Printing company accused in Casino scam.

June '99 News

The annals of casino cheating include counting cards, nicking them with a fingernail, using hidden cameras to view them. Someone in South Africa found a more systematic way: just mark the deck at the printers.

Casino and police officials said Tuesday (May 4) that the lone supplier of cards to South Africa's casinos had issued decks with the backs of high cards slightly altered. Cheaters using them at the Caesar's casino came away big winners, costing the casino R2,000,000 over 19 days alone last month, officials said.

If the same scheme was used nation-wide, as officials suspect, it would have cost the industry about R50 million a year, said Ernie Joubert, chief executive officer of Global Resorts. Global Resorts and the Caesar's World unit of ITT own the casino, located next to Johannesburg International Airport.

Casino executives believe information about the marked cards was sold to gamblers either for a flat fee or commissions on their profits. It is unclear who was behind the operation.

Police Supt. Jan Hyman said the chief executive of the card-making company, Protea Playing Cards, was co-operating with police, and a printing employee at the Johannesburg company was questioned. No arrests have been announced. Global Resorts said police seized printing plates with the altered designs and marked cards from the company.

Joubert, the Global Resorts CEO, said Protea Playing Cards provides cards for all 22 of the country's casinos, and others in southern Africa.

The marked cards had a tiny blank space inside a repeated floral pattern on the horizontal edge that lay exposed in the dealer's shoe. Only 10s, face cards and aces - the desired cards in blackjack - were marked. Thus, the gambler could see if a good card was coming either to a player or the dealer and decide how to play and bet. "Printing your own cards is like picking money from the apple tree in your back yard,'' said Steve Vorster, chief of surveillance for Caesar's.

Global Resorts moved quickly to disclose the fraud in a gambling market with mouth-watering potential for foreign investors. Once confined to the black homelands under apartheid, casinos are now appearing around the country and generating revenues of more than R2 billion a year.

Warning bells

Warning bells went off April 11 when Caesar's managers saw that the house's blackjack take had declined from 14 percent of the ''drop" - or amount of chips bought by players - to 11 percent.

Surveillance tapes showed suspicious behaviour by a small group of players, such as darting their eyes quickly to the deck, making wildly fluctuating bets and always occupying the first two seats.

"I think they got greedy. They took too much too quickly, and we got suspicious,'' Joubert said.

The international average for a casino's blackjack take is about 17 percent, and the industry for years has wondered why it is lower in South Africa. "People always thought ... that South African blackjack players were the best in world,'' Joubert said. "Now there may be another reason.''

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