Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

SkyCity cheats use hi-tech gadgets

Sophisticated spy cameras and shuffling devices used by international syndicates targeting wealthy casinos.

Two casino gangs have been detected at SkyCity recently. Photo / APN
Two casino gangs have been detected at SkyCity recently. Photo / APN

Global cheating syndicates trying to swindle millions of dollars with hi-tech gadgets are responsible for some of the hundreds of crimes committed at SkyCity each year.

Sophisticated spy cameras and shuffling devices - hidden up shirt sleeves - are some of the tools of the trade for the professional crooks who travel the world to target wealthy casinos.

Two casino gangs have been detected at SkyCity recently, including one VIP group who won $4.5 million.

Suspicions were raised about the 13 people on a junket from Singapore when the security team at SkyCity noticed the baccarat player who cut the deck had a "very unusual" action, according to Department of Internal Affairs documents released under the Official Information Act.

"As soon as the cutter had finished cutting the cards, he would leave the table and go to the bathroom," the DIA report noted.

The group also requested to increase the maximum bet to $200,000 and at certain times gambled to the limit to win hands.

Under surveillance the following night, SkyCity could find no evidence of cheating before the group returned to Singapore.

"All players involved in the syndicate wore short-sleeve shirts and played much lower bets than the night before," the DIA report said. "There is also a report that an attempt to apprehend this group was made in Las Vegas. This was unsuccessful, with no camera being located."

A spokeswoman for SkyCity said the $4.5 million won by the group was withheld while the casino worked with the New Zealand police to confirm the situation.

"The group left New Zealand and were subsequently arrested in Asia while attempting to defraud another casino using the same modus operandi."

In another scam in 2010, surveillance staff were alerted to a suspicious act at the baccarat table where four Asian men were playing. When spoken to by security, the leader of the group was asked to roll up his left sleeve. A mechanical device was strapped to his forearm and a SkyCity playing card - the 2 of clubs - was found in his possession.

He demonstrated to police "how the device was used to remove a playing card from play and substitute that with another in order to win", according to the report.

At first the men claimed to be part of a tour group to play golf, but were unable to give their handicap or name any clubs they had played.

One said the group had been sent to New Zealand "by their boss to cheat at the casino" and had successfully targeted SkyCity before in November 2008.

All four men pleaded guilty to obtaining by deception and were fined $7000 each, after agreeing to pay $80,000 in reparation, before being deported.

Before the SkyCity complex opened 15 years ago, anti-gambling lobbyists warned that the casino could become a "scene for large-scale criminal activity or a meeting place for people who commit serious crimes".

The most infamous cases were drug lords Ri Tong Zhou and Tac Kin Voong, who had a combined turnover of nearly $20 million over 12 months in the VIP lounge - effectively laundering their profits - where each ran his own large-scale syndicate in 2006.

Several fraudsters have been caught stealing millions from their employers to feed their gambling habits.

One of those, Richard Arthur Watson, stole $5.4 million over 10 years and had a $50 million turnover at SkyCity during that time.

How the scam works

The method of cheating was deleted from the Department of Internal Affairs' report.
But the "cutters" gang scam has been discovered in casinos overseas.

In baccarat, a player is asked to cut the deck after the dealer shuffles.

One member of the gang cuts the deck, then drags the cut card over the top of the deck, slightly separating the cards from one another with an index finger while a tiny camera hidden in a cufflink or sleeve records the card order.

The player then excuses himself from the table and hands the images to an accomplice; they are analysed and a cheat sheet recorded, all in the time a trip to the toilet takes.
The player dumps the camera, then heads back to the table armed with invaluable knowledge.

SkyCity responds to figures on crimes at its casino

The figures reflect SkyCity's commitment to ensuring our premises are safe and crime-free environments.

We have more than 20 restaurants and bars on the Auckland site and thousands of people come to the Auckland premises every day for various reasons. As in any hospitality venue there will be some issues when you are dealing with so many people.

When we trespass someone, we take that very seriously and enforce it rigorously. People can be trespassed for many reasons including inappropriate behaviour and not adhering to exclusion notices.

It is New Zealand law that children under 14 years cannot be left unsupervised. SkyCity policy is that all children under the age of 14 must not be left unattended for any period of time anywhere. This is a zero tolerance policy and we enforce it vigorously. Staff are trained to look out for unattended children and to intervene immediately if they see an unaccompanied child.

Over the past year we have increased our dedicated staffing in this area. We have increased the frequency of our carpark patrols and we now station staff members in the atrium areas during school holidays to look out for families and remind parents or guardians that children under the age of 14 must be accompanied at all times. Because often the issue is simply that parents are unaware of this policy, SkyCity has also produced a brochure on the issue for visitors.

We call the police in the case of an unaccompanied child if we discover that a parent/guardian has been gaming. We advise the Internal Affairs Department of all unattended-children incidents (irrespective of whether the parents were gaming) and exclude the parent/guardian concerned.

- NZ Herald

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