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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Resorts Fight Bogus Bills

8 March 2005

About two weeks ago counterfeiters attempted to pass fake $10 bills at several Las Vegas casinos by feeding them into slot machines.

All told, about 100 counterfeit $10 bills were discovered by casinos in the process of counting their cash, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Paul Masto of the U.S. Secret Service Las Vegas field office said.

As of Monday, the problem has largely been fixed because the manufacturers of the bill acceptor devices on the slot machines in question have reprogrammed the acceptors to reject the fake bills, he said. Masto would not name the casinos that were targeted.

Counterfeit bills are a persistent nuisance in Las Vegas in spite of the fact that casino workers are adept at spotting fakes and that slot bill acceptors receive continuous software upgrades to try and stay one step ahead of crooks.

The fake $10 bills presented only a minor problem because they were quickly detected, Masto said. The incident is relatively small compared with the $30,000 to $50,000 in counterfeit cash that typically passes through local casinos every week, he said.

Casino workers receive continuous training on new bills with anti-counterfeit features as well as how to detect fakes.

"This is the worst place in the world to pass counterfeit," Masto said. "I could blindfold people in the soft count room and they could tell the difference between a fake bill and a real one. They know the feel of money," he said.

Many fake bills these days are shoddy imitations of the originals, he said. Most are computer-generated on printer paper, meaning that they can closely approximate the color of a new bill but look and feel like regular paper rather than the special, threaded stock used by the U.S. Treasury, he said.

While employees can generally pick out fakes, bill acceptors don't necessarily reject them the first time around. That's in part because they can't be so sensitive that they won't also take worn or old bills that don't have many of the newer security features, Masto said. The Treasury eventually recycles old bills by replacing them with newly issued bills but the process is slow and means there are lots of old bills in circulation.

Slot machine bill acceptors in Las Vegas have probably been upgraded hundreds of times in the past decade or so, Masto said. Crooks play a cat-and-mouse game, creating new fakes to try to get past the system, he said.

JCM American Corp., one of the country's largest manufacturers of slot machine bill acceptors, doesn't comment on specific incidents.

JCM American Vice President of Marketing Tom Nieman said the company works "closely with all the necessary stakeholders" to stem counterfeit crimes.

"This is an ongoing, day-to-day situation. The technology is getting better and so are the counterfeiters," Nieman said.

Boyd Gaming Corp. spokesman Rob Stillwell said the company notified the Secret Service after discovering the fakes at one of its properties. Another in Las Vegas also was targeted, he said, declining to name the casinos.

A handful of fake bills were spent at slot machines with a certain type of older bill acceptor, he said. The company's casinos acted by deactivating slots with the acceptors in question.

Stillwell said the incident wasn't that significant because it involved so few slots and because $10 bills aren't commonly fed into machines.

"We have several thousand machines in this town and we have safeguards put into place," he said. "In my nine years here I don't know that we've ever had a major (counterfeit) problem. We work really hard with the manufacturers and regulators to make sure we stay one step ahead."

Masto said the Secret Service doesn't yet have any leads on who might have created the fake bills but said the federal agency is likely to catch the criminals eventually.

"Stupidity and greed is on our side," he said. "Eventually we get all of them (counterfeiters) because they will try it again ... it's a matter of time."

Resorts Fight Bogus Bills is republished from