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Best of Howard Schwartz

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American Roulette: Confessions of a Cheat Makes for Fascinating Reading

3 September 2003

Now that New York publishers and Hollywood have discovered America's fascination with conmen, swindlers, and thieves could sell a lot of books and even more movie tickets, it appears as if the race for even more has begun.

American Roulette ($24.95, hardbound, 370 pages) by Richard Marcus fits the mold perfectly. The book is subtitled "How I Turned The Odds Upside Down‹My Wild Twenty-Five-Year Ride Ripping Off The World's Casinos."

Marcas says, "I'm not selling you all this so that you go out and become a casino cheater. I'm simply recounting my story to entertain you." But I fear we may be in for more from this book, which explains how cheaters work, how surveillance cameras and personnel work and how they can be beat. In short, my fear is that a small percentage of readers may be tempted to test their skills or develop new ones based on Marcus' detailed "moves."

He focuses on roulette, craps, baccarat and blackjack for the most part, in remarkable detail. How Marcus can remember, years later, the move at the right place, time and situation is amazing. How Marcus developed his skills is equally incredible‹and he tells it in colorful particulars, with arrogance and confidence.

Believe it or not, much of Marcus' adventure into the con began when he was cheated out of his 20-shoebox baseball card collection in the sixth grade. He made a quick comeback. "Before I hit thirteen, I'd graduated from baseball cards to real money, and I learned quickly that a gambler needs a constant cash flow to support his habit and that, an eighth-grader, I needed to be clever if not a bit dishonest to get a bankroll together."

Marcus came to Las Vegas in 1976 and tried out as a dealer. His observations about getting a job, the people he met and what attracts players to the tables are on target, just as they happened to most aspiring dealers back then. But it is the people, the characters, the hustlers and scammers he met and who taught him how to cheat which really propel this book. -- plus, the psychological ploys cheaters use to set up the house. It's like a ballet -- the art of misdirection, the observation of lazy or inattentive dealers and steely nerve to make it all appear legitimate.

Marcus remembers being "backroomed" and he explains how he acted and how anyone should act when security at a hotel "detains" someone suspected of cheating.

In the book we travel from Las Vegas to Atlantic City then to London, where Marcus runs into a problem.

"An American-style pastposting team encounters certain factors that inhibit it from doing all its homegrown moves. The highest denomination chip we could work with was 100 pounds, because at 500 pounds the round chips got bigger and at 1000 pounds and up they changed form and nationality, resembling the rectangular plaques seen in French casinos, Marcus explains" Plus, British casinos were "supervised with undivided attention."

How Marcus and his team circumvented security measures and got away with their cheating make for some fascinating reading, Their sense that were beginning to "take steam" (casinos began to be alerted to their presence) sometimes makes you feel as if you're there with them. By the time the team gets to France (there's a great bit of background on French cheats and scams) and Monte Carlo, they're in high gear and eventually clear more than $50,000. Then they're off to South America and back to the good old U.S.

Marcus takes us into the 1990s and describes how surveillance and its technology has changed, and how one baccarat cheating scam, perpetrated by a group of Oriental gamblers, failed, when it should have succeeded.

What does the future hold for cheaters in the 2lst Century? He says "quite rosy." Young, inattentive personnel at the tables; the monotony of casino jobs; a lack of positive attitude and loyalty are all in the cheater's favor.

This is a fascinating, well-detailed book. It should be read by anyone who thinks its easy to cheat, but might not realize how dangerous it is and the consequence if caught. Marcus survived, retired and has no regrets about his lifestyle. Few have been so lucky.

Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com