Gambling has been around, in some form or another, for hundreds of years. Gambling, in and of itself, is considered to be one of the most popular pastimes in the world today and attracts many different players. While some players enjoy the element of chance and chasing the elusive “lady luck”, others have taken a more underhanded approach and tried to cheat their way to victory. While some of these methods have an air of brilliance to them and require a certain degree of skill, the outcomes are usually negative. With that being said, here are some of history’s cautionary tales about gambling’s most renowned cheaters and epic events.
When you think of the Wild West, you most likely imagine anarchy reigning supreme. This is probably a direct result of what we see in the media and have heard via word of mouth. While these stories might not always be the whole truth, all myths and legends have some modicum of reality to them. In the Wild West, disputes were more regularly settled by Mexican standoffs and the man with the fastest trigger finger was considered to be the law. Gambling had its place in the Wild West and unfortunately for many, these games were not always played fairly. Disagreements over hands and cheating were usually settled with death or violence.
This was exactly the case with the incident that took place on December 25th 1898. The event we are referring to took place in Texas, Towash. One of the most iconic gunslingers of the Old West, John Wesley Hardin, participated in a card game with several locals. While the game began in high spirits and there was merriment all around, the situation quickly soured when Hardin and James Bradley had an extremely heated argument over a specific hand. While history does not record the accusations that led to this disagreement, it resulted in a violent showdown in Towash’s streets. Despite Hardin’s reputation as an excellent shooter, Bradley pulled the trigger first. Unfortunately, Bradley missed and Hardin made the shot, resulting in the untimely demise of one James Bradley.
While this may seem like an extreme response to a dispute, it was the Wild West after all! This period in history is dotted with similar stories of violence and bloodshed over trivial matters. For example, almost everyone has heard of Doc Holiday and Bill Hickok who were undoubtedly superior gunslingers, but committed murders and acts of unnecessary violence nonetheless.
It might seem like the gambling industry would do well to blot out certain parts of its history, such as the incidents in the Wild West, but history does not only serve to show us what to do in the future but what to avoid as well. Once operators and players realised that gambling is a passion for many people, it became obvious that there was a great need for safer and controlled gambling venues and spaces. As a result of this realisation, Las Vegas began opening gambling venues in the 1930s, which are known as casinos today. These venues became the preferred gambling spaces for seasoned and beginner gamblers alike while the risky alternative was to play at dodgy underground card rooms that were often operated by gangsters. Slowly but surely, the dangerous saloons that were frequented in the previous century began to fall out of favour with the gambling community and eventually became obsolete.
However, this does not necessarily mean that Las Vegas casino venues were 100% secure and safe in the 30s. Over the next 20 years, gangs and criminal organizations realized that casino venues attracted many wealthy players and were a great opportunity for them to expand their reach into other regions of the country. As a result of this, the vast majority of Vegas casino venues were secretly controlled by organized crime syndicates. Despite what a gang-operated casino venue might bring to mind, most of the games at these locations were conducted above board. The criminals in charge of these casinos viewed the business as a means of acquiring legitimate and legal income. However, this does not mean that the money used to construct these locations came from equally legitimate ventures. It was around this time that the city of Las Vegas became known as one of the most thriving gambling hubs in the world. Over time, Las Vegas casinos drove underground card rooms, such as Hot Springs and Galveston, completely out of business.
While these venues in Las Vegas became a haven for many gamblers, cheating would result in serious repercussions. According to accounts provided by people who gambled in this era, if you were caught cheating you would be discouraged from attempting to cheat ever again. Some operators were satisfied with simply requesting that petty thieves return the winnings that were received through cheating and threatening to dissuade them from trying to return to the gambling venue. Although this was the preferred method for cheaters, it only really applied to those who had taken a small sum from the operator. However, cheaters who managed to walk away with significant amounts of money were treated to far harsher punishments that have led to the many media depictions we see today. Bodily harm, threatening and broken bones were commonplace among big cheaters who were sure that even worse would be done to them if they ever returned. This served the dual purpose of keeping cheaters away and turning those who were caught into examples for players who were intending to scam the casino.
At the time, poker was one of the most exciting and dangerous casino games to play. Players still looked for opportunities to play a hand or two wherever they went and the majority of these opportunities did not provide the security of the Las Vegas casino. While poker was not as commonly enjoyed as it is today, early poker personalities such as Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson were constantly on the lookout for poker games when they toured.
However, despite how lucrative these poker games were, they also presented a lot of danger. Many renowned poker players of this time have shared harrowing tales of theft, beatings and even having guns pointed at them to threaten them. These days, poker has become one of the most popular casino games in the world and can be enjoyed in thousands of legal, secure and safe venues all over the world or even online and from the safety of your home.
The simple truth is that wherever there is an opportunity to make money, there will be people who will try to get their share by hook or by crook. The events in Vegas, and all through history, led to casino operators investing millions into the development of modern casino security. Naturally, cheaters do fall through the cracks. This is because there are always new methods and techniques that are employed and sometimes the security system has not been programmed to identify it as yet. However, cheaters usually get carried away and the impact that their cheating has will eventually be picked up on and halted.
In order to pick up on these underhanded tactics, casino operators have put a multi-defence system in place where the dealer is the first line of defence. These days, dealers are highly trained and skilled individuals who have specialised in operating tables, in the same way, every day. The protocols in place ensure that dealers follow strict rules, minimizing the risk of lazy dealing that could allow cheating to take place. Dealers will often stop games dead in their tracks if they experience anything out of the ordinary and consult their supervisor to ensure that the game is safe and fair before continuing.
However, the most important defence for casino operators is the extensive surveillance that is installed. Everything that the dealer and players do is recorded with cameras that cover every inch of the casino floor. This allows casino management to rewind and review a particular game or incident and uncover the truth. In addition to this, casino employees are tasked with watching this footage throughout the day in hopes that they can catch suspicious activities while it is happening. Other technological advancements, such as facial recognition software, have also had a huge impact on decreasing incidents of cheating. This software has been designed to identify players’ faces and keep track of their activities during a visit. This means that even chance gamblers, who have found ways to gain legitimate advantages, will be tracked and monitored.
Naturally, this software is also used to find known cheaters and remove them from the casino floor before they even have the opportunity of playing a single hand. Other technology uses algorithms to pick up on the activities of groups and individuals to pick up on cheating and/or advantage methods.
Regardless of how hard casino operators try to prevent cheating and keep cheaters out of their establishments, there is always a small window of opportunity for smart individuals to take advantage of. However, these instances can’t really be referred to as success as cheaters are caught more than 80% of the time. A good example of this is the Tran Organization. By the time the group was apprehended, they had stolen nearly $7 million from various casino venues.
Part of the reason that the Tran Organization was able to steal this large sum of money is the complexity of the system and the sheer number of participants. By the time the group was busted, more than 40 people pleaded guilty to some charge or another relating to the scam. Despite the complexity of the size, the technique behind the scam was surprisingly simple. The group was led by Van Thu Tran and her spouse who would find dealers who were willing to help them cheat in blackjack, Pai Gow and baccarat, no matter the cost. Van Thu Tran would shamelessly flirt with and seduce dealers into aiding the group in cheating and was successful in her endeavour at almost 30 casino venues throughout Canada and the US.
Once the seduction or bribe was accepted, the dealer would make a false shuffle. Tran Organization members would sit at a table, with a compromised dealer, and watch the first hand being distributed in order to determine which cards the dealer had left grouped. This group of cards became known as the slug and would then make a second appearance in the following shoe. This allowed Tran members to place significant bets on cards that they knew would be drawn from the shoe.
As the Tran Organization experienced growing success, their illegal organization had grown to the point where they could give members specialised jobs. A handful of scouts would go out to casino venues and explore the opportunity for cheating at each location. Another group of members became the trackers. These individuals were tasked with recording the slug’s card order with a hidden device. Once the information was received, it would be put into a system that would assist Tran members in deciding when to place large wagers and which tables and scenarios to avoid.
As you can see, the Tran Organization was simple and complex all at once, which made busting them all the more satisfying for authorities. Law enforcement and casino operators worked hand-in-hand to catch the conspirators by keeping a keen eye for any evidence that the scam was taking place. This collaboration made it possible for the Tran Organization to be caught red-handed in May 2017. At the time, 19 members of the group were arrested and eventually all known members were apprehended.
When the word cheating is mentioned in relation to gambling, many people think of card counting as the ultimate form of having an unfair advantage over the casino. However, this is not exactly true and the practice is widely misunderstood. This has led to many people wondering whether card counting is actually cheating or if it’s a legitimate tactic since it does require skills and know-how. Popular Hollywood depictions of card counting have led many to believe that card counting requires those who use it to keep track of every single card that is in the deck to know where each card is and how the cards will appear. From this definition, card counting would be impossible for most players unless they have exceptional memory skills.
More realistically, card counting is not nearly as difficult as we are led to believe and it also doesn’t result in the massive wins we see on tv. It’s worth noting that there are multiple techniques for counting cards today but one aspect remains constant: players need to take mental note of the cards that come out of the shoe so that they have a vague idea of the cards that have yet to be drawn. Accurately counting cards might not lead to big wins but it can lead to reduced risks. Card counters can adjust their wagers according to whether the shoe is in favour of them or if the show is filled with unfavourable cards of low value. Advanced card counters will make use of strategies if the system calls for it, which will allow them to push their advantage by changing their strategy to suit the math of the shoe, even taking insurance if the situation arises. By using strategy and card counting simultaneously, the cards counter can achieve a small advantage over the house.
Naturally, the casino is not supportive of methods that allow players to have an advantage over it. As a result of this, operators have deployed measures to prevent card counting and dissuade players from attempting to make use of this strategy. However, all casino operators can agree that card counting is not technically cheating as it is more of a complex strategy. With card counting, players are not altering any outcomes, influencing the cards that are dealt or using devices to get an edge over the casino. In fact, all card counters do is perceive and analyse the information, which is given to them, that is not more or less than other players receive.
Despite this fact, casino operators still do not take kindly to card counting and are at liberty to refuse their services to suspected card counters or will find ways to distract them during gameplay. This is not always the case though, some casino venues would rather encourage card counters to play games of chance instead of cards, while others encourage card counters. This might seem counter-productive, but venues do not install automated shuffling technology to invite card counters to their tables. This is because many players who are still learning about counting cards are likely to lose a lot of money to the house along the way.
As one of the fastest-growing and dynamic industries in the world today, online gambling certainly has its merits. These days, players can enjoy a plethora of high-quality gaming options while foregoing the commute and effort of visiting a land-based casino. However, it has also presented cheaters with another prime environment for cheating. This was especially true when the industry just began, but as things have evolved and prospered, many online operators have updated their security to keep up with the changing times. Despite these efforts, there have been reports of cheating at online casino sites.
When it comes to cheaters, most honest players want to immediately dislike them for taking advantage of the rules and unfairly increasing their chances of winning. However, cheating at an online casino requires more than just guts but a wide range of skills since traditional methods do not work in the virtual world. For example, cards cannot be marked, there can be no sleight of hand or quick changes to your wager. From a digital perspective, the only way that online casinos can be cheated is by exploiting a bug or fault in the software or to hack into the code of a Random Number Generator. Online operators have reduced the risks of this happening by ensuring that the RNG only begins its work once decisions and bets have been made.
Currently, there are only two ways to cheat at poker rooms and/or online casinos. The first vulnerability for cheating would come from the operator’s side. There are many occasions when players will accuse reputable operators of cheating them out of their money simply because they cannot win. Unfortunately for those who accuse, operators keep track of everything, and these claims can be found to be invalid after some analysis of the data. However, this does not mean that all operators are trustworthy. There are rogue or blacklisted casinos that have come under the microscope for having cheated their players. This is one of the biggest reasons that CasinoTop goes above and beyond to review casino sites and only recommend the ones that are safe, secure and fair for our readers and players.
Online poker was not always as secure as it is today. In the early days of online gambling, poker players realised that the RNG did not make use of completely random sets of virtual decks and was instead choosing from a group of 200 predetermined configurations. Players then figured out which cards to expect based on the hands that they received. This is just one example of how online casino security has improved since this popular method was first introduced.
With that being said, there have been a few rare instances in modern times such as the Superuser demonstration at Absolute poker which showed how a player could win at will if they were inside the company and somehow gained access to an admin account, revealing all players’ poker hands. This particular cheating incident is likely the most famous in recent times as it was covered by major media companies after players at Absolute Poker became aware that the guilty party was having unrealistic success in multiple hands.
To this day, players are still looking for new ways to cheat the system but major poker rooms have taken to purchasing and developing cutting-edge security systems and technology. Some players have taken to combatting technological security systems with inventions of their own. These genius players have built bots, which are automated gamblers, who sit at virtual poker tables and play through strategies throughout the game while others have opted to join collusion rings. Collusion rings are composed of players who share their hands amongst each other and collaborate to try to win the pot. Poker room operators have become aware of these methods and have put measures in place to combat this. If players are caught using illegal strategies, such as the ones mentioned, they will be banned from the poker room. Some operators have maintained good relationships with players by reimbursing them If they lost money unfairly to players who were cheating.
In some ways, cheating and gambling are somewhat similar in that they are both high-risk scenarios that could offer high rewards. However, there is a lot of money to be won in the gambling industry by all players, regardless of the methods they use. This is what cheaters often use as their reason for resorting to scamming or cheating their way to success.
In the bigger scheme of things, it’s difficult to imagine that cheating would be a worthwhile effort in the gambling industry. It doesn’t make much of a difference whether you are playing online or at land-based casino venues, the security measures in place would require a lot of effort to get around. This means you would need to concoct a complex and elaborate scheme to successfully cheat, and even then, you are unlikely to get away with it. From a players perspective, cheating could also take the fun out of gambling, which is intended to be a recreational activity and not a means to achieve fortune. Considering the tales shared above, cheating is definitely not worth the serious risk of punishment and persecution from law enforcement and casino operators.