Beating the cheaters

Las Vegas’s many casinos are some of the world’s shrewdest practitioners of business analytics. But much of what they do goes on behind closed doors.

In March 2008, however, a casino security expert provided a fascinating glimpse of the techniques used to foil gamblers that try to cheat the system.

Jeff Jonas told the O’Reilly Tech conference in San Francisco how casinos use concealed cameras and sensors to pick up scams such as swapping cards and colluding with dealers.

“Each resort has tens of thousands of sensors: every door-lock system, every slot machine, ATM machines, point of sale machines – it just goes on and on,” he explained. “There might be more sensors per square foot than anywhere else, other than a battleship.”

Jonas himself helped to develop a facial recognition system that compares gamblers’ faces to the mug-shots of known con artists and betting addicts, which many casinos have now been using for more than a decade.

The casinos rely on such technology to catch the cheats operating in their midst. But when a gambler wins big by legitimate means, Jonas revealed, the casinos protect their revenues with less cloak-and-dagger techniques.

When one high-roller walked away from a particular casino $18 million better off, the management decided to send a private jet to their house with a note saying ‘Just in case you get the bug…’”

“They got the bug,” Jonas recalls. “They came back and lost $22 million.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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