Scams and Cheats

Before Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, methods for cheating the patrons were commonly employed. Illegal gambling (along with other illicit activities) was prevalent in Vegas since the turn of the century. Special or modified roulette wheels were part of the action.

Many of these rigged or “gaffed” wheels remained in operation for several years after 1931. Once the new gaming commission was established and put into power, these wheels found their way over to off-the-beaten-path places and illegal out-of-state operations. As the commission developed some teeth in their bite, casino cheating ceased to exist in Nevada. These gaming commissions can stroll up unannounced, confiscate any gaming equipment as they see fit and take it back to their labs for a thorough inspection. The casinos do not want to risk losing their gaming license. Today, in Nevada or Atlantic City, you won’t find any gaffed or juiced wheels out on the casino floors. But any gaming establishment operating where gambling is illegal is already breaking the law and has no license to lose. Be advised, you are probably being cheated in some way. Even in places where gambling is legal, but there is no strong regulatory agency, be wary! I have included several of the more common modes of cheating. Most of these are antiquated.


Probably the most elaborate way to cheat the players was by installing four equally spaced, concealed electromagnets around the stationery bowl. This was used in conjunction with a ball containing a steel core. By activating the magnetic force, a ball could be repelled off the upper race or ball track and sent down, a little earlier than nature would dictate, toward the spinning rotor. By pressing a hidden button (thus completing the circuit to the magnets at the appropriate time) a skilled dealer could force the ball drop-off and anticipate a rendezvous with a particular sector of the slowly spinning rotor. The dealer, having sufficiently memorized the wheel layout, could observe the betting layout, target a sparsely wagered sector on the rotor and competently steer the ball away from the heavily bet numbers.

Another method includes using a rotor where certain pockets have been magnetized. Here, a ball with a steel core is spun and allowed to break naturally from the upper track. As it spirals towards the rotor, it is attracted to the magnetized pockets. Because the rotor is a moving component, it is difficult to devise a way to toggle the charge on and off, so the pockets must be pre-selected and magnetized. If no one had bet on the “magnetized numbers,” then the dealer would use the steel-cored ball, knowing it would be attracted to these pockets. If there were sufficient action on the magnetized numbers, then the dealer would simply switch back to a regular roulette ball and let the 5.26% edge take effect.

Wheel Tampering

The casinos weren’t the only ones altering the wheels. There are many stories of brazen individuals who snuck into the casino wheel room after closing and doctored up the roulette wheels. Armed with pliers or other tools, these people would loosen up a few of the pocket frets by twisting them back and forth. These loosened separators would then absorb more of the ball’s energy, causing it to remain in that pocket. Others would glue some kind of material to the bottoms of certain pockets to affect the ball’s bounce. Depending upon the material, different results could be expected. For example, gluing thin sheets of lead on the bottoms of select pockets would deaden the ball’s bounce and make it more likely for the ball to stay in that pocket. Whereas affixing thin sheets of hyper elastic material, like that found in a “super ball,” to the pocket’s bottom would cause the ball to easily bounce out and avoid that particular pocket. Either way, the perpetrator is attempting to create a “biased wheel.”

Ball Tripping

An easy way to rig a wheel is by “ball tripping.” A very small diameter hole is drilled in the upper ball track, under the rim. A small, spring-loaded pin is positioned in the hole just below the outside surface. This mechanism is usually set up directly in front of the dealer so it is easier for him to time and harder for anyone else to detect. When the dealer flips a small lever, just under the table’s edge, the tension in the cable forces the pin against the spring, allowing it to protrude out slightly onto the ball track. As the ball contacts the pin, it is prematurely “tripped” out of the ball track. Again, a well-practiced dealer would time the ball drop-off with an impending sector of the wheel head or rotor. Because there is only one trip location from which to knock the ball, the dealer must wait for the right ball/trip point/wheel intersection. A near-perfect alignment is necessary and the dealer must see it coming well ahead of time.

The casinos weren’t the only ones engaging in this technique. One story has a team of players in Nevada, called the soda straw gang, tapping into the table’s banks with a most peculiar method of ball tripping. The gang allegedly had one heavy bettor at the center of the table, one trivial bettor on the far end and an observer seated at the wheel itself. The members would take their stations at different times, being careful not to acknowledge each other. The heavy bettor would cover numbers contained on one sector, or area of the wheel head. Just before the ball would fall, the low-roller on the end would create a diversion. The observer, timing the ball and the heavily bet sector on the wheel, would then raise a straw and blow on the ball as it passed to trip it out of the upper track. Supposedly, the gang was so successful that the casinos began installing the now-present glass security shields around the edge of the roulette tables. But don’t form a team, buy a box of straws and look for tables without the security shield. If the bosses don’t immediately catch you, the cameras most certainly will.

Another “tripping” technique that I have personally witnessed, involves one heavy better placing a black chip on the second column and a confederate standing near the wheel. Incidentally, the second column numbers are concentrated on an area of the rotor centered about the number 26 on an American style wheel. As the ball slowed down, the observer would brace himself and look for an opportunity to manifest. Being that the table was filled with last second bettors all trying to position their chips, there was a lot of bumping going on. As the ball slowed down and the second column area of the wheel approached, the tripper would thrust his hip firmly into the table near the wheel. The nudge seemed to shock the ball momentarily and then it broke from the upper track. Unfortunately for the trippers, that momentary pause let some of the wheel spin by and the ball resultantly bounced beyond their sector. On the next attempt, the tripper thrusted more firmly and a little earlier. The ball came down around the 33 and dribbled into the 14, a second column number. The force of the bump brought unpleasant comments from the other players and a glare from the dealer. Feeling uneasy, the tripper departed. It was then that I noticed the black chip bettor on the end. He collected his pay out and disappeared from the table as well. They were lucky that the dealer didn’t alert security or that the losing patrons didn’t lynch them.

Next month we will conclude our section on "Scams and Cheats." We'll look at Past Posting, Ball Control and Concealed Computers as well modern surveillance. Then I will follow up the next month with Part 2 on "Mathematical Systems." See you next month

The Spindoctor