If you have not already seen my post entitled Takin’ Vegas, I recommend you read it first.
Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. And so it is. In Vegas, behind every scam there is a "who" … and it is always a who (or many whos) that lays out strategies, develops plans, recruits actors, trains, adapts, rehearses and ultimately executes the mission – all in hopes of taking home some loot. Undetected.
How do they do this?
For starters, if the actor believes he has already become known to casinos as a subject of interest, he will attempt to defeat recognition through the use of a disguise e.g., changing his hair style, growing a beard, sporting a bandana, slipping into some motorcycle apparel, etc. Some go so far as cross-dressing or pretending to be wheelchair-ridden.
Beyond a new look, opportunists will claim false identities and carry false credentials. There is one particular subject I am familiar with that has used over 30 very different aliases and a handful for different social security numbers and dates of birth. [On a funny but related note, check this out: Be Anyone in Vegas: Get Help Creating a Cover Story Here]
When actors want to expand their business, they recruit. Recruitment can be local or distant. New recruits are trained in rogue facilities so that by the time these new actors appear on the scene, they have superb tradecraft despite having never laid foot in a casino.
One insidious form of recruitment is the recruitment of a casino’s longstanding, high roller to participate in a coordinated covert scheme … or worse, the recruitment of the casino’s own employees. I know of one case where a dealer was coerced into assisting the scammers after being told his wife and children were going to be hurt.
The more significant the opportunity, the more organized the group, which means strategy meetings, business plans, capital raising, operating procedures, training guides, and so on. Attention to detail is essential to increased revenues and the sustainability of the group effort.
Larger teams may establish counter-intelligence measures to reduce the risk of being infiltrated by the establishment or scammed themselves by scammers. Their own team members may be placed under covert surveillance to ensure these trusted insiders have not gone bad over time as trust has a half-life.
Large teams have cells, sub-units that are expected to work together. Some cell members are members of several cells. As with any organization there are conflicting purposes and ideologies, thus membership in cells tend to morph over time.
Often, there is no apparent center of power. New groups emerge simply based on the inspiration of a movie, book, online chat rooms, etc. Groups form, merge, split and dissolve. Some groups just specialize in card counting while others specialize in a certain cheating methods e.g., "bet pressing" – adding to a bet after the outcome is known or the manufacturing of illegal cheating devices. Some groups start with one particular brand of cheating and then branch out into other specialties.
Imagine coordinating a team with 50, 100 and sometimes even more actors! What a challenge!
Well, actually, thanks to the Internet … training, recruitment, soft targets, etc. are at one’s fingertips. Some web sites maintain a level 1 area with limited revelation and benign chat rooms. There are level 2 areas which require the user first undergo a background check before being provided access. At level 3 the member is not only required to have a background check but is also required to have committed a felonious activity. And it is this group that shares even more sensitive information … for argument’s sake this might be viewed as equivalent to a government "Top Secret" clearance. Above this level, much like a military’s Special Access Program, very specialized knowledge is controlled to a minimum and known universe of folks. When the identities of the 12 Nevada dealers with subtle procedural defects in how they dealt hand held blackjack were discovered, such secrets are worthy of such extraordinary controls. The principle: if too many people knew about this weakness, it may be exploited at a pace that would have resulted in casino defection, prompting the casino to quickly close this vulnerability.
The latest challenge? Poker.
Poker is the problem these days. You think you are playing at a table with a fair shot. But unbeknownst to you, there is a team on that table working together against you – even though they make no outward appearance of knowing each other.
Is that slight twitch in the eye "natural" or "a signal"?
RELATED POST:Takin’ Vegas