BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Casinos are big business in Louisiana to the tune of billions of dollars and at any given time, there are watchful eyes making sure that business goes on without a hitch.
There are nearly 200 men and women in Louisiana State Police assigned to casino enforcement. Combine that with security personnel at casinos and the relationship with investigators from other states and you have a small army designed to catch would-be cheaters in the act.
The bright lights and high stakes casinos offer are a big part of life in Louisiana and they play an even bigger role in the state's economy. In the last fiscal year, Louisiana's 14 riverboat casinos, including the three in East Baton Rouge Parish, took in more than $1.5 billion in adjusted gross income. The money padded the state's coffers by more than $670 million for the same 12-month period. With that much money in play, there is temptation for a few to take extra chances at pressing their luck, looking for more than their share of the pot and that is where the Louisiana Gaming Control Board comes into the equation.
"We have the Gaming Enforcement Division part of the Bureau of Investigation of the Louisiana State Police," said Lt. Jeff Watts with LSP Gaming Enforcement Division.
Watts has been with the division for 16 years and as the enforcement and regulatory branch for the gaming board, the investigators are experts on Louisiana casinos.
"Everything has to come through an investigative specialist. They look at specs, the drawings on them that have to be approved. It has to meet certain criteria within our rules. Dice have to meet certain size, chips, tokens that sort of thing," Watts explained.
The heavy regulation also includes approving every slot machine and table game in every casino and where they are placed in relation to each casino's hundreds of eyes in the sky. Those cameras enable commissioned gaming officers and casino security personnel to monitor every single gaming device, from thousands of angles, 24 hours a day.
"We have a great relationship with the state gaming division," said Sasha Hyderkahn with Hollywood Casino.
Hyderkahn is the compliance manager at Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge. He said the days of in house regulation and enforcement are long gone.
"Everything we do, as far as security wise, they're aware of. They approved a lot of the things we do here, so it's a close-knit relationship. Pick up the phone anytime of the day, they come out, answer the phone when we need them for anything," Hyderkahn added.
Sometimes, those calls are about casino visitors looking to beat the system. And while the odds are heavily stacked against them, Watts said some still try. Slot machines are now all coin and token free, making them harder to trick. So, most con men set their sights on table games when they believe the dealer or no one else is watching.
"So, it's safe to say the most common form of cheating is deception?" Watts was asked. "Absolutely, deception. Slight of hand, when they're moving chips they will cap a bet, depending on how much money they have on the table. If they're losing the bet, they may remove a chip as well," Watts replied.
Watts explained shuffling chips also is common on the craps table.
"Lot of activity, fast moving game," he said.
Watts added cheaters will even try swapping out dice, but like the cameras above, mirrors give security personnel one more way to catch them in the act.
"It should reflect the same number on top. If it's not, then obviously there's something they're going to take a look at," he said.
Altering cards is another way cheaters will look for an edge. Watts said folding corners or damaging cards is seldom used anymore and the preferred method is marking the cards. It is a topic so sensitive they did not want to show how it works.
So, what does cheating get you?
A famous scene from the movie Casino may be a painful consequence on the big screen, but apparently is far-fetched.
"There's no roughing up, nothing quite like that. Nothing like that happens any more. Maybe back in the day before my days, probably," Hyderkahn said.
The reality, however, could hurt just as bad. Watts said stealing or exchanging just one chip is a crime and punishable by a fine and as much as six months in prison. Multiple offenses and stealing more than $1,500 in winnings could equal up to 10 years behind bars. For the most part, Watts and casino officials said the cheating attempts are kept to a minimum. Hollywood Casino said it only sees about two to three cases a month.
But, when it happens it's a sure bet police and casinos, with help from their cameras above, are ready.
"There's someone right now probably coming up with some way to try to beat a gaming device or change a play on a table game, so it's always going to continue," Watts said.
According to the gaming division, State Police closed eight cheating cases in the last year at Louisiana casinos, which is by and large, only a small fraction of the millions of visitors who play at Louisiana casinos each year.