As billions of dollars pour into Asia’s gleaming casinos, they are becoming the front line of a sometimes hugely lucrative battle between cheats and the house, experts say.
Both sides look to employ the latest, most advanced technology, but security consultant Sal Piacente says a scam in the Philippines last year took the gaming security world by surprise.
An Asian syndicate used an improvised camera hidden up a member’s sleeve to film the sequence of cards in a deck as it was cut on a baccarat table in Paranaque City in May last year.
The order of the cards was relayed digitally to another gang member who, after analyzing the footage in slow-motion, returned to the table as the deck finally came into play hours later.
Piacente, a 47-year-old from Brooklyn, said the multimillion-dollar “cutter scam” showed that as long as Asian casinos were the most lucrative in the world, they would attract the most skillful cheats.
“The scams that happen here [in Asia] are a lot more sophisticated than in the States,” he said at the Global Gaming Expo Asia in Macau, which generates five times the annual gambling revenue of Las Vegas.
“What was happening here in Macau five years ago, is happening in the States now,” he said.
Asia is in the midst of a casino building boom, fueled by wealthy VIP gamblers from China, with billions of dollars being invested in huge integrated casino resorts from Macau to Manila Bay and Singapore.
The new properties bristle with cutting-edge surveillance technology, but the cheats are coming up with their own high-tech innovations, such as the sleeve-camera used in the Philippines.
“If you go to a place like this in Macau, where the surveillance is a lot better trained, then the cheats have to be more sophisticated,” Piacente said on the expo floor at the glittering Venetian Macau resort.
Most of the exhibitors at Asia’s largest casino expo, which ended on Thursday, showed off the latest slot machines or video gambling innovations, but Piacente’s booth consisted of himself, a baccarat table and a bag of tricks.
Loaded dice, split chips and reflective gold rings are some of the more traditional tools of the cheater’s trade, which Piacente, president of UniverSal Game Protection, demonstrates with a magician’s flare.
He is also a master of sleight of hand — false shuffles, second deals, card palming — and can memorize a deck of cards instantly from sight.
He has worked a lifetime to perfect his skills, but tells his clients in the gaming world that the real cheats will be smarter, faster and better — especially in Asia where so much more money is at stake.
“I sit at home and practice thousands of moves for hundreds of hours. They’re at home practicing one move for thousands of hours. They do that one move better than I could possibly imagine,” he said.
“An amateur practices until he gets it right; a professional practices until he can’t get it wrong,” he said.
It is a constant battle.
Hoffman Ma, deputy chairman of Success Universe Group, which owns the Ponte 16 casino in Macau, said US anti-fraud system manufacturers were tailoring their latest products for Asian casinos.
“We do probably have one of the most advanced systems,” he said. “Technology helps you to be more efficient ... and with the huge traffic [of casino gamblers in Macau] you really need that assistance,” he said.