You Gotta' Know When to Hold 'Em...Behind Bars

When you think about Las Vegas, you probably think about the glitz and glamour of dazzling slot machines, beautiful people, spectacular shows, high-stakes casinos and a skyline that most would recognize immediately. What you might not think about is what happens behind the house. According to Sharon Tibbits, CFE, Executive Director, Fraud Control Group at MGM Resorts International, fraud is a concern in many areas of the casino industry. “Our fraud department is responsible for 13 different properties and about 62,000 employees,” Tibbits said at the 27th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference last month in Las Vegas. “And we actually experience a lot of different types of fraud in a lot of different areas.”

Tibbits went on to list food and beverage, hotel, retail, casino, entertainment, conventions, transportation, housekeeping, purchasing, IT and payroll among the areas they must diligently monitor. And while fraud departments stay busy monitoring these areas, guests of the casinos are also targets. Customers should be wary about leaving their chips on their dresser before heading out to dinner or to the pool. According to Tibbits, “door pushers” walk the hallways and push on doors hoping to find an open room they can rob. 

However, a fraudster’s No. 1 target at a casino most likely isn’t the guest. “Most of the time we find that fraud is actually committed against the casino — the guests are going after the house,” Tibbits explained. “It’s not necessarily fraud that’s committed against the customers — that doesn’t happen very often.” 

Tibbits went on to discuss casinos’ biggest vulnerability: table games. Slot machines are easier to monitor because the casinos always know how much money should be in that machine. Table games use estimated wins and estimated losses, so they don’t always know exactly how much money should be in that table’s drop.

“Table games by far are our largest vulnerability,” Tibbits said. “There are human elements involved in table games. You have to have shuffling procedures, cut procedures, riffles, the way [the dealers] lay the money for the camera, the collection of the cards and the dealing of the cards — that human element allows for deviations in standards and breakdowns in controls, and that’s how fraud can occur.”

She went on to show exactly how these breakdowns occur using live surveillance video of various table games, including roulette, baccarat, black jack and craps. In each video, some sort of sleight of hand or distraction allows the fraudster to change out their bet amount or blatantly steal chips from the table. 

In one example, Tibbits explained that the criminals knew a deaf convention would be in town and that dealers had been instructed to turn and look patrons in the eyes if they had questions. One fraudster positioned himself at the roulette table to distract the dealer in such a way that allowed his accomplice to take chips from the table behind the dealer’s back. Little did they know that the eye in the sky (cameras positioned every five square feet) would capture everything.

As Kenny Rogers says in “The Gambler”: “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.” Though these are wise words for the player, remember that the house is always watching. 

Watch this session, including all of the video examples that Tibbits’ shared, with the ACFE’s Virtual Conference option.