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VIDEO VAULT | How to catch a cheater at a Vegas casino

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A video monitor watches a card game unfold in a Las Vegas casino.{ }

As long as people have been making wagers on games of chance, there have been unscrupulous players looking for that unfair advantage. In Nevada, there are also plenty of people paid to catch the cheaters.

News 3 has examined both sides of the never-ending battle several times over the years as the technologies have changed.

"In Las Vegas casinos built before the days of sophisticated surveillance cameras, you find abandoned catwalks," said reporter Scott Andrus in November of 1994 as he walked through a narrow room above the gaming area. "A surveillance officer would wander a dimly lit hallway, occasionally peering through windows which overlooked the casino floor."

By the 1990s, it was all done with strategically placed "Eye-in-the-Sky" cameras throughout the property. They're not hard to spot overhead, and that's on purpose.

"Most of those people, it's a big deterrent," Mirage Security Manager Kim Smith told Andrus. "Once you see how vast this is, you go to the other casinos. And that's what we want. We want to keep them away from here."

"On a roulette game, surveillance videotape shows a bettor clearly lost his $5,000 cash wager -- and an overhead camera was clearly in focus when a hand grabbed half the losing bet off the table," reported Andrus. "Thieves might forever figure they can take the money and run. But with Nevada casinos on the ever watchful 'Eye-in-the-Sky,' odds are they'll run right into the arms of security."

Sometimes the scam can be an inside job, enlisting the help of someone already inside the casino as an employee.

"So everyone at the table is involved, including the dealer in switching the deck," Nevada Gaming Control Board Enforcement Chief Keith Copher told News 3 in 1998 while watching a piece of surveillance video. "And it's going to occur...right...now!"

The tape showed the dealer reaching out with a deck as if offer a patron the chance to cut the cards, but instead subtly exchanged decks with the player.

Doing this in full view of the camera means the cheaters are either brazen or not too bright.

"I think they're aware of it," speculated Copher. "But look at armed robberies. People go into a store where they know a camera is and commit an armed robbery."

Another way to catch a card cheat is to employ a card handling expert. In April of 1994, magician Darwin Ortiz showed how he taught gaming enforcement to watch for things like finger flapping.

"The tendency of the fingers," demonstrated Ortiz with a deck of cards. "The cheat will open his fingers like this to clear the bottom card. So if you see him go like this, he is probably cheating. Dealing off the bottom of the deck."

"A lot of people will tell you that cutting the deck protects you," said Ortiz, while showing a slow motion false cut. "But a cut like this does not do anything at all. The cards end up in the same order.

There's always the danger that an expert employed gaming enforcement to keep the system honest, can use that knowledge to on the bilk the house. That's what happened with Gaming Control Board technician Ronald Dale Harris, who understood the system, then rigged it.

He modified slot machines to pay out when a certain combination of coins was played. Later, he turned to Keno and arranged to have his associates win large payouts.

Harris's activities were exposed in 1995. He was convicted of cheating, served two years in prison and was placed in Nevada's "Black Book" of persons excluded from gaming establishments.

"Every business in this state and nationwide now is going to be vulnerable to these types of crimes," Nevada Assistant Attorney General Victor Schulze told News 3 in 1996. "Because it's easy to download this type of information, slip it into a disc in your pocket and walk out the door. I mean, that's the basis of industrial espionage that happens between companies."

That was still in the relatively early stages of computerized gaming. Now of course, the machines are all digital, which doesn't necessarily make life any easier for gaming enforcement.

There is a cheating equipment display from the Museum of Gaming History right now at the Nevada State Museum in the Springs Preserve. It's more about older methods of cheating, which will be the subject of a future Video Vault.

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