The Battle of Cheating and Anti-Cheating Casino Technology

The Battle of Cheating and Anti-Cheating Casino Technology

Most players go to the casino with the hopes that they will be lucky enough to win the jackpot.  These players only hope they are the exception to the fact the casino always wins.  However, there are a select number of players who actively try to find an advantage using whatever means they can.  It is probably true that from the moment gambling was invented players immediately began trying to find an advantage. 

Many players simply try to find legal strategies and tips that they can use to increase their chance of winning while other players search for ways to cheat.  On that same note, for as long as there have been cheats the casino has tried to stop those cheats.  In today’s world, smartphones can be used as a communication device, camera and a computer which means that the potential for cheating is even greater than it has been in the past but casinos have developed their own technology to catch the cheats.  

The First Blackjack Cheats

Arnold Snyder has always been a savvy player and has is the author of ‘The Big Book of Blackjack’.  He says that blackjack is quite an interesting game because for many years it was extremely unpopular.  When the first Nevada casinos were built at the end of World War II, they were filled with dice tables.  Soldiers who recently returned from the war were drawn to these games because dice were the only gambling equipment that was durable and waterproof to survive the trenches. 

This is exactly why the casinos chose to offer dice games like craps.  Alternatively, blackjack was a more specialized game that catered to a smaller number of players.  
In 1962, the popularity of blackjack would be forever changed with Edward Thorpe published his book titled ‘Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One’.  Thorp was an instructor at MIT and created a mathematical formula for card counting.  He stated that card counting would give players an edge over the casino.  This edge was only about 1% but it meant that players could potentially make a consistent profit from the game. 

Thorpe’s book was an instant bestseller and thousands of players flocked to purchase this invaluable resource.  However, many players did not take into account the determination and skill that was required to successfully use this strategy.  Nevertheless, players began pouring into casinos in an attempt to get rich off  blackjack games and ever since this game has been extremely popular. One of the most well-known blackjack players was Keith Taft – an engineer for Raytheon who worked on integrated circuits.  When Taft was on a vacation with his family in 1969, he decided to play some blackjack.  He played 3 hands and won them all with a total profit of $3.50. 

Taft remembered a bit about Thorpe’s strategy and then decided that he could create a computer to perform the task of card counting.  Computers were still in their infancy as the first RAM chip by Intel was not released until 1970.  The very first personal computer called the Kenbak-1 was released in 1971.  This computer would serve as the hardware for Taft’s card counting computer.  The software algorithms used in this computer were created by Taft when he worked for the R&D department at Fairchild.  

After 2 years of painstaking work, Taft created his blackjack computer which he called ‘George’.  George weighed 15 pounds and could be strapped to a player’s torso.  There were also wires attached to the computer which ran down the legs of the players to a pair of switches attached to the player’s toes.  When Taft first tried to use his computer, an employee put his hand on Taft’s back which prompted Taft to change the position of the computer. 

Battery acid also leaked onto Taft’s chest during this trial run.  After his failure, Taft continued to work on his computer for the next 15 years and despite the initial setbacks, Taft saw some success.  The rest of the family was then recruited by Taft to help him with the project.  The family then began to work with ex-stockbroker Ken Uston and the group made enough money to live off for many years.  

Anti-Cheating Technology in Casinos

When casinos began to grow in popularity, particularly due to the rise of blackjack, it became difficult to spot cheaters.  Contrary to popular belief, the best anti-cheating devices that casinos use are normal surveillance cameras rather than RFID chips, facial recognition software or biometrics.  The ability to see more, playback and record the activity in the casino also helped casinos combat cheats.  The casino could make use of advanced technology if they wanted to but in practice there is nothing better than using regular cameras and casino employees to observe the behaviour of players.  From the minute players walk into a casino they are picked up on the camera and security personnel are able to track every movement made by players if they choose to.  

Anti-Cheating Systems in Action

One example of the systems used by casinos is present in the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.  This casino is part of the 67-acre MGM CityCenter complex and it is the biggest privately funded construction undertaking in the history of the U.S.  This $8.5 billion project includes features like energy-saving technology and climate control.  Underneath the casino is a monitoring room that was designed in part by Ted Whiting, the director or surveillance for Aria.  There are more than 1100 cameras in the casino with a mix of older analog cameras as well as digital cameras. 

Derk Boss states that most casinos prefer older cameras because they are less expensive and do not suffer from the lag of digital cameras.  However, Whiting wanted to get the best of both worlds and requested both types of cameras.  The Aria is also equipped with 50 cameras that can take 360 degree pictures which makes it easier to find a particular person especially when that person walks through choke points.  Choke points are areas of the casino that are designed to give surveillance a good look of any suspicious person.  These cameras can monitor approximately 98% of the casino floor.  

Surveillance Cameras in Casinos Worldwide

Thousands of surveillance cameras are operating at all hours of the day and night which means that the monitoring room has huge amounts of data to sift through.  In the monitoring room 6 employees watch 40 different monitors but all of the feeds are recorded so they can be analyzed at a later time.  One day it may even be possible to immediately search the data for any suspicious activity like when a baccarat players leaves, comes back to the table and then hits a tremendous winning streak.  However, an observant human employee could spot this type of behaviour but video analytics would make it easier to review the incident further. 

In reality, finding cheaters is only a small aspect of surveillance work.  There really are not many cheaters especially when compared to the number of pickpockets and purse-snatchers or other ordinary criminals.  In terms of cheating, Whiting says that the casino will never be ahead of the game because those who are paid to catch cheaters will receive a pay check regardless of if the thief is caught or not.  On the other hand, cheaters only receive a payout if they succeed so they tend to be highly motivated but once their cheat is caught by the casino, security personnel will respond with full force. 

The future of cheating is clear – there will always be those who try to overcome the established order and the casino will always try to fight back.