Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Unexpected Gambler Robert Asiel Shares Insights on the Old Days of Cheating Casinos

In the wild west, sometimes cheats had an ace up their sleeve.
I was introduced to the world of gaming cheats through Terry Roses, "The Honest Cheat." Roses is a lifelong magician who, according to the magicians code, will not use his skills (sleight of hand, etc.) for crooked purposes. This never stopped Terry from studying the ways of the wilier wayward ones. In this manner Roses has become an expert who trains casino surveillance personnel on how to recognize cheats. In addition to giving seminars related to "Optical Warfare at the Gaming Table" (in which he shows the variety of techniques used to mark cards, among other things) he has also invented a device called the Inspecta Card Scanner which enables casinos to maintain a level playing field for their customers by eliminating marked card cheats. (Visit: DetectMarkedCards.com)

I first wrote about Terry Roses in 2016 after a visit to his secret laboratory. More recently I have met with Terry a few times, each time coming home with fascinating stories, including introductions to a couple writers whose memoirs detail highlights of their lives "on the muscle," an expression explained below by Robert Asiel, author of The Unexpected Gambler: A History of Casinos Cheating the Public and One Gambler's Revenge.

I'd love to share how Terry gave me a card-reading lesson in which I learned to see a "mark" on a card that was previously not there till I learned how to see it, but this is Robert Asiel's story, so we'll save that for another day. All gambling involves odds and risk, but the more those odds are shifted in your favor, the lower the risk.

My interview here with Mr. Asiel is aimed at informing about, not glorifying, the cheater's life. If at times you see here echoes of The Sting and its sequel, I wouldn't be surprised. I've included a link to his book at the end.

EN: You began your gambling career as a 17-year-old blackjack dealer in Vegas. What year was that? And how quickly were you aware that some of the gaming was rigged?

Robert Asiel: I began dealing blackjack in 1963 at the Lucky Casino on Fremont Street. Before I dealt there, I worked there as a shill and witnessed craps dealers shorting winning players their payoffs, and picking up “sleepers.” Sleepers were winning bets that bettors forgot to pick up.

One week after I began dealing 21, I was taught by a senior dealer how to cheat the public on the money wheel (The Big 6 Wheel). I was warned by him that if I couldn’t protect the game I would be fired. Several weeks after I began dealing, I met a 21 dealer, through a friend, who worked at the Lucky but on an earlier shift. He told me he was working for the casino as a mechanic, meaning he was cheating the public for the casino, for an extra $100 per day plus his salary and tips. He showed me his cheating techniques and I had no reason to disbelieve him. He and my friend were trying to recruit me to do business (cheat) against the casino which I agreed to do. They introduced me to two middle-aged crossroaders who were people that cheated casinos full-time. We made a plan to beat the casino which was successful.

Before I witnessed cheating at the Lucky Casino, I was aware that casinos cheated through newspaper articles about casinos caught cheating and closed and through friends who worked as 21 dealers.

EN: How many years did you stay in Vegas and when did you begin taking your revenge on the casinos by cheating yourself?

RA: I stayed in Vegas just over three years. I had made several 21 cheating plays against two casinos with two 21 dealing friends of mine before I went to work at the Lucky Casino. While a dealer at the Lucky, I made several successful cheating plays. After leaving the Lucky, I became a successful crossroader.

EN: What did you feel inside when you first started down that path? Were you afraid early on? How long did it take to become a pro at cheating?

RA: I felt guilty but got over it. I never felt afraid because what I did was safe. I always felt nervous until years later after some other than casino life experiences. I considered myself a professional crossroader when I returned to Nevada in 1969.

This ordinary card has been marked and a pro can read it.
EN: How did the casinos address cheating in those days?

RA: If a casino suspected an employee of cheating, or caught him, he would be fired and possibly black-balled from working in other casinos. I knew one dealer who was fired for cheating but did get a job in another casino. I never heard of a dealer being arrested for cheating in my early casino career. There were rumors of dealers and crossroaders being roughed-up, but none that I knew except one. He was the first crossroader I had met who told me that one time while waiting in a casino’s back-room for a sheriff deputy to arrive to arrest him, a casino security guard stomped on his foot breaking a few toes. He told me he had been arrested numerous times for cheating in Vegas but paid a local bondsman who would have the charges dismissed. Gambling offenses were misdemeanors in Nevada until around 1980. A personal experience of mine being back-roomed happened was when I was nineteen-years-old. It was in a mob-run casino in the Bahamas where a boxman had nailed me switching dice on his game. The casino manager there threatened me with a warning but I was soon released unharmed.

EN: One of the things that aided in your success was working with confederates. How did you find confederates whom you could trust?

RA: I met my confederates through others I had worked with. I was immature and trusted everyone I met. I was betrayed twice but choose not to mention that in my book. Most crossroaders I met had been casino dealers who were black-balled, or found it more lucrative to work “on the outside” rather than “the inside.” Outside meaning “on the muscle.”

EN: Can you describe some of the ways you would signal one another so that the “eyes in the sky” were unaware of what was going on?

RA: The signals that crossroaders used that I learned were universal. Touching your nose means trouble. Same with a closed fist on a table. Touching your chin means everything is OK. Crossing one arm across your chest also meant OK as well as an open hand on a table. Brushing off your sleeve meant to exit. Brushing quickly meant to leave quickly. Touching an eye meant you want to talk to someone in private. Same for pulling your ear. There were verbal signals as well. George meant everything is OK. Tom meant bad. Mr. Long meant a high-roller, etc. When I formed my own crew we invented our own much-improved set of signals.

EN: What is the biggest mistake cheats make that gives them away?

RA: Greed. Going to the well too often or winning too much money on a play.

EN: Today’s casinos are run by corporations. How did Nevada clean up the mob connections to the casinos?

These are all "crooked dice" from Terry Roses' private collection.
RA: It was a long, complicated process because of political, economic, and other considerations. Nevada had to clean-up their act when FBI undercover operations against mob-run casinos succeeded in convicting nationwide mob members and associates. Nevada legislators found legitimate owners to take over the corrupted casinos to keep those casinos from closing and throwing hundreds of people out of work. Most of the casino bosses who had run the casinos for the mob kept their jobs.

EN: What about cheating today?

RA: It’s impossible to totally stop casino cheating — casinos couldn’t hire enough employees to watch every single transaction that continuously takes place in a casino. There will always be money leakage in casinos everywhere. Employees discover new methods to steal chips and cash, and will work with crossroaders using new moves. Today’s crossroaders are more geek than magician that use modern technology to assault casino games and slot machines. To combat the cheaters, the casinos buy state-of-the-art surveillance cameras and hire private experts to train their casino surveillance personnel on how to police crooked employees and crossroaders. One expert invented a device called the Inspecta Card Scanner that will discover any type of marked cards in a casino.*

Today, it’s unlikely that any U.S. land-based casinos are cheating the public. Most casinos are owned by multi-million dollar corporations that couldn’t afford to be caught cheating and lose their gaming license. Quasi-cheating is practiced openly in some smaller casinos and riverboats. What I mean is this: a dealer will keep track of how many aces and ten-value cards have been dealt. If the deck has proportionately more big cards and aces than normal, the dealer will shuffle the remaining cards early to take away the 3-to-2 bonus for a player having a blackjack, and to lessen his chance of busting his hand. If those cards are dealt early, the dealer will then deal out all the cards before shuffling.

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If this kind of thing interests you, let me know. I have many more stories to share.

Related Links
The Unexpected Gambler
Inspect Card Scanner
The memoirs of Fast Jack: The Last Hustler

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've read The Unexpected Gambler which is presented in a clear and understandable manner. I've worked in the casino industry and recognize that the author possesses a lively knowledge of his subject. It's an entertaining history of Nevada casinos.

Ed Newman said...

I'm sure much more can be said... and maybe it will.
Thanks for sharing.
e.