CLEVELAND, Ohio April 16 2012 – To train to catch con artists at the new Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, state investigators first had to learn to play the games. Then they learned to cheat.
The Ohio Casino Control Commission has assigned 13 agents full time to the Horseshoe, which is to open May 14 on Public Square. The agents have just completed a 40-hour gaming course that covered rules — key for some who had never tried their hands at games like poker or craps — and ruses.
Casinos opening later in Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati will have similar-sized contingents, said Matt Schuler, the commission’s executive director.
Schuler said the agents have sole jurisdiction on the gaming floor, though casino-hired security will handle many routine matters.
The commission launched its unit and other agents borrowed from the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which typically keeps a low profile assisting local law enforcement.
While all the Cleveland agents are seasoned investigators, working in a casino environment is new to them, said Kurt Shearer, deputy director of enforcement for the casino commission.
He and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who took a private tour of the Horseshoe on Tuesday, said they were confident the investigative skills would transfer to what is essentially a miniature city filled with more than 2,100 slot machines and 65 gaming tables.
To Shearer, it’s no different than picking up the varied specialties he focused on at BCI. He joined the agency as an undercover narcotics investigator in 1985 and later worked on public corruption, serial crimes and child abuse.
“They’ll give us a group of laws,” Shearer said. “We’ll go enforce them.”
Three or four armed agents, plus a supervisor, will be on duty at all times, but the public may have a hard time singling them out.
Shearer said they will keep their guns concealed and usually dress in plain clothes, displaying their badges only when a visible reminder of their presence is needed to quell or discourage trouble.
The Horseshoe holds rich allure for swindlers. The casino will average 13,000 visitors and more than $800,000 in revenue a day, according to estimates from Rock Ohio Caesars, the joint venture that developed the Horseshoe.
George Joseph, a veteran Las Vegas-based casino security consultant, says the first criminals to surface will likely include drug dealers and others seeking to launder money at busy slot machines and gaming tables. He also predicted that professional gambling scam artists from around the country will add Cleveland to their circuit.
“Every organized team that hits every jurisdiction will be coming to Ohio in some fashion,” Joseph said in a telephone interview. “Your money’s green in Ohio. They’ll be coming that way.”
Caesars Entertainment, the Horseshoe’s operator, won’t rely entirely on state agents to protect their interests.
The four-story casino in the old Higbee building will have more than 1,000 surveillance cameras watching the movements of gamblers, as well as employees who might be tempted to skim cash.
Most of the 600 dealers are local and new to the profession, but they have trained for months in detecting cheaters. And they will get layers of backup from supervisors and internal security headed by Rosalind Pennywell, formerly with an MGM casino in Detroit.
“It’s not nearly as dramatic as TV or the movies,” Brad Hirsch, Horseshoe vice president and assistant general manager, said of casino scams. “That doesn’t mean we should ignore it or not make it a priority.”
Joseph helped train the Pennsylvania State Police, whose troopers keep watch at the state’s 11 casinos. The once-aspiring magician says he learned how to cheat at cards and dice from an ex-grifter he met as a teenager.
Scams vary in sophistication, from plucking cash vouchers left protruding from slot machines to surreptitiously marking cards to sliding, rather than rolling, dice, Joseph said.
Modern tech-savvy cheaters sometimes use hidden cameras capable of detecting clear substances they smear on cards. Joseph said some attach an electronic device to slot machines that fools a bill reader into falsely thinking that currency has been inserted.
Joseph said Cleveland will benefit from intelligence shared by a far-flung network of agencies that deal with gambling. Contact among agencies makes it easier to keep up with scammers and their schemes.
“The learning curve for every new jurisdiction becomes shorter and shorter,” Joseph said. “There’s a wealth of information that was not available in the old days.”
Pennsylvania State Police have encountered money laundering and cheating since the state’s first casino opened in 2006, said Maj. Tim Allue, head of gaming enforcement.
In 2009, three men were caught using a software glitch to steal nearly $430,000 over several weeks from a slot machine at the Meadows Racetrack and Casino southwest of Pittsburgh, authorities have said. According to news accounts, one of the men passed himself off as a high roller and had a former policeman pose as his bodyguard.
But most of the crime inside the casinos has tended not to involve the gambling itself, Allue said. Combined figures for the 10 Pennsylvania casinos operating last year show theft, often of items such as wallets and purses, was first with 1,953 confirmed incidents, followed by passing counterfeit money and forgery at 1,178.
Allue portrayed the 2009 slots case as an aberration, saying the modern, automated machines are nearly impossible to rig. Omnipresent surveillance is another deterrent to cheating, he said.
“Casinos are very bad places to commit a crime,” Allue said. “Virtually every move you make is on camera.”