Counting cards at the casino blackjack table may have worked out well for the “wolf pack” in the movie “The Hangover” and with the MIT whiz kids that were portrayed in the movie “21,” but in real life an elaborate blackjack scam has landed a gang in the slammer.
In surveillance video from a San Diego casino, obtained by the Sickwan Gaming Commission, it becomes clear how the scam by the group assembled by Phuong Quoc Truong, also known as Pai Gow John, worked, and eventually got busted.
In the video, a man is seemingly innocently smoking his cigarette, but is actually whispering into a microphone in his sleeve, relaying what cards the dealer just dealt to a man on a computer in a car parked outside.
The dealer appears to shuffle the cards, but if the video is examined closely, the dealer, who is in on the scam, just puts the corners together; it looks like a shuffle — even sounds like one — but the cards remain in the same order.
Next, “Mr. Smoker” signals to the players — one finger on the cigarette means to bet your hand, two means to hold your cards.
The rules of blackjack dictate that a player needs to get closer to 21 than the dealer without going over. With the dealer showing a 10, the player stays put with 16 — that’s typically an odd move — but of course, when you know what the next card is, it’s also a winning one.
In the surveillance video, the winner eventually attempts to cash out $25,000 in chips – but has no such luck. The dealer is arrested, the scam exposed, and the team is put behind bars. The group made off with a total of $7 million from 25 casinos before they were taken down.
They were effective because they recruited well. ”They went around the country and convinced dealers to cheat for them,” Sycuan Casino’s surveillance chief told ABC News San Diego affiliate 10 News. “If you’re going to try something like that, you are going to be on camera and you’re going to be caught.”
Truong and many of the 30 accomplices pleaded guilty and are serving terms ranging from probation to almost six years in prison.
As part of his deal Truong had to forfeit two homes in the San Diego area, a Porsche and a Rolex watch.