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To Catch a Thief

Security teams use modern surveillance methods to foil con games as old as casinos themselves.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, Nov/Dec 00

(continued from page 2)

One afternoon, with the foursome ahead having agreed to help out with the scam, one guy distracted the pigeon while the other guy smacked his Titleist with a resounding shot that shanked into the woods--unnoticed by the pigeon. Nevertheless, the golfer was looking down the fairway, toward the green, shouting, "Get up there! Don't stop now." He shielded his eyes against the sun, squinted into the distance, and proclaimed, "I hit the green! I might've gotten it in the hole." Suddenly the second golfer turned around and started bemoaning the fact that a hole in one looked very possible. The pigeon complained that he never even saw the shot--not realizing, of course, that this was precisely the point. By the time they got to the green, sure enough, a Titleist awaited them in the cup. What the pigeon will never know is that a member of the foursome ahead of them had dropped the ball into the hole at the request of his two golfing buddies. A couple days later the pair of scam artists chopped up the pigeon's 50 grand. He had no idea that he had been ripped off, and, most remarkable of all, the guys have continued to play golf together. The pigeon remains blissfully unaware that he was cheated.

Entertaining as that story is, there are far easier ways to cheat at golf. According to veteran gambler Russ Hamilton, the easiest way is to sandbag your partner by underperforming and being in on the opposing team's take. Hamilton and another guy were competing in a scramble--in which each partner takes his shots, and the best score for each hole counts toward the final score--for total potential winnings of about $1 million. Early on, though, Hamilton noticed, "Even though my partner usually shoots an 82, on that day he couldn't keep a ball straight. After the fourth hole, I looked at him and said, 'Ralph, I guess it's just me today.' I got out the A game and maintained my composure. Had I become mad and gone on tilt, things would have gotten really ugly. I lost $10,000 and felt lucky. I'll tell you one thing, though; I don't play partners anymore unless I really know the person I'm teamed up with."

Back in the world of casino cheating, where the gambling palaces are far flusher and far more vulnerable than any individual, Gordon Adams fights an uphill battle that requires more than just his A game. He's competing against Internet sites that sell cheating tools to anybody with a credit card, high-tech wizards who have virtual TV studios underneath their shirts, and Las Vegas­based jurors who've dropped enough money in casinos that they tend to side with the cheaters when cases actually make it to trial.   His work is rewarding in that it scrubs at least some of the cheaters away from gaming tables, or, as one casino executive has told him, "For every cheater you keep out of a casino, it is worth at least $20,000 to us." All of this begs the question: Will Adams ever do his job so well that casino cheating will be a thing of the past? "Not a chance," he says, speaking in the confident tone of a man who will never find himself jobless. "Anytime you've got money, you've invariably got people who want to take that money away."

Michael Kaplan is a freelance writer living in New York City.

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