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Abigail Goldman

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Casinos constantly on lookout for cons

11 Apr 2007

By Abigail Goldman, Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- They call them fleas. Casino cons. Guys who buzz around the betting floor, looking for a scam or a cheat or a fleece.

Jerry Longo, senior investigator for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Commission in Connecticut, illustrates the ubiquity of casino crooks by drawing an empty circle on a chalkboard -this is the casino. Then he draws arrows; arrows pointing into the circle, arrows pointing out of the circle, arrows cutting through the circle, arrows hovering above and below the circle. Arrows encompassing - these are the fleas.

"This is how they come at us: from everywhere," he says. "They drop out of the sky in parachutes. It's unbelievable, the schemes and the scams they come up with."

Longo's crowd, wearing golf shirts and carrying attache cases, leans over and takes note. This is the International Conference on Asian Organized Crime & Terrorism, a five-day affair that drew 600 to the Las Vegas Hilton's convention hall last week . This is Longo's lecture: Asian Organized Crime and Casinos. And this is no laughing matter, though much of the casino community's inside intelligence is fairly amusing.

Take, for example, the ambitious criminal who crawled into a casino with counterfeit chips, dazzling replicas except for one problem: they were minted with a misspelling. Instead of "dollar," they read "dolar." As in, one worthless "dolar." A casino employee noticed the error and assumed it was a rare misprint, a collectors item, like a coin stamped with mistakes. The counterfeiter's response to the employee's interest didn't help.

"This guy ran like Jesse Owens on fire right into a card table and almost knocked himself out," Longo says.

There is a casino security term for situations like this. James Edwards, a senior investigator for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, explains it during a seminar on cheating table games. It's an acronym, actually: JDLR. That's short for "Just Don't Look Right." As in, if things don't look right, they probably aren't.

Grainy security footage shows a casino guest approaching a casino dealer and slapping her on the face, hard.

This doesn't look right.

Longo pauses the reel, and plays it again: approach, slap, slip away.

"She slaps the crap out of one of my dealers right in front of one of my cameras," he says.

A little investigation reveals the slapper is a particularly loathed breed of casino parasite - a loan shark.

And the dealer? Well, she was in $100,000 over her head. She was also stunned when the casino fired her. Stunned the casino could no longer trust her to handle thousands of dollars a day.

"Casinos, if you think of them, we're just big banks," Longo says. "At some point, you don't know how much money there is. That's the one flaw at a casino. That one little moment in time, that one weak point."

Longo queues another surveillance tape, this one focused on a small white room, where a single staff member is watching hundreds of dollars fan across a cash counter. He folds a $100 bill into his sleeve, then reaches into his vest pocket for a pen.

That one little moment in time. That one weak point.

"The money falls into a pocket, and only the pen comes back," Longo says. "There is a connectivity of criminal activity that ends up in casinos. Internal, external, it's all connected."

Edwards has another acronym for casinos that don't follow security standards to deter criminals and hustlers: BOHICA. That's short for, "Bend Over, Here It Comes Again."

Lately, Edwards says, casinos have the upper hand on con artists, who are always scrambling for a new cheat.

"We have no idea what they'll come up with next," he says, "But it will be pretty sophisticated."

But sophistication is a relative term when it comes to scams. Longo plays another security tape. This one lasts one and a half seconds, just long enough for the camera to catch a hand darting underneath a dealer's nose and snatching $13,000 in poker chips.

"And guess what?" Longo says, fixing the image on the stolen fistful of plastic disks. "They don't explode when you run out the door."

Copyright © Las Vegas Sun. Inc. Republished with permission.

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