Richard Marcus, by his own admission, was a born gambler. Even as a small boy growing up in New York, he reminisces about betting baseball cards on what color car was going to come around the corner. He recalls, “I woke up gambling and went to sleep gambling.”
FIRST TRIP TO VEGAS
He was barely old enough to gamble when he arrived in Las Vegas in 1976, but for a natural born gambler this was home. After saving up between $20,000 and $30,000 from betting trifectas at the racetrack, he was ready to flip that cash in Vegas. Baccarat was one of his favorite games, and he turned that first investment into about $100,000, and in a couple nights, it was gone. He was thrown out of his luxury hotel room and found himself on the streets, homeless. Marcus did not give up, though. He cleaned himself up and got a job.
The only experience he had was at the tables, so he enrolled in dealer school, worked the graveyard shift at a casino, and honed his skills. Marcus got a job dealing baccarat and blackjack at the 4 Queens Casino and from this unique vantage point, he began to see how dealers could be exploited for his own personal gain.
MARCUS FINDS A MENTOR
In 1977, while dealing at Caesars Palace, Marcus was approached by Joe Classon. Classon was a class act and also from New York, and they soon were fast friends. Marcus recalls that he automatically trusted Classon upon first meeting him. Classon said he’d been watching Marcus and noticed that he never cheated or stole from the players or the casino. Where many dealers would pocket chips here and there, Marcus didn’t. Marcus replied that maybe he was just waiting for the right moment, as he didn’t have an answer to Classon’s question.
Marcus first set the deck at his table, and together, him and Classon raked in more than $20,000. Classon then began telling Marcus more about what his circle had been doing to cheat Vegas, and it wasn’t long before Classon taught Marcus the trick of “past posting.” Marcus was flattered when Classon asked Marus to join Classon’s “past posters” team.
The art of past posting first grew out of horse races when there were more than 200 horse tracks in the US by 1890. The scam was to get a bet in on the winning horse after the horse had “past the post.” As technology grew over the years, it is impossible to do this in horseracing. In Vegas gambling, to past-post means to make a bet after an event has started; putting your chips on the winning number after the result has been declared. It can also involve a player switching low-value chips for high-value chips after a bet has already been won or adding a high-value chip to a winning bet.
For example, a stack of three $5 chips might be switched for a stack of two $5 chips, with a $50 chip hidden beneath. In this way, cheaters net only a small loss if their bet is a loser, but massive gains if the bet wins. This move works pretty well because dealers and cameras would be looking for him to switch chips on the rounds that he won. This did not happen. Marcus named this move “Savannah” after a stripper who was sitting on his lap when he thought of the idea.
Classon had served in the US Army and each of his team members had a role to play; it was like a military operation. The casinos started introducing “markers” to mark the winning chips in roulette, and Marcus thought this would cause them trouble, but as long as they had a mechanic, a check-bettor, a claimer, and a commander to serve as security and watch the heat from the casino and pit bosses, it would work out easily.
The mechanic was the one who laid the bet while the check-bettor placed bets in strategic positions which made the dealer turn in a certain way, giving just enough time for the claimer, on the other side of the table and nowhere near the move, to jump up and shout, “I finally won $100 on the straight-up—a $3,500 payout!” It was the mechanic’s job to literally switch the chips, which must be done with split-second precision—less than a second. This was the easiest and simplest cheating trick. It was all about psychologically tripping out the dealer via tactics such as tapping his arm and then switching out the face that the dealer sees. The effect on the dealer is that the dealer is so distressed that he truly believes he made a mistake when he initially scanned the table’s bets.
The commander would always be Classon, and he would closely watch what the casino personnel did after a move. Were they upset? Did they start talking about it? Was there an alert? This would be valuable data for the team’s future scams.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
At the height of their game, the team was dropping $5,000 chips underneath $100 chips, a tactic that paid out $10,100 on each winning hand (and lost only $300 on a losing hand). Taking in about $40,000 or $50,000 every weekend, it wasn’t long before Marcus had amassed millions of dollars from the richest casinos around the world. However, to Vegas casinos, past posting was stealing and considered to be criminal activity. In the 1960s though, there was no high-tech video security equipment. Cameras in casinos became more prevalent in the 1970s, but Marcus didn’t seem to be bothered by them. To Marcus, it was an art form, like playing a violin. Making the casino personnel dance like puppeteers was what it was all about. Marcus once introduced himself as “Richard Marcus, greatest American past-poster.”
In 1982 Marcus was swindling a downtown casino when he was cuffed by casino security for past posting on Roulette. He was taken and threatened to be sent to prison for 10 years if he didn’t fess up. He was told he was on tape past posting, but Classon had schooled him to never break—never admit to anything. A casino detective was brought in, who actually scared Marcus. This detective was as dedicated to catching cheats as Marcus was to cheating. He was Marcus’ arch nemesis. Vegas was then too hot.
The team moved onto Europe and by 1993 had moved on to Atlantic City, the most successful past posting team in history. It was to Marcus’ disappointment that Classon, at 56, retired and backed out of managing the team. Marcus, however, didn’t give it up. He was making a fortune. He was ready to take cheating to the next level. He eventually ran into an old Jersey friend he’d known from high school, Andy “Balls” Abromowitz, in Vegas. He would be the next team member, but Balls wasn’t enough for Marcus. He wanted to be a legend and needed someone who could really act as a high roller on the team to play the part of the claimer. He met Pat Mallery, an old friend of Balls and a lifelong hustler just like Marcus.
In 1994, Marcus wanted to do past posts with “chocolates,” $5,000 casino chips that were colored brown. This had never been done before. Balls was successful at slipping the chocolate chips into his bet. That night, the team walked away with more than $100,000. In six months, they took $800,000 from Vegas casinos. This worked 151 times in a row. On the 152nd past post, the pit boss intervened. The team had to skip town. The mid 90s brought new surveillance and marked the end of an era.
Marcus by this time was known internationally as a world class cheat, and his reign is ending, but Marcus doesn’t want it to end. It was at this time that he invented the “Savannah.” Inventing this new move reversed the past post bet. They led out with a big bet. If the bet was good, they left their bet. If they lost, they switched the bet at the last second to a low-value bet.
In 1995, the Savannah collected win after win for Marcus, Balls, and another team member, taking thousands more dollars from Vegas casinos throughout for months. In all, they took $4+ million before the casinos took notice of the new move. It was shortly thereafter that the team took a blow, but they weren’t busted yet. The Savannah went unnoticed; it was that simple and that easy. They used the move throughout the 90s and by 2000, they had made enough money to retire.
IS HE RETIRED?
Marcus currently lists himself as retired. He enjoys the pleasures of the French Rivieria, has written a few books on the subject he knows best, and his book called ”American Roulette” is, in his own words, a rundown of his 25-year career as a professional casino cheater. Marcus also has his own website where he likes to taunt law enforcement by implying that he is still involved in cheating. His blog can be found at http://www.richardmarcusbooks.com/blog.htm, in which he is named a “Poker Cheating and Casino Cheating Expert.”
He has never been caught or arrested for the millions of dollars he took from Vegas casinos.