‘I loved destroying them’: Casino dealer reveals how he dealt with cheaters

Colin MacGregor has been at the frontline of major global casinos for more than ten years and so knows a thing or two about spotting dodgy behaviors at the gaming tables.

Among his roles include stints at the Sun City casino in South Africa, for Holland Casino and Casino Copenhagen. He worked initially as a dealer, before taking on an inspector role. He has since left the tables, but spoke to Casinopedia content editor Luke Page about how casinos go about spotting a cheater at the felt.

Strangely, I was given a job off the back of cheating. Not my own cheating, you understand, but that of a huge operation to root out one of the biggest casino scams in history.

You can be fairly sure eyes will be on you at a casino if you try any funny business.
You can be fairly sure eyes will be on you at a casino if you try any funny business.

It was 1986, and shortly before my employment at the Sun City casino in South Africa, the business had been stung by the Las Vegas Chip Cup scam. To cut a very long story short, this scheme involves using a hollow tube at the game table painted to look like a stack of low-value chips.

In collaboration with the dealer, and over the course of playing a table game like craps, the tube is then placed over a stack of much higher value chips. During gameplay, the cup then finds its way back to the player via bets, unbeknownst to the casino.

The casino at that time was not prepared for such an operation of staff and punters collaborating together, but the brains behind the scam new it was a new casino and therefore vulnerable to the sting. That is exactly what every new casino in the world should prepare themselves for as these people are aware of casino’s opening up that have inexperienced staff onboard. A mass staff clear-out meant I was given my chance in the role.

New casinos not always wise

Casino cheating is big business, they’re professional, clever and like magicians in their operations. But, they are running out of places to go and scams to instigate, as the casino industry gets wise.

What happened in Sun City will never happen again, as a new casino it should have had table checks every hour as to where the majority of the money was going, the loss of high denominational chips with no visual clues should have raised suspicion. Prior to going to Sun City I worked in a Glasgow casino where it was frowned upon mixing with the casino’s punters.

But, in Sun City, you could have drinks at the bar with any of the punters, which may have one day opened up discussions as in how to make money via the Vegas Cup scam.

It was in Glasgow where I learned the hard way about casino cheats. We were a new casino and word would have went out it was inexperienced staff therefore attracting cheats from near and far.

Everything was tried, but from every cheat operated I learned from my mistakes and vowed they would never happen to me again. The cheats that happened to me in Glasgow were classic, but I learned from each one in my rise through the ranks of the casino industry.

The tricks they pull

Some tricks are devilishly simple.

A customer came to the table and asked for high denomination color chips at say £100 ($125) (this color may be red).

He stood at the wheel as another customer asked for the lowest denominational color chips (let’s say yellow) and he stood at the bottom of the table. They pretend not to know each other. At some point the highest denominator (red) player slips the lowest chip holder (yellow) a couple of his chips as he goes to the toilet.

They waited till a number came up in the bottom half of the table and the guy with the yellow chips would put a stack on the winning number. The dealer would see this as an obvious late bet and seeing he had yellow chips in front of him take all the yellow ones off leaving the sneaky red one he put at the bottom from his friend which would be claimed as a winning bet. A classic but simple sting that will never happen to me again.

Colin MacGregor and the world famous Rod Stewart at Sun City, South Africa in the mid 1980s. Picture: David MacGregor
Colin MacGregor and the world famous Rod Stewart at Sun City, South Africa in the mid 1980s – one of the many celebrities he met in his casino years. Picture: Colin MacGregor

Folding money

There is also the classic sting of the folded notes. As the roulette ball is about to drop and the croupier has announced no more bets someone will throw a neatly folded (into a square) bank note on red or black. Technically the dealer should grab the cash and put it on the wheel as a cash bet.

If the game is really busy then the cash may lie there. If the folded cash is on red and red comes up then no problem to the scammer as the cash is unfolded to find a £5 with a £50 wrapped inside. But if black comes up then he quickly snatches it back into his pocket. It’s here that the inspector takes part and announces to the punter that the bet stood and he should put it back.

The punter agrees then puts a swapped folded £5 note back on the table looking like the original bet without the £50 folded in the middle.

Card counting ain’t simple

All these tricks so far are con-men trying to play on vulnerable croupiers and new casinos. But the big question lies over the casino versus the card counter.

Technically the casino doesn’t like the classic blackjack card counter , but I have never seen them as a problem as there are not too many good ones out there. Essentially it involves a player keeping track of the amount of high and low cards dealt by the dealer and playing their betting accordingly. There are various card counting strategies, but most take a reasonable deal of skill to get right, and avoid the attentions of the casino.

In Glasgow we would ask them to leave as the style of play was obvious, but in Holland and Denmark we’d combat them by putting on the fastest dealers in an attempt to disrupt their pattern of counting.

I for one took enjoyment out of trying to destroy a card counter’s train of thought and would try an get a discussion going with them while dealing at a super pace…it would irritate them.

Cheaters that were comedy gold

Some attempts at cheating were so outlandish, you couldn’t help but smile.

The funniest I have ever witnessed is the gentleman who took the trouble to glue the end of a very fine fishing line to the bottom of a cash chip. The fishing line was green to match the cloth of the roulette table. He had then run the chip and the line down inside the sleeve of his jacket. His purpose was to sit at the bottom of the table and bet on the nearest column to him.

If it won he would get paid, but if it lost, he planned to retrieve the chip, before it was removed by the dealer, by pulling on the other end of the line with his other hand, so the chip would shoot up his sleeve. Believe me, it looked as daft as it sounds.

I have never laughed so much in my life at his first attempt. The line was so obvious but we couldn’t resist leaving him alone, purely out of curiosity. He wasn’t even betting big money.

When his column didn’t come up he yanked so hard on the line that he struck the guy sitting next to him as the little chip shot up his left jacket sleeve. It was so conspicuous – the whole table saw it with great amusement.

To that gentleman, I thank you for providing me with a lasting memory. And I’m sorry we had to kick you out.