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Remembering The Savannah – arguably the world’s greatest casino trick

Published:

12 Mar 2019

There have been countless examples over the years of people attempting to trick, scam or cheat casinos.

Many involve slot machines, ranging from basic methods such as players inserting coins on a string or using piano wire to control the rotation of the reels, to more elaborate strategies involving custom Apps to push the start button at precisely the right time to generate a jackpot.

Others have previously been deployed during table games – for example marking the backs of cards using invisible ink, which could be seen through specific contact lenses.

However, when it comes to the best casino scammers, Richard Marcus is certainly in the conversation to top such a list.

And in terms of Marcus’ most profitable move, this was called The Savannah.

Some background on Richard Marcus

Marcus made a beeline for Las Vegas not long out of his teenage years and soon found himself with $100,000 burning a hole in his pockets.

This soon changed on the night of his 21st birthday when he lost the whole lot.

After a period of rough sleeping, he conned his way into a dealing school, learning how to handle cards effortlessly.

He was soon dealing in Vegas casinos, until one night a man named Joe Classon was sat at his table, presenting Marcus with an offer to join his casino cheating team.

Marcus passed the initiation, which involved his invention of a scam that could be used when a new dealer was replacing him at a mini-baccarat table. The cards had been sorted into a specific order to ensure that Classon’s team would win the next seven hands in succession, netting them $21,000 in the process.

Pastposting

The team specialised in pastposting, which was a subtle skill that involved sneaking chips into bets, after a winning hand was confirmed, to increase the pay offs.

A regular sleight-of-hand move was to bet a pile of three $1 chips in any game, whether it be roulette, blackjack or baccarat. Then when this bet was announced as a winner, the ploy was to quickly change the pile to show a new bet, which had two higher-value chips positioned underneath the original $1 capper.

It would often take multiple members of the team to efficiently pull off the stunt, with ‘the mechanic’ switching the chips, ‘the claimer’ calling the winning bet and others placing general bets to manipulate the dealer into making certain eye movements and hand gestures at specific times.

The claimer had the big responsibility of getting the switched bet paid off, acting out a full Oscar-worthy performance in order to convince casino staff they were legitimate, accidental big winners.

One example was known as a Roulette Mix Up and involved the betting of a stack of five brown $1 chips straight up on multiple numbers.

When one number won, the mechanic would remove the five winning chips from the felt and instantly switch in a new pile of chips from his palm, mixing in two black $100 chips with three $1 chips.

The claimer would be stood a reasonable distance away, far enough that it would be impossible to have switched the chips themselves. They would then begin a performance, acting as if they had lost two black chips from their stack.

It would then suddenly be noticed that the missing chips had ‘accidentally’ been bet, turning an apparent $5 bet into one worth $203. By pulling off the switch, a pay out that should have been $175, had become $7,105.

The Savannah

The pastposting team had numerous small scams they could perform, depending on how many of them were in the casino, which game was being played, how busy the casino was or how confrontational a casino was being.

Some moves were paid off without hesitation, others brought heat from a pit boss. The most important factor for the team was to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

Marcus eventually found himself heading up a new team and remained in search of the ultimate pastposting move.

The power of The Savannah was that the winning bet was on the layout all along, meaning that should security review any video footage in the hope of discovering a scam, there would be nothing to see.

The trick was that any switching would be done during losing bets, rather than winning ones, and these hands would not be viewed back by security.

For The Savannah, Marcus’ team headed to the roulette wheel and placed three chips on the first column. The bottom chip was a black $5,000 and the two placed on top worth $5.

Critical was that the $5 chips were slanted inward slightly towards the dealer, ensuring they had no visual gaze at the bottom chip. The dealer just assumed that it was a third $5 chip.

So when the bet won, all that was required was some whole-hearted celebration and the verbal announcement of a $5,000 winning chip being on the layout.

Staff would look concerned as they were supposed to call out when such big chips were in play. Their first thought would be fear, having seemingly not carried out one of their duties properly.

Invariably, security would be asked to check their surveillance tapes to confirm that the chip was always on the table. And of course it was.

Having utilised the move thousands of times over a number of years, Marcus only once failed in getting paid out.

Simple, efficient and incredibly effective, topping The Savannah will be tough for any wannabe casino cheat to trump.