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Arnold M. Knightly

Vegas fraud a sign of the times

17 November 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Everything comes back in style eventually -- even crimes apparently.

That's what appears to be happening at many casinos today at least, according to a panel of security experts that spoke Monday during the first day of conferences at the Global Gaming Expo.

The panel said that despite new technology, or perhaps because of it, many of the crimes that casino security people are seeing today are updates of old scams.

"When there is nothing new they can create, they go back to the old," said Jessie Beaudoin, senior director of surveillance at the Hard Rock Hotel. "A lot of the things you hear about are not new scams, per se. But they're trends that are starting to rear their ugly heads again."

The panel shared insights on new security threats with casino security supervisors during a workshop called "Current Cheating Methods and Trends."

One of the cheating trends the panel discussed involved two cash room incidents at Las Vegas casinos this year. In the incidents, workers took advantage of loopholes in auditing functions at their casinos to steal table-drop money out of counting rooms.

The two casinos weren't identified, but Beaudoin said employees at the casinos were caught taking fairly large amounts of cash. Authorities haven't been able to determine the full amount of the losses, Beaudoin said.

"Two different count rooms here in town lost a lot of money to the old scam, which is to steal money and report less counted and hope no one catches it or no one is doing their jobs," Beaudoin said.

Bill Zender, a gaming consultant with Last Resort Consulting, said casinos have reported many employee theft incidents this year, probably because of the economy.

With many workers worried about losing their homes or other financial problems, the "risk-reward factor" for many employees has changed, making it more inviting for some workers to take a chance on not getting caught stealing.

"In the past, the risk-reward factor has been a buffer to keep the honest people honest," Zender said. "Nowadays, it's a little bit different because your risk reward changes. If you have a guy looking at $300 to $400 in cash that didn't mean something before, now it may be part of his payment on his house he's going to lose. If he loses his house, his wife's probably talking about divorce. She's going to move away with the kids. He's almost finished anyway."

The state Gaming Control Board reported a sharp increase in the number of arrests for employee thefts through Nov. 2, according to numbers provided by the state's gaming enforcement division to the Review-Journal earlier this month.

The enforcement division said arrests for employee theft are on pace to surpass last year's number of 116 with 103 already arrested by Nov. 2.

The crimes in the count rooms could have been prevented if proper auditing rules and functions, as well as compliance functions, had been in place and properly enforced, Beaudoin said. "This is the type of stuff that if you let a surveillance room get complacent, you let auditors get complacent, you have this type of thing rear its ugly head," Beaudoin said.

Although the employees at those two casinos were caught, he said he fears there are probably workers at other casinos who haven't been caught.

The panel also touched on larger crime sprees that hit casinos in Las Vegas.

The Tran Gang Organization, for instance, ran a false-shuffle scam for six years beginning in 2002 before being shut down. The baccarat scam netted the group at least $7 million from 26 casinos around North America, including the Palace Station.

Thirty-one defendants have pleaded guilty. Eight other people have been indicted in the past few weeks.

Another scam artist, called Mr. Casino, was charged with several larceny counts in Connecticut for making late bets with dealers. He hit the Stratosphere and Rampart casinos in Las Vegas during his spree, according to the panel.

The Global Gaming Expo, which is closed to the public, runs through Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The trade show portion, the casino industry's leading technology event, where the newest slot machines, management systems and other gaming-related technologies are shown to casino operators, runs today through Thursday.