Explore the Dirty World of Roulette Cheating
Roulette is intended to be a game of pure chance. In land based casinos, tables are crafted to ensure that each outcome has the same chance to win as the last. With the ball spinning in one direction, the wheel spinning opposite, and a handful of random bounces, the roulette table is a great tool for getting a fair and random result.
However, when real money roulette is part of the equation, it's only a matter of time before criminals begin looking for ways to exploit the game. Both players and dealers have been found guilty of cheating at the game of roulette leading to ever tighter security measures. Keep reading to find out exactly how they did it and what is being done to prevent it from happening in the future.
What is Mechanical Cheating?
This type of cheating applies to the wheel or ball directly. It is often used as a way to force certain numbers to be favored over others. Since the dawn of roulette, cheaters have been tampering with the tools of the game to win.
One of the oldest methods of cheating at roulette is the careful application of magnets. By placing a magnet in the table and a corresponding magnet in the ball, a cheat could hypothetically control where the ball lands. Because of the different forces at work, it can be difficult to really get the ball to land in the same space every time. However, knowing which specific region of the wheel the ball will be attracted to allows crooked players to bet on orphans and overcome the house edge in the long run.
Padding is another method of manipulating the wheel. This technique has been used in the past by operators that also happen to have manufactured the roulette wheels.
The basic idea behind padding, or 'deadening,' pockets is that the ball bounces more on some materials than others. If you are building a wheel from scratch, this might mean using softer woods or metals in some pockets, and stiffer materials in others.
A legendary roulette cheat from the early 19th century, Dugal specialized in rigging roulette tables after casino hours. Then, the Frenchman would return with family, and they would all bet on biased numbers to win big. He became a very wealthy man. Dugal was later turned in by his jealous wife, who discovered his mistress, and sent to jail.
The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo
This movie is based on a real-life gambler from the late 19th century. Charles Jagger, who had several aliases, and some of his friends discovered a biased wheel at a casino in Monte Carlo. They went on to win hundreds of thousands before the casino figured out that the wheel was faulty. The Hollywood version, starring Ronald Colman, takes a bit of license with the plot casting Charles as a Russian prince named Paul Gallard who goes to the casino to win big for his impoverished countrymen.
In this modern age, casinos are facing an increase in talented cheaters that use sophisticated technology to win. The most common method comes in the form of computers that can either detect biased numbers or predict which pocket the ball will land in using the laws of physics.
Several companies even offer apps or software claiming to be able to predict winning numbers. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, there have been some legendary cheaters that have used computer programming to identify biased wheels or predict winning pockets at brick-and-mortar casinos.
"As is the case with any game on the casino floor, crooks have routinely tried to cheat at roulette, but online the chances of playing at the same table as a dishonest gambler is greatly diminished."
In the US, using a computer program isn't technically illegal thanks to a Supreme Court case won by Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo. He used a computer program to analyze roulette wheels in major casinos earning millions until he was banned.
Famous for her use of a remote control roulette ball with a hidden controller in a package of cigarettes, this Frenchwoman won more than 1 million in the early 1970s. She used the controller to ensure that the ball landed on a select group of numbers while others placed winning bets. The team was eventually caught by an overly flirty casino owner who took extra notice of Laurent after she turned him down.
CSI Season 4: No More Bets - Episode 22
Based on true events, this episode features a pair of roulette cheats that use a computer system to determine which pocket the ball will land in. They win big, then are found murdered. The real life version isn't nearly as dramatic. The actual program was designed by physics graduate students and used to win thousands in Vegas. No casualties were reported other than several of the casino's 'Benjamins'.
How Does Sleight of Hand Work?
Historically, sleight-of-hand has been one of the most common forms of cheating at the roulette table. Con artists palm chips and either add them to a winning bet, remove them from a losing bet or even place them on a winning bet space. These cheaters can be skilled enough to fool even the most vigilant croupier.
Past posting is the act of waiting for the ball to land in one of the pockets, then covertly placing a late bet. This sleight-of-hand is not only difficult to pull off but also illegal. Modern technology is getting better at spotting this type of cheat.
Another common technique is known as pinching . This also requires waiting for the ball to come to rest in a pocket, but instead of posting a late winning bet, a losing wager is removed from the table. Like past posting, this is also illegal!
A masterful sleight of hand, Richard Marcus removed chips from losing bets. He would act drunk throwing his chips back to the dealer, cleverly switching out the higher value chips hidden at the bottom of a stack for lower. He claims to have won thousands with this technique. Eventually caught in 1999, he was banned from Nevada casinos for life. He currently makes legitimate cash working as an author and educator.
Casinos know that cheating can cost them millions of dollars each year. So they've devised various systems that survey players, equipment, and employees to prevent most of the common types of roulette cheating.
Casinos invest in regularly inspecting each piece of equipment to protect players from using tables and wheels that have been rigged mechanically. In addition, during gameplay outcomes are recorded and analyzed for any patterns indicating a bias. Modern-day security measures have gone a long way to make this type of cheating largely a thing of the past.
Roulette etiquette isn't an outdated tradition, it's a serious security measure to prevent cheating in the form of sleight-of-hand. Some of the most fundamental rules require players to keep their hands away from the layout at the crucial points of the game where past posting and pinching are most likely to occur. Since nobody should be reaching over the table while the ball is in play, the croupier has an easier time spotting a potential cheater.
If you need to brush up on the basic rules of etiquette when betting at the table, check out our detailed guide to roulette etiquette.
The Eye in Sky
Casinos have some of the most sophisticated technological security systems in the world with unmatched security cameras both above the table and on it recording every bet and outcome of the wheel. With a team of experts and ex-cheaters monitoring every move, nothing slips through the cracks for long.
All of the recorded data is fed into a computer program that tracks wins and losses for each player. So, if someone is a serial cheater, eventually this will be detected. The player will be caught and called out for any unusual patterns. At best, the cheater will be banned from the casino for life. At worst, the police will be contacted to make an arrest. It should be noted that both dealers and players are under the same sort of scrutiny.
In addition to being caught on camera, past posting and pinching can be also be detected by radio frequency transmitter chips (RFTCs). These help casinos prove a player has been cheating even when done in such a way as to be hidden from the cameras. RFTCs also aid in tracking each individual's wins/losses and prevent players from cashing out with counterfeit chips.
The Security of Online Play
Online roulette casinos protect players by using encryption, participating in regular audits by outside companies, and meeting licensing renewal requirements. Casinos use SSL encryption to protect personal and payment information. Auditors, such as GLi, test on a monthly basis to ensure RTP percentages meet the requirements of licensing commissions. Legitimate casinos will have all licensing information listed at the bottom of each web page, so that players can verify that it is a safe, secure place to play.