For a spell spanning just over a decade, I considered myself to be the luckiest man in all of Las Vegas. I gambled plenty, but my luck didn’t come while sitting at the tables – it showed up when I worked behind the box as a casino dealer. By switching sides, so to speak, and securing gainful employment from the house, I was able to learn invaluable lessons about the industry I love.
Over the years, I worked pretty much every game under the sun, and it was at the roulette wheel where most of the wilder stuff I saw went down. One scene I’ll never forget involved the infamous Savannah scam, a bait-and-switch tactic used only by the boldest of roulette cheats.
If you’ve never heard of the Savannah scam before, sit back and enjoy one of the weirdest attempts to rig the game gambling has ever witnessed.
OK, You Got Me… I’m Curious. What’s This Savannah Deal All About?
It all began back in 2003 when a previously unknown casino cheat by the name of Richard Marcus published a tell-all book.
Under the somewhat longwinded title “American Roulette: How I Turned the Odds Upside Down – My Wild Twenty-Five-Year Ride Ripping Off the World’s Casinos,” Marcus describes inventing what he would later dub the Savannah scam. According to Marcus, the con job was named after a particularly fetching stripper he met in Reno during his illicit adventures across Nevada.
Here’s how it works…
Most casinos will allow big bet players to use these regular chips, especially when a packed house has already exhausted its supply of custom roulette chips.
From there, the player makes a point to throw down a $1,000 chip along with their stack of $25s. The objective is to let it be known that a $1,000 chip is indeed in play, even though it won’t be wagered as of yet.
Next, the player makes a few “Column” bets using stacks of three $25 chips. The Column bet pays 2 to 1 when the ball finds a number found in the appropriate column (1-4-7-10-13-16-19-22-25-28-31-34, for example).
Crucially, from the dealer’s perspective, the area on the felt where Column bets are made is at the furthest end of the table.
After winning or losing a few of these $75 bets, the player makes yet another Column bet – only this time, four chips are put out instead of three. Along with the three $25 chips, the player places their $1,000 chip underneath.
The key at this point is to sort of slide the three $25 chips forward so that half of that stack is hanging, for lack of a better word, off the side of the $1,000 chip. In this fashion, a dealer looking straight on from all the way across the table can only see the three $25 chips. This three-chip stack, angled as it is on the lip of the $1,000 chip, serves to hide the latter from the dealer’s field of vision.
On the next spin of the wheel, the player watches intently to identify the ball’s final resting place. When it hits for a winner, the player simply celebrates and collects their $2,150 in profit at 2 to 1 odds on the full bet. If anyone questions the presence of a $1,000 chip when $75 bets were previously the norm, all it takes is a mumbled mention about “having a good feeling” to end the discussion.
But when the ball misses and the Column bet loses, the player has a split-second in which to sneak the stack off the table. Assuming the dealer doesn’t notice this trickery, the player gets away Scot-free and doesn’t lose a dime.
However, when the dealer does raise the alarm, Savannah scammers put their acting chops to good use. By feigning ignorance and gladly placing the three $25 chips back on the losing Column bet, the player hopes to defuse a dealer’s suspicions.
Wait a Minute Now, You’re Telling Me This Scam Is Based Solely on Grabbing Chips Off the Felt?
I thought that was strictly forbidden on the casino floor?
Well, it is, technically speaking…
But as dealers, we cycle through hundreds, and even thousands, of players every single day. And as you might suspect, the majority of these players are legitimate tourists who aren’t experienced at all with the ways of Vegas casino protocol.
This is a lengthy and time-consuming process for all involved, however, so dealers typically try to err on the side of caution. Throw in a player willingly putting their $75 losing bet back for the casino to claim, and most of my peers wouldn’t think twice about letting a Savannah scammer off the hook.
Alright, That Makes Sense I Suppose. So You Spot a Player Grabbing Their Bet Back…
What happens next?
After sternly informing the player that the ball has already landed, I watch their face and try to gauge their reaction. When they seem surprised, or even better embarrassed, I peg them as hapless tourists who just don’t know any better.
Even then though, it’s all about the money in this town. If they start arguing or refusing to relinquish the chips, calling security is a no-brainer.
And therein lies the beauty of the Savannah scam…
When the player instantly apologizes and puts the losing $75 bet back where it belongs, this serves to disarm wary dealers. Once we see that the chips are returned, soon to be Hoovered into the casino’s coffers, it’s all too easy to move on and resume focus on the ongoing game.
Remember, roulette is just about as hectic as it gets from a dealer’s point of view. All those players tossing chips to and fro, dozens of different wagers working on each and every spin – it can be a lot to, ahem, deal with.
Thus, if a player doesn’t hesitate to put the chips back, I don’t hesitate in backing off and moving on to my next task.
That, of course, is exactly what the Savannah scam specialist relies on to do their dirty deeds.
Where the Heck Does That $1,000 Chip Disappear to When the Player Puts the $75 Back?
Your guess is as good as mine, but palming is the most likely technique used to conceal that pivotal piece of evidence.
As the smoking gun in this casino caper, the high-denomination chip required for the player to cash in big can’t be seen during the removal process. Cheaters call it “pinching” in addition to palming, but in any case, they use sleight of hand to surreptitiously swap it out. But before the next spin goes down, these “mechanics” somehow manage to have the big chips resting right where it was before their $2,150 gambit failed.
And in that brief window, the cheat’s valuable chip makes its unseen escape from the scene of the crime.
Aside From Marcus, Are Savannah Scammers Really Out There Prowling Roulette Tables in Search of a Score?
There must be, right? After all, why would the casino dealer school I paid tuition to attend spend a full two days teaching us all about the Savannah scam and similar ploys?
They may not make headlines like the cheats who steal seven-figure jackpots, but Savannah scammers are certainly no myth.
The Dealers Conclusion
I’m well aware that the Savannah scam is an exceedingly rare element to contend with while dealing roulette. Despite watching my tables like a hawk, and specifically scanning any Column bets for unseen chips, I’ve never personally witnessed this daring escapade. I have, however, sat in meetings with my superiors listening to long lectures about beefing up game security after successful Savannah heists.
The truth is, some casino gamblers simply don’t like genuine gambling – they’d prefer a sure thing instead – so elaborate cheating systems like the Savannah are unfortunately here to stay.