How casinos fight cheaters  AARON COHEN  ·  JAN 25 2013

The Verge has a long look into casinos which includes an interesting section on the first blackjack computers. It also describes the main strategy employed by casinos to prevent and catch cheating: a shit ton of cameras.

They keep a close eye on the tables, since that's where cheating's most likely to occur. With 1080p high-definition cameras, surveillance operators can read cards and count chips -- a significant improvement over earlier cameras. And though facial recognition doesn't yet work reliably enough to replace human operators, Whiting's excited at the prospects of OCR. It's already proven useful for identifying license plates. The next step, he says, is reading cards and automatically assessing a player's strategy and skill level. In the future, maybe, the cameras will spot card counters and other advantage players without any operator intervention. (Whiting, a former advantage player himself, can often spot such players. Rather than kick them out, as some casinos did in the past, Aria simply limits their bets, making it economically disadvantageous to keep playing.)

With over a thousand cameras operating 24/7, the monitoring room creates tremendous amounts of data every day, most of which goes unseen. Six technicians watch about 40 monitors, but all the feeds are saved for later analysis. One day, as with OCR scanning, it might be possible to search all that data for suspicious activity. Say, a baccarat player who leaves his seat, disappears for a few minutes, and is replaced with another player who hits an impressive winning streak. An alert human might spot the collusion, but even better, video analytics might flag the scene for further review. The valuable trend in surveillance, Whiting says, is toward this data-driven analysis (even when much of the job still involves old-fashioned gumshoe work). "It's the data," he says, "And cameras now are data. So it's all data. It's just learning to understand that data is important."

Ultimately, catching cheaters is a small part of what casino surveillance teams do. There simply aren't that many cheats out there, compared to the number of purse-snatchers and pickpockets, the ordinary criminals that people like Ted Whiting deal with almost every day. When it comes to cheating, Whiting says, "We're never going to be ahead. Remember that people who get paid to catch the bad guys get paid whether they catch them or not. The cheats don't get paid unless they figure it out. So they're motivated, and they've succeeded. But once they do, we go full in."

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