Mini-baccarat looks simple enough. Players bet before each hand and, unlike blackjack, neither the players nor the dealer make any betting...

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Mini-baccarat looks simple enough. Players bet before each hand and, unlike blackjack, neither the players nor the dealer make any betting decision once the hand begins.

But cheaters complicated things for the casinos and stole millions of dollars, according to two indictments unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, by recruiting and bribing dealers, and teaching them how to pretend to shuffle the cards while actually keeping them in a certain order.

The indictment describes how the game is played at the Nooksack River Casino:

Eight decks of cards are all shuffled together and placed in a box called a shoe. No matter how many players are at the table — up to nine can be accommodated — only two hands are dealt: the “player’s” and the “banker’s”.

Before the hand is dealt, players place their bets, betting on the player’s hand or the banker’s hand — or the possibility that the two hands will tie.

Each hand initially receives two cards. Each hand then has an assigned point count, determined by adding the numeric value of the two cards in that hand. All cards count as their face value (an ace is a one) except face cards, which have a value of zero.

If the total point count of the cards in a hand is a two-digit number, the left digit is disregarded and the right digit is considered the hand’s count. For example, if the hand is an 8 and a 6, for a total of 14, the point count is 4.

According to a table of rules available at each casino, either the player’s hand or the banker’s hand, or both, may get a third card.

When the deal is complete, the winning hand is the one that comes closer to a total point count of 9.

All winning bets on the player’s hand or the banker’s hand are paid at even money (a \$25 bet would win \$25). If the hand is a tie, any bets that had been placed on a tie are paid at odds of 8 to 1 (a \$25 bet would win \$200.)

To defraud the game, according to the indictment, cheating players would take notes on the order of the cards that were played, which were then placed in a discard rack to one side of the table.

This note-taking was not initially suspicious because legitimate players sometimes take notes on which hands are winning to help them make betting decisions on subsequent hands.

Simply knowing the order of the cards in the discard rack would do a player no good if the dealer, as rules require, thoroughly shuffles the cards before dealing the next eight-deck shoe.

But dealers who became part of the conspiracy were allegedly taught a “false shuffle,” in which they appear to shuffle the cards but actually keep them in the same order.

To reduce suspicion, the dealer might actually shuffle many of the cards but keep a certain number of them, called a “plug,” in the exact order in which they had been placed in the discard tray.

As the next shoe was dealt, the skilled cheaters would watch for the cards in the “plug” to appear and then bet accordingly, knowing in advance which cards were about to be dealt. Cheaters also signaled other players in the conspiracy to join in the betting at that point.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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