By D A N I E L H E N E G H A N
Press Staff Writer
|NOTE: It is not necessary to use boots.
Switches can be built into any pair of shoes.
Leon Drew of
Harrah's demonstrates how the tiny
ATLANTIC CITY - Gamblers who walk softly but wear big boots may
be costing casinos millions of dollars because the boots conceal tiny computers that give
them an edge at the game of BlackJack.
"It is a very serious problem at this point, and one that is
growing by the day," said Paul Burst, executive vice president of Del Webb's Claridge
Casino Hotel. In fact, officials at one casino estimated that the concealed computers
could be costing the casinos as much as $20 million a year in lost revenue.
Leon Drew, an assistant shift manager at Harrah's Marina Hotel
Casino said some of the players have tempered their greed in order to avoid drawing
attention to themselves.
"There's no way to tell how many people are just taking out
moderate amounts," he said.
But both Burst and Drew said the computers are so accurate that
they successfully tell gamblers to make what otherwise would appear to be irrational
Although the state Division of Gaming Enforcement has received
few complaints from casino operators about the computers, sources indicated that gamblers
using the devices were detected in the city's casinos as recently as last month.
While such devices are not allowed at gaming tables, there
isn't much that casinos can do about them. They can't
arbitrarily ask someone to leave, and they can't frisk a gambler in search
of some electronic device. Even if they could, neither the casinos nor law
enforcement officers have any authority to take the computers away from the
players. In some cases, out of apparent frustration, casino officials have
accused players of carrying a concealed bomb and threatened to call the
police to have the device removed.
"These people have found a weakness in the law, and they are taking
advantage of it," said Drew, who has become something of a local expert on
the computer devices.
"We can ask them to leave to
leave, but the Division of Gaming Enforcement can't arrest them," said Drew.
Using such devices is not a
criminal offense, but it is a violation of state gaming regulations. The
problem is that the regulations do not provide for any penalty for those
caught using the devices.
The computer is about the size of
a cigarette pack and as a player inputs information about all the cards as
they are dealt, the computer can determine with astonishing accuracy what
the next card is likely to be and can tell the player to bet accordingly,
the casino officials said. Officials explained that players can
conceal four tiny switches in their shoes and use them to input the value of
each card into the computer by moving their big toes up or down. The
computer then sends signals to the player by way of buzzing or vibrating
electrodes taped to the player's body. All of the wiring is concealed under
the clothing, and the computer itself is generally strapped to the player's
leg and hidden by the boot.
Brenda Smifla, an assistant casino manager at Harrah's, said the devices
first appeared in casinos here more than a year ago. She added that Atlantic
City casinos are easier targets than gaming halls elsewhere for players with
computers. She said the crowded conditions can make it much harder for such
individuals to be detected.
There are other types of
devices that enable one person watching the game to input the information
and have the signals sent by radio waves to a partner who can appear to be
paying no attention to the game. In addition, the computer can be programmed
to play by Atlantic city rules or the rules used in other jurisdictions and
can take into account the number of decks used in the game.
"The extent to which these kinds of
devices are being used is not entirely clear," said Anthony Parrillo,
director of the gaming division.
Parrillo said the division has seen various types of computers for blackjack
with "various ranges of sophistication to them," but added that the gaming
division "has not been able to scientifically establish the reliability of
"We've received only a handful of
incident reports at the casinos about these," Parrillo said. But he noted
that it isn't the kind of information that the casinos are required to
report to state regulators.
Drew said the computers are so
good that they completely eliminate the house's advantage in blackjack and
give the payer a 5 to 7 percent edge over the house.
"The computer takes it to the point where no skill
is required. It eliminates, the chance and makes it a science," said Burst.