While Working in Surveillance I Caught a Rookie Dealer Dealing the Second Card.

August 5, 2011 § 8 Comments

During the late ‘80s I was working in a surveillance room—which at one time was referred to as the “eye in the sky”—in a major Las Vegas casino.

The casino employed me because of my knowledge of stealing and cheating.  I had “turned my collar around,” as the saying goes.  I was from a different era, before cameras and video recorders.  The old adage, “It takes a thief to catch a thief,” holds true.  Also knowing the owner on a personal level helped me to get hired.

With the advent of video cameras and recordings it was a smart thing to not try and do the things I used to.  Not that the cameras and video recorders catch anything—it is the surveillance operator that must do the observing and catching.  However, the average surveillance operator knows nothing about stealing, either.

Floor help or a surveillance operator rarely catch cheaters and inside thieves.  They are usually fingered.  It is usually pretty much the same story: a disgruntled ex-girlfriend, ex-friend, ex-wife . . . Some people steal and tell more people about it than need to know.  If you need someone to cash out chips for you, it had better be somebody you know really well and trust.

When I caught this young dealer, a kid really, he was about 22.  I had been watching him for more than a month off and on, as I had other things to do besides watch him.  He was dealing a single-deck game and he caught my attention by making a false move, pretending to deal the second card from the top of the deck.   I was quite familiar with this, as I used to do the same thing.

This false move is done on purpose to “warm up” the floorman, or perhaps surveillance, to this second-card move, so they are accustomed to seeing the hit-card delivered to a player in this manner.  He was also simultaneously moving his deck-hand too much when he was making his false move, a giveaway for a poor second-card dealer.

I felt that he was going to do something and kept watching him.  I wasn’t sure if he was planning on just practicing under live action the way I used to when I was roughly his age.  I used to practice dealing the second card without knowing what it or the top card was.  I was just practicing dealing the second card during live action and getting my confidence level up.  It is one thing to practice dealing the second card from the top of the deck at home in front of a mirror, without feeling any pressure, but it is much different to do it live with real players and the pit boss and floormen behind you.

One night the kid was standing at a dead game, which means there were no players.   A player walked up to his game.  This player was a regular player in the casino.  I put the kid’s game up on several monitors simultaneously, zoomed in a couple of cameras from different angles and kept a couple backed out.

The player played three hands betting $75 a hand.  I could see it coming.  The kid had a face card up, a value of ten.  He looked at his hole card.  The player didn’t hit the hands he should have.  This player was an experienced player and I knew he knew better.  The kid had to have signaled the player that he had a stiff hand, a bad card in the hole for the dealer.  It’s called “sitting on a stiff.”

The kid had a terrible peek, obvious.  I had an affinity for the kid, but I knew I was going to nail him.  His hands were shaking.  He went for the second card and missed it. He started snatching at it, trying to grab ahold of it.  I knew the feeling.  I could empathize with him.  I actually felt bad for the kid; he was falling apart.  He finally got the second card out and busted his hand.

He took chips out of the rack to pay the player and he was still shaking.  He tried to cut into the player’s chips to pay him off but he was spilling chips, shaking, trying to control himself.

He took a chance and had performed terribly for half of $225 (three times three $75 bets).  The player got up and left.  If the kid had been any good and didn’t get shook up he could have dumped off a lot more money if I wasn’t watching.  In this casino three $75 bets was nothing.

If I were to offer the kid advice before he did this for the first time it would have been to go have a couple of drinks or take a Valium to calm himself.

I reviewed the tapes a couple of times and debated with myself as to whether I should finger the kid.  I knew the owner personally and he had put me in the sky and was paying me to catch this type of thing.  The owner was a really nice guy and had been in this business all his life and was in his early 50s.  I knew he wouldn’t want this kid to go to jail.  He had kids just a little older than this young dealer.  I had a son 18.

The Gaming Control Board fraud agents would have watched that tape, had me explain it in court, and that kid would have gone to jail with the wolves for seven years.  This kid barely shaved.  He had skin like a girl.

I called down to the casino manager.  He was a clean-as-a-whistle guy who had been in the business a long time but didn’t know about stealing or cheating.  He knew the games but that was about it.  He had a couple of teenagers, boys, he was raising by himself.

He came up and watched the tapes.  He was excited to see something like this.  I asked him if he wanted this kid to go to jail and end up being some con’s punk.  I could see his wheels turning.  “That kid isn’t much older than your boys,” I said.

“Shit, what do you think I should do?”

“Go down there and take him aside.  Tell him you just watched him in action on videotape with that player and he was terrible.  Rake him over the coals a little, scare him.”

“Christ, Curley, rake him over the coals? You know it’s a crime not to inform Gaming about this kind of stuff.”

“Quit worrying about your key license.  Tell him that when Gaming agents see that video he’ll be arrested, prosecuted, convicted and end up in Nevada State Prison in Carson City where he’ll be raped for seven long years. Let him plead for a while.  Then tell him you’re going to give him a pass.  Tell him to quit and go on down the street and look for another job.  Tell him he can use you for a recommendation, but he’s going down in this casino as a not-to-be-rehired.  He’ll never forget you and what you did for him”

I watched on a monitor as the two were talking and the casino manager was acting animated and looked like he was doing a good job of chewing this kid’s ass.

The casino manager came back up to Surveillance and told me what the kid had said, that he was practicing some magic tricks that somebody had shown him.

“What did you say when he said that?”

“I told him to shut up, that I wasn’t stupid and I was keeping the videotapes.”

We agreed to not tell the owner or anybody else about this.

I wonder whatever happened to that kid?


§ 8 Responses to While Working in Surveillance I Caught a Rookie Dealer Dealing the Second Card.

  • This is a terrific story Keep them coming
    Captain Skyport

  • Mike Bunker says:

    Ed: This is GREAT stuff!!!!!

  • Dan says:

    That young dealer’s first time reminded me of another first time. Las Vegas, maybe 1965? My roommate was shaking me awake at 10:00 a.m. Thanks, Ed. “Get up and put some clothes on. We’re going for a ride.” “Nothing I’d rather do after four hours’ sleep.” We went down to the garage and got into his Jaguar XKE. Top down, we headed out of town and into the desert. “Where we going?” “Henderson.” “Henderson, huh? Boy, that’s worth getting up for.” Henderson at that time was not just another part of the Vegas sprawl like it is now. It was a tiny little burg separated from Vegas by six or eight miles of desert. Ed reached under the seat and and brought out a bundle of something wrapped in newspaper. “Check this out.” He handed the bundle to me. I unwrapped the newspaper to discover an eight-inch high stack of cash — a lot of hundreds, some twenties — held together by a couple of large rubber bands. “$13,000,” said Ed. “Not bad for the first time, huh?” “First time doing what?” “We took off a 21 game. That’s my share.” “So why are we taking it to Henderson?” “I rented a safety deposit box there. Out of the way. Safe.” I looked back. “Do the casino guys know you did it? What if some of the casino muscle are following us?” Ed reached under the seat, pulled out a .45, and handed it to me. “I don’t think so, but just in case…” Jesus! Ed wants me to shoot someone? I looked back again. No sign of another car on the highway. Whew! We got to Henderson, deposited the cash in his safety deposit box, and headed back to Vegas. Over lunch, Ed told me the tale… It took 11 of them, eight guys and three women. Most of the 21 games back then were single deck, but a few casinos were beginning to use six-deck shoes. The group managed to steal a large number of decks of the casino’s signature cards. They then practiced and practiced at a 21 table in one of their homes. What they practiced was getting good hands and betting the hell out of them. They loaded the shoe in such a way that all seven players would get good hands and the dealer would get a lousy hand. A shoe loaded thusly is called a “cooler.” So everybody knew what hands they were going to get and what to do with them. Now the hard part — getting the cooler into the game. At the casino on the night of the takeoff, as a straight player would leave Ed’s table, one of the 11 would take his place. Finally, the table was filled with seven of Ed’s gang of 11. Ed was the dealer — worked for the casino. All them were playing normal 21, $5 or $10 per hand. Then — and this is where timing was key — Ed was shuffling the cards just before he was to go on a break. The straight cards from the shoe were offered to one of the 11 to be cut — he reached out — just then, two of the 11, sitting two tables away, started a loud argument — one pushed the other, overturning a chair. All eyes — the pit managers, Security, hopefully the Eye in the Sky — were on the two men maybe getting into a fight. Distraction! At that point, the one of the 11 with the cooler in a holster-like device attached to his belt, slid the cooler out onto the table with his right hand and, with a very smooth move, picked up the casino’s cards with his left hand and stuck them into the open purse on the lap of the lady sitting next to him. She then got up and left the casino — you don’t want to get caught with six decks of the casino’s cards while betting big money. When the casino cards left the casino with the lady, another of the 11 took her seat. The guy who put the cooler in stayed to play. Ed put the supposedly just-shuffled deck in the shoe just as his relief dealer tapped him on the shoulder. Ed was gone. The seven players started betting the house limit — $500 on each hand. The first player got a blackjack. The second player got an 11 — double down. The third player caught a pair of eights — split them — a third eight — split that — hit, hit, hit — 18, 18, 17. The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh players got equally good hands, of course, and the dealer busted. They managed to go four rounds of this kind of betting and winning before the floor manager took serious notice. He came over to the table and said into the dealer’s ear, “Take two cards out of the deck and put them in the discard rack — just in case.” The seven bet again and the first two players drew enough cards so that the cooler was again in synch and they all won again — blackjacks, splits, double downs — until it was time for the dealer to shuffle. The seven at the table decided they had played enough for one night, took their chips to the cage to cash out, then all headed to their separate homes or apartments. The next day they added it all up — I think Ed told me they had made about $50,000. And $13,000 was Ed’s.

    Ed paid for lunch.

  • Dan, that was a long time ago and I’m going to be straight with you. That wasn’t my first time, although I told you it was. I had paid cash for my new XKE. I hadn’t told you that, either. And there was something else that I just remembered and probably neglected to tell you.
    The bosses were very suspicious. The relief dealer who dealt off the cooler I had caught had been working there for 17 years and was not under suspicion. I was. While the relief dealer was dealing off the cooler I had caught, some smart pit boss who was thinking something might not be right, told the dealer to “burn” two cards, which, as you know, means to take the next two cards coming out of the shoe and put them in the discard rack. This, the boss thought would mess up any cooler because the cards would then be out of order.

    However, this was cutting edge stuff and this particular cooler was referred to as a 10,10,8. I don’t recall the entire sequence of cards but it was simply 13 cards in a sequence—four times 13 = 52 cards in a deck—that repeated over and over for six decks. It looked very natural. All the players knew the sequence of the cards so they simply played one hand less and brought the cooler back into sequence. This 10,10, 8 . . . cooler was a secret for a long time and many used it. The bosses didn’t get it and I’d bet that to this day they still wouldn’t.

    The relief dealer told the big bosses that he had taken me out for a break and the shoe, full of cards was ready to go so he dealt it in the normal manner, which was customary with a six deck shoe to a avoid a long time shuffling again. Shuffling slows down the game. Hands are not being dealt. When hands are not being dealt, the casino is not winning money.

    When I returned from my break the bosses took me into an office and had a lot of questions. I was very nervous, but masking it. This casino was a mob joint and these bosses were not just “floormen.” These were serious guys, not to be bullshitted around, but I had to do some bullshitting, so I played stupid. I had a .25 caliber nine shot semi automatic Beretta in my front pants pocket and began worrying about having it if they searched me and I was supposed to be dumb.

    They brought me to a closed 21 game way at the end of the pit for privacy, opened it up, and wanted a reenactment of what had transpired prior to the relief dealer taking me out for a break. My mind was racing trying to think of someway I could come across as getting screwed by some players. I was young and looked even younger than I was. So I decided I was going to play being young and stupid. I shuffled up the cards and had anticipated that one of the bosses would do or say something to take my attention away from the deck when I offered the cut to one of them so a cooler could be put into the game without me knowing it. I had no idea if my spur-of-the moment plan would work.

    As you know, in a single deck game, the cut is offered to a player with the single deck laying flat. Every 21 dealer knows that from day one, you never take your eyes off of the deck when offering the cut, never! You even hold your finger against the side of it when it’s being cut and pay close attention.

    However, a six-deck shoe is a different ball game when offering the cut. You can’t set six decks out for a player to cut all piled up, one deck on top of the other. When the player would try to cut the decks they would probably fall over and there would be a mess of cards to be reshuffled wasting time.

    The way six decks are cut, is the decks are offered to a player with the dealer holding the decks sideways between his four fingers and thumb, the edges of the cards flat on the tabletop. The player is given a “cut” card, and the player chooses a spot to insert the cut card. Then the dealer completes the cut and places the six decks into the shoe.

    This was the part of our little reenactment I was worried about. Fortunately, these big bosses had never been dealers. They had always been bosses because of their connections to eastern interests who “really” owned the casino. I didn’t think about this until later and was ready to run for the door if they balked at my demonstration. They knew nothing about actually being a dealer, although they had watched plenty of them.

    I finished shuffling and pushed the decks out all stacked up on top of each other to a boss sitting in the first seat. There was no other way to do this and allow myself to be able to take my hand off of the decks. If I took my hand off of the decks when they were laying sideways, the cards would fall over. Just when I put the ridiculous looking decks, stacked six high, in front of the boss on first base, the third base boss asked me a question. I am not a religious person, but I thanked God. I turned completely to my right—something a competent dealer would never do—with my back to first base where I had placed the cards.
    The boss yelled at me, “Never take your hands off your tools.” I put a dumfounded expression on my face and was promptly fired. They thought I was just plain dumb. They assumed that I had been suckered. I was very glad to get out of there.

    But there is more to the story. There was a dealer working in this same casino where all this happened and he had been there for years. Before I worked in this particular casino I was working downtown at the Golden Nugget. I’d had a little run-in with this dealer on the game I was dealing, cheated him out of his winnings and foolishly told him I was going to do it. As I did it I told him in advance what cards were coming next. I was doing this on my own. The Nugget would not have gone for this. I had been drinking.

    When I first went to work in this casino in which he worked, he was cool. He didn’t talk to me, but he didn’t rat me out to management, either. This dealer was working a late shift the night this all happened. By the time he came in for his shift I was already gone. The casino was practically on fire there was so much steam after this dealer told the bosses that I was not some dumb sucker.

    I received word that the bosses wanted me to come back and talk. I didn’t go back. But I did have the gall to go in during the day and try to pick up a paycheck they owed me. When I told my name to the cashier he told me to wait. I left rapidly and decided they could keep my paycheck.

    I remember that trip to Henderson well Dan. I forgot about the lunch, but that night I wanted to show you my Jaguar XKE could do 135 miles per hour in third gear. We drove down that brand new freeway to nowhere that had been put in and we did 135 mph. Then we went to some Italian restaurant and I told you that you could order whatever you wanted. You ordered a New York Steak. I ordered Italian. That was 46 years ago.

    P.S. My end was substantially more than $13,000 because I took all the risk. I didn’t tell you that, either.


  • Jane says:

    I’m really enjoying all your stories. And also,I really liked seeing that your are so compassionate, giving the young man a break. At first I had the feeling that you might be mafia gangster or something. But the mafia wouldn’t give somebody a break. You must really be a nice man. Are you going to post a picture of yourself? I have you imagined as handsome and dashing. 🙂

  • Jane, thank you for the nice comment. I am thinking of posting pictures that were taken back in the day, not the present. What do you think?


  • Do you still have your ’65 XKE? The E-Type was so remarkably beautiful; it’s the only automobile on permanent display in MOMA in New York.

  • Judie says:

    Yes! Post the picture of you standing next to your white Jag. Handsome dude! You always were. And I for one still think you are! Great blog Ed.

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