BILOXI, Mississippi – The side of a casino operation familiar to most people is the one that aims to keep customers playing, entertained and well fed. On the other, less visible side is a full out effort to protect the casino’s bottom line by catching cheaters and fighting against fraud.
Panelists at the Southern Gaming Summit session entitled “Thieves, cheats and scams” detailed just a few of the ways criminals and crooked employees siphon off a casino’s profits.
Darrin Hoke, director of surveillance at L’Auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles, La., warned attendees about a group based in New York City who have been running their bold scam since 2003.
“Any state that has roulette with a dealer has been hit,” Hoke said, including his own casino.
Here’s how the scam works: A player buys a $60 stack of non value chips at $1 a piece, pockets some and then hands them off to an accomplice. Back at the table, the accomplice buys chips that are the same color but valued at $25 each and slips the $1 ones into the mix. The scammer then cashes out what looks like a stack of $25 chips. The initial $60 buy in is now worth $1,500 or more, Hoke said. And the scam is often repeated three or four times during the visit.
“It’s a pretty prolific operation,” Hoke said. “They’re out there still doing it.”
He said the gang members arrested on felony charges at his casino were deported to the Dominican Republic.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy making their life miserable for trying to cheat the casino.”
But in reality, he said, “For every one caught, there are three times as many.”
It’s not just crooks coming into the casino, it’s sometimes bad employees who steal.
Panelist Andy Davis, director of surveillance for Treasure Bay Casino and Hotel, talked about the internal misuse of coupons, comps and hotel discount vouchers.
What Davis called “a fairly simple ploy” was uncovered when an audit team caught discrepancies in paperwork.
He described the scam this way: A guest pays cash for a hotel stay and the transaction is closed out. An employee familiar with the customer database identifies a player who seldom if ever uses comps and edits the paperwork to make it look like that player stayed for free at the hotel. The employee then makes off with the cash that the actual guest paid.
A combination of auditing and surveillance at the hotel helped to stop the theft, Davis said.
Panelist Ben Koff, Southern regional director of marketing for Caesars Entertainment, talked about “exploitable gaps” around casino marketing, from the monthly mailers sent to gamblers to huge promotions such as a $1 million a day giveaway. To protect against fraud, he said, “Surveillance is a marketer’s best friend.” So is constant communication among all parts of the casino operation to prevent complicity and “giving away the store,” Koff said.
Opportunities for fraud abound in a casino, where those working in marketing give away money or the cash equivalent. “No other industry does that,” he said.
Koff gave an example of employees who sold coupons for around $80,000 rather than giving them away. They were discovered and charged with fraud, he said.
After a marketing promotion is over, he told the audience, it’s time to review the financials and the entire process to make the next promotion work better.
“Get as deep down into the details as you can to have a fuller picture of what’s going on,” he said.
Searching the database for redeemed coupons and dollars played might turn up “10 people living at a P.O. box in the middle of nowhere.”
Casinos should create a work environment that encourages employees to ask questions if suspect something doesn’t look right to them, Koff advised. “If it’s nothing, then it becomes a coaching opportunity,” he said.