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Do Casinos Cheat?

Dear Mark,
I have always been a bit suspicious of casinos and especially their ability to cheat players. Come clean, Mark. Do the casinos tell the dealers to cheat the customer? Ron T.

If you follow my column regularly, Ron, you will notice my commentary ordinarily puts me on the side of the player. With machete in hand, I am always willing to slash through the green felt jungle for my readers. Most would call me a casino adversary/player advocate. Thank you. But in the case of a casino cheating a player, Ron, I would be remiss if I didn't say with 100 percent conviction that the casinos are in no way out to cheat you.

There are two key reasons why casinos don't play the game of deception. First, most casinos are publicly traded companies on the NYSE not interested in exposing their gaming license to loss with any inkling of cheating going on. Also, here in Nevada, you won't find a more regulated industry chock-full of rules that would close a casino down for defrauding the public.

A second, if not even more significant reason, is the way casinos reap their profits-paying players less than the true odds. Meaning, every game offered to the player is mathematically in the casino's favor. Example: When you flip a coin there is a 50/50 chance of your winning. But instead of getting even money for every dollar you wager, you are paid 99¢, or 83¢ or maybe even 75¢. This in a nutshell is how casinos operate their license to print money, paying you less than even money on every bet you make.

Now, if every single wager placed in the casino is based on that principle, why, Ron, would they ever want to swindle you? That's not to say that a rogue employee on his own never tries to manipulate the cards in the casino's favor. That is why the casino manager watches the shift manager, who watches the pit bosses, who watches the floorman, who watches the dealers-with the eye in the sky (camera in the ceiling) watching everybody. It doesn't take long for a dishonest employee to be weeded out.

I would also note that in 17 years of casino employment, working in seven different casinos, I have never been asked to do even the slightest thing that borders on fraud. I have been asked to speed up my hands per hour dealing blackjack or pick up the pace on a crap game, but that's to get the math to work in the casino's favor-never to cheat.

So, Ron, I would be more suspicious of the wagers you make, not the casino. Let me ask you this: Are you getting back 75¢ (keno) for every dollar bet, or 99¢, (perfect basic strategy in blackjack)?

Follow up: This past week I was deluged with calls and e-mail about an investigative report by ABC-TV's PrimeTime regarding slot machines in Nevada that are preprogrammed for "near-miss" read-outs, which entice gamblers to play longer. The theme of the discourse was "I knew all along they were cheating us."

PrimeTime's main source; a former Nevada Gaming Control Board computer whiz and convicted felon named Ron Harris, who prior to sentencing found religion.

Sorry, but I'll stick with my biased conviction that because casinos have the percentages working for them on each and every slot, there is little chance they would conspire, in this case with a slot manufacturer, to cheat a patron. All pulls of the slot handle produce random results-albeit results that, based on the slot pay table, generally create losers. Besides, near-miss technology is not only illegal in Nevada, but tampering with a computer chip can easily be detected with the right equipment, even by a low-level computer nerd like me. Chips are not only tested before leaving the factory but randomly checked for integrity on the casino floor.

Coincidentally, another TV news magazine program, to which I promised confidentiality for both the show's name and content, wanted my opinion about an upcoming investigative report they were doing regarding a highly sensitive casino issue. Because my take on the subject matter wasn't the sensationalist spin that would improve their ratings, my viewpoint will find it's way to the cutting room's floor. Why should they use me? In the gambling industry they can easily find someone with limited credentials willing to say off camera or in silhouette, "Yeah, that's the norm, happens all the time." Sounds very similar to the PrimeTime investigative piece above.

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