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Undercover near Italy, by John Connolly

Undercover near Italy, by John Connolly.

The importance of having audio

I was invited by the Director of Security and Surveillance of one of the largest Casinos near the Italian border, to assist in the unmasking of a scam involving a roulette table game inspector and one of the guests. The reason I was asked to help in this case was because of my previous experiences in this type of action and because of my knowledge of the Italian language.

Here was a case of large sums of money going out across the roulette table to an established roulette player, through the use of announce bets or call bets as they are known in the U.K. On camera everything looked to be in order and nothing out of the usual for this type of establishment but for the consistency and regularity of the losses to the house, going to this one player. Typically the table chef or inspector was responsible for two tables, where on one table was usually a strong dealer and on the other side a weak or a trainee dealer, as is the case in most casinos in their fledgling years. This experienced expatriate inspector was allowing the player to throw across late announce bets shortly before the ball was about to leave the rim of the wheel. When there was little or no time for the dealer to place and mark the bets on the race- track. This was a normal situation throughout the gaming floor, that bets were being accepted without time to mark them, therefore without the use of audio, on the gaming tables, the management had to rely solely on the word or honesty of the supervisors and dealers who were accepting the bets. In this situation and because of the dishonesty of the inspector, the player was on a winner almost every time.

I will explain the methodology: - once the ball was in play the established player would put across a number of call bets. There is a common bet in Europe of calling any number and three neighbours and the same number and one neighbour, this being a ten piece bet, for example what is usually announced would be seven 3,3 and seven 1,1. Thus making 7, 28 and 29 kind of bonus numbers. In actual fact the bet can be broken down into two five-piece units (or broken in half) and placed on 28 & 29 on the race- track, which is the same thing. In this case the player was calling two of these such bets and creating enough work for the dealer to cope with, during the spin. However the player would then put across two more one hundred-piece units and announce in a garbled voice towards the inspector two more numbers and their neighbours. These latter bets would invariably be accepted by the inspector over the head of the dealer and would to no surprise be winning bets.

My job was to work under cover as a bogus player in the casino and try to get as close to the action as was possible, without making the participants of the scam aware of my intentions. It took several days of my either trying to anticipate on which table the action would take place on next and being there ahead of the game or popping up at the right moment when the coup was about to happen. This was no easy feat as the perpetrators of such actions are usually very wary of strangers. Not only did I have to be involved in the play but I also had to remove myself enough from the action to try and witness what was going on, without appearing to be taking any notice of what they were doing or who was looking at who and saying what. In most instances the player would request in a low voice (sottovoce) to the inspector certain numbers and their neighbours or on occasion simply ask for the famous "my bet" or the same bet. Which always resulted in chips being placed on the winning number whatever the outcome.

In the course of my time there on the gaming floor, far from appearing like the smart, straight backed casino manager, I had to appear like every other player, I even simulated some gamblers habits such as, I developed a nervous twitch and a slight limp and fidgeted in my pockets for marking cards and pencils and I had to handle the chips like someone suffering with arthritis. Fortunately the casino is one of the busiest in that part of Europe, with the majority of gamblers being Italian or at least Italian speaking. However, to my credit, although the casino management were aware of my presence, they were not able to positively single me out from the rest of the punters and therefore had no real idea who I was, fortunately neither did the scammers.

In this particular gaming jurisdiction it was the casino companies themselves who had lobbied the Gaming Commission into not demanding the installation of Audio as part of the prerequisite of gaming regulations. As the stipulations of the commission were already too demanding and expensive for their preoperational budgets. Many of the casino managers and surveillance directors, whom I spoke to at the time, were quite surprised to discover that the use of audio would not be available. As time goes by and the emergence of certain house scams are discovered the wisdom of those early decisions may now be called into question. As in this case they were certainly paying now for those pre opening savings.

About twenty five years ago I had been asked to trail audio on a roulette table and in those days I have to admit the system wasn't very affective with too much back ground noise in the room being picked-up, therefore it was too difficult to make out what was being said on the tables. However with today's technology and modern audio systems being what they are, I believe it's a must have tool for the casino security and surveillance departments to have. It has not only aided me to discover certain discrepancies, which appear from time to time on casino games but it is a useful device in establishing good public relations with disgruntled gamblers, when it turns out that their disputes could be resolved to their satisfaction, after play back had reinforced their argument. I had one occasion a couple of years ago, when a player had reacted badly to his announced bet being misplaced resulting in his bet not being placed on the winning number. After much ranting and raving, he swore blind that he had called eleven and seventeen and the neighbours (when 36 was the winning number) and threatened never to return to the casino ever again. However after witnessing the play back and the sound in the manager's office, of him clearly asking for seven and seventeen and the neighbours, he couldn't have apologised more. Subsequently he later turned out to be one of our best customers and we never received a single complaint from him thereafter. Not only did he apologise to all the gaming staff involved but also he became the best tipper and the nicest player that the staff ever had to deal with, a model customer.

On another occasion we overheard our head cashier advising our v.i.p. customers to visit the city's newest casino, which had just opened, in the neighbourhood. We discovered the reasons for this; she was about to jump ship and had been offered a contract to work for the competition. It is a well known fact that staff under surveillance and especially audio surveillance forget after a while, that they are being monitored and can be heard to say the most damaging things. Well they say that walls have eyes and ears, or at least they should have !

John Connolly is a Casino Manager who is fluent in five European languages and with many years of experience in gaming floor management and security. For more information contact johnconnolly@eyontheaction.com