include detailed description of these elements whatsoever.

And what about CCTV? Shouldn’t it be “the eye of the Omniscience”, providing reliable security at the casino? But it is. And it’s nice to know that for the most part cheating is discovered by cameramen.

But, as a rule, very few of pit personnel understand that video surveillance will be most efficient, if they draw the attention of CCTV personnel to certain situations in time.

A pit boss has his “eyes and ears” at every gaming table – the inspector. A cameraman, who has to monitor over a dozen gaming tables at busy hours, does not get such help. And what consequences can lack of timely information entail? Without getting the required prompting information (e.g., about negative table tracking dynamics, etc.) in time, CCTV officer will have to investigate the situation post factum, viewing the recording. But it is impossible to evaluate such things as shuffle quality or card tilt angle at dealing without corresponding use of PTZ.

Procedures for pit personnel should contain issues of interaction with CCTV department. CCTV department, in turn, should also have Procedures for personnel, including rules of interaction with pit desk. It is extremely difficult to develop effective Procedures for CCTV department. CCTV department operation involves continuous analysis of multiple situations. For this reason, it is impossible to clearly define actions in various situations.

And yet, there are examples (unfortunately, not numerous) of description of CCTV personnel behavior algorithms aimed at identification of signs of imminent offences (cheating), based on current gaming information. There are not many cameramen who are good at event analysis. But any CCTV officer should know how to process initial information and detect dangerous situations.

New games appear, rules of old games change, new equipment is installed – these changes are very rarely reflected in the Procedures. At best, the Procedures are supplemented with some general description of innovations, offering more and more loopholes for swindlers.

Good detailed Procedures is a reliable tool to provide preventive security measures. You can obtain a ready-made document from another casino. But are you be ready to retrain your personnel and adjust many aspects of work to the new text?

The best option is custom Procedures development, which will allow to come up with a document providing adequate security level based on rules that are already in use.

Professional development and writing of high-quality Procedures is rather expensive. But, please, remember! Prevention of just one case of cheating may return a hundredfold to your expenses.

Copyright © 2009. Vlad Sekachev.

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