What makes a successful casino cheat? Richard Marcus (Part 1)

Known as the world’s most successful casino cheat, Richard Marcus lays out what it takes to be, and catch, a casino cheat. The inventor of the legendary Savannah move spent 25 years in the game, without ever being charged with a crime. The expert points out how low-tech cheating is the most prevalent, pushing for joint training of floor staff and surveillance to identify groups who could do damage, breaking down how his team would take on floors from Las Vegas to Monaco.

We’re joined today by Richard Marcus, casino table game protection consultant and founder of the Global Protection and Table Games Conference. Thank you for being with us.

My pleasure Kelsey, thank you.

I want to delve right in, you do have a reputation. You’ve been called the world’s most famous casino cheater. What does it take to be a perfect casino cheat? Is it charm, is it skill, is it tech?

Actually, the charm and the skill is more important than the tech. The tech is only if you’re specifically a high-tech cheater, which the vast majority of professional cheats are not.

The three ingredients of being a professional casino cheat, a successful one are: one – brains, intelligence; two – balls, courage, lack of fear; three – and as equally important as the other two, is lack of greed, knowing when to stop. That’s in a nutshell what it is.

You managed to do this for 25 years without ever being charged with a crime. That’s incredibly impressive. How much was the most that you ever won or lost?

I guess you could call it won, even though it’s cheated. In one night, with various cheating moves, in between $130,000 and $150,000. In one night. That was the best night ever, and it was a New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas. And New Year’s Eve is perennially the best night for casino cheats to work, because there’s so much action, people are partying and in a good mood. So, New Year’s Eve was always the best.

Now we know that you had a massive run throughout Las Vegas, Atlantic City and also within Europe. But I have to ask you, have you ever cheated at a casino in Asia?

Absolutely not. And I don’t really miss the cheating that much. But I often say to myself […] Cause I retired from cheating in the year 2000. New Year’s Eve 1999 to 2000. And during the day when I was cheating it was a different situation in Macau. It was Portuguese run and it was really run by the Triad, Stanley Ho and all those people. So they had a fierce reputation of dealing with cheats in a very, let’s say, hard way – such as chopping hands off, or whatever – to what extent that was true, I don’t know, but I didn’t want to find out. And there were no other markets, or jurisdictions, within Asia where they had that much action. So, I never did.

It’s interesting you mention that third component being a lack of greed. I know that a lot of people who have heard your story and seen you speak are always wondering “How did you walk away? Why did you decide to walk away at that point?”

I was known for this particular move, called Savannah. I’m not going to get into the mechanics of the move, but it was such a devastating move, and I was actually able to use surveillance, unwittingly, to help me. The cameras actually helped me cheat.

And we were just killing it in Las Vegas, especially. Every weekend, we’d go out – Saturday, Sunday night. We’d make $50,000, $80,000 every week doing this move. And they knew it was me.

And the cameras were telling them I was not cheating. And obviously they knew I was cheating, they just couldn’t figure out how. And I had so much heat that I finally realized – one time after doing that particular move for eight months in Las Vegas alone, after some $2 million or $3 million in profits, they refused to pay me. And at that point I began to realize, “hey this is getting a little bit sticky here”.

And, besides that, I would travel around the world and – I was a cheater, not a liar.

So, we would be in bars, like we’d be in the Caribbean and we’d be celebrating our big night at the casino, 2am, 3am, we’d be at the bars drinking and everything. And people would come up and sometimes people would get into conversation and say “What do you do?” And, I knew I wasn’t talking to anybody in the casino industry, I’d say “I’m a casino cheat”.

And I would tell stories, a lot of people didn’t believe it, but those who did said “Wow, that’s amazing, you ought to write a book about it”. I always heard that, five or six times: “You ought to write a book about that”.

So, when I started to get all of this tremendous heat in Las Vegas from the Savannah move, I decided “this is a good time to pack it all in”. I was pushing that envelope a little too far maybe, and I had something to do now: write a book, which I did, and that’s how I stopped.

Did you ever at any point look back and calculate exactly how much money you made – not only from the Savannah move but in your earlier career as well?

Made and kept […] I should say gross revenue versus net income. Because when you do this, you’re travelling all over the world in peak season. Wherever you go it’s peak season and you’re paying $400 a night for hotel rooms, and the airfares and all that, without any two week advance purchase of tickets.

Because when you’re doing this kind of stuff, I could be in the Bahamas and we don’t know long we’re gonna be there because we might take heat. And then going to Europe, and this and that.

And you have to remember, 25 years. So, if I throw a number at you as to how much money we actually cheated casinos out of, it could be close to $20 million.

How much did I actually keep? There were four or five of us at all times. How much did I actually keep? Enough where I don’t have to do what I’m doing, which is consulting to casinos and running a gaming conference. But a few million, I’d say, I managed to bank.

You took that classic move that you learned, the chip switch-out on the win and you reversed it into something completely new, which was the Savannah move, in which you guaranteed you were going to get the win by putting the chocolates on the bottom – the higher value chips on the bottom and then the lower value chips on top, so that the surveillance would actually work in your favor.

Looking at what is happening now, within casino gaming, what is the most common type of cheating?

The most common type of cheating is always going to be chip manipulation. It always was, it is now, it always will be in the future, unless and until casinos remove chips from casinos.

Chip manipulation means you either increase your bet when you win, decrease your bet when you lose. Or actually switching bets out when you win and when you lose, which is what the Savannah was – switching the chips out when you lost – it’s always about chip manipulation. By far.

There’s been a lot of changes with RFID technology – tracing individual chips at individual tables, I’m sure they’ll be able to eliminate some of the more old-school operations, at least within the more advanced casino operations. But do you think there’s any style which has been completely eliminated due to this advanced technology?

To your point about RFID chips, it wouldn’t eliminate as much as you’d think. And that’s in spite of the fact that very few casinos around the world actually use them.

The thing is, with any kind of high technology – all it does (RFID included) is give information. It’s what the people who are getting the information, how they use it and how they use that to protect against very capable cheaters of doing what they do, including chip manipulation.

For instance, to give you quick example of that. I could go into a casino that has RFID chips and I can do a move – bet two black chips for $200 and then after I win, switch in a $5,000 chip underneath, with a black chip on top: $5,100 and claim the dealer paid me wrong.

Now, the first thing that comes to your mind is “well, the monitor will have picked that up”, that there was a change in the bet. But what if I set them up before?

What if I was at another table, a Baccarat table right next to that Blackjack table? And I was betting $5,000 a hand, or $3,000 a hand on Player. And I had my partners offsetting me on Bank – in other words betting $3,000 on Bank. So, it looks like I’m losing $3,000-$5,000 a hand, but I’m really more or less breaking even, minus the house percentage of 1.5 percent.

So, I show them a bunch of action, 15-20 minutes, and maybe we lose a couple hundred dollars on the house edge. And then I go to the Blackjack table and I’m friendly, I’m tipping the dealers, and I say “hey, you paid me wrong”. And guess what Kelsey? They don’t even look at the monitor, because they’ve been sold by psychology.

Psychology and the human element overcomes everything, all technology.

That was one of the huge advantages of one of your partners when you were primarily doing Vegas. Was it Pat Malone? Is that correct?


That was the charm factor, that was what came into play, at least that’s what I’ve heard. So, given that charm and the manipulation of psychology, how difficult is it really to spot a cheater? And it seems like the dealers are the first line of defense against this. Are they actually trained well enough to be able to identify and not be lured in to that psychological appeal?

No. There is a gross lack of training in casinos all over the world, especially in Macau. Now, I’ve never been to Macau, but I’ve read about what’s going on, all the Baccarat scams coming out of there. And it’s almost always in collusion with players. And the reason this happens is because – we can talk about dealers and supervisors. If the supervisors are not in on the scam – which in Macau that happens often enough, they don’t know what to watch, they don’t know what to look for. There’s so much action, there’re so few supervisors. The ratio of supervisors per table is so low. One supervisor is watching maybe four or eight games, where in Europe in some casinos there’s a supervisor on every table.

And the dealers need to be trained, they need to know the moves. They need to learn something about the moves, not just “how to protect the tables by where you stand, how you move, how you don’t turn your head” – that kind of stuff. They need to learn the moves.

And a big problem is that a lot of casinos are afraid to give the dealers that knowledge because they think that: if a dealer has knowledge of cheating moves – and there’s always a few bad apples, the vast majority of dealers, 99 percent and higher […] maybe that ratio’s a little lower in Macau […] are honest.

What the casinos don’t realize, the people making these decisions, that if somebody wants to cheat on the inside – if a dealer wants to cheat – you’re going to get cheated. Training or no training, you’re going to get cheated.

The thing is that most casinos around the world that I’ve trained at they train the floor people and surveillance separately, because they don’t want them to even have any interaction, which is ridiculous. If they’re on the same page, in the long run, they’re going to save a lot more money by protecting the games from being cheated versus that tiny percentage of dealers who are eventually going to cheat the casino in collusion with players. But it’s much to the favor of the casinos to increase the training both of surveillance and floor people together.

Looking overall, what should these operators be trying to be on the lookout for? Is it individual operators? You yourself worked in a group of three people?

Three, four or five people, depending.

So, should they be more worried about the individual one? Trying to scan for these groups? Or, even though it’s a lower likelihood, they seem to be able to more damage over a longer term if they do have somebody on the inside. So, what is the main focus they should be targeting?

Virtually all professional cheats work in groups, whereas advantaged players – which is a different thing, that’s not cheating, there are a lot of lone wolfs out there. But, as far as the cheating goes, it’s almost all teams.

Cheating operations, be it low-tech or high-tech – and by the way, around the world, 98-99 percent of all cheating is low-tech not high-tech. We just hear about high-tech scams – and a lot of them were out of Asia, because they take so much money at one shot. But if you look at the cheating percentage, it’s much more low-tech.

So, whatever game it is, it’s always in a team. And each person in a team has a function.

I used to run my teams like a military operation. Think of how the United States Bin Laden in Pakistan – each person has a function. You have the transportation to get there, you have the drop at the compound, then you have the guys who go in and get him.
it’s the same thing in a casino operation.

Let’s say it’s a Roulette move, there’s one person who’s responsible for being the mechanics, switching the chips – or past-posting it’s called, adding $100 chip to a straight up on a number. Another person’s job is to claim the move. If the person who does the mechanic-ing – the person who switches the chips is called the mechanic, the person who does that is never the person that claims the money, somebody else does.

And then you have two other people called ‘Chip Bettors’ – what they do is bet chips in order to facilitate the move by the mechanic, because they’re betting patterns control the dealer’s movements.

You have another guy, say that would be me, outside the table, surveillance and security. A good, professional cheating team has their own surveillance and their own security, and they have to be better than what the casino has. Because if the casino gets beat for a move, they lose some money. If a cheat team gets caught, they’re facing all kinds of problems. If they get caught and actually arrested, they’re facing jail, legal expenses and all that.

So, we as cheaters, we can’t get caught.

So, if one person in this military operation, if that function fails, the whole move falls like a stack of dominoes.

It’s always teams, so they should be on the lookout for teams.

A good point to make quickly is once a casino stumbles onto somebody, or has advanced knowledge that there’s a cheater in the casino, and they actually see, catch the move, the cheating: they should not react too quickly. They should see what else is going on, are there other people involved? The cheat might go to another table and then you might find out the dealers are involved. It’s very important to always think that.

Looking at during your heyday, in regards to cheating, and in terms of now – what was your favorite game to play and would still be true today?

Good question. My favorite game to cheat at was always Roulette. Cheating Roulette – you being a person in the arts would appreciate the word ‘choreographed’. Cheating roulette was like a choreographed dance. It was an art. The movement, the psychology involved, the setup, and every professional cheating move has a setup – unless it’s high-tech and they don’t need it, they’re just filming the order of the cards. But it really was like an art.

I never even looked at it – I mean, I knew what I was doing – but I looked at it as an art more than cheating.

Stay tuned for Part 2!