Gang guilty of swindling casinos with 'top hatting' deception
A SOPHISTICATED gang of roulette cheats fleeced tens of thousands of pounds from gaming venues in a swindle that could have come straight from the film Casino.
Three men and at least one woman practised a trick commonly called "top hatting".
Despite being banned from casinos across the country, they evaded detection for years by using fake identities.
The men were finally brought to justice by Scotland Yard's gaming unit after officers spent months identifying the group. They were convicted under the 1845 Gaming Act of "cheating at play" - the first time on record that the term has been used in an English court.
Scotland Yard graphic artists created an animated film of exactly how the gang carried out the swindle. The film, which played a part in all three men pleading guilty, showed "top hatting" - dropping chips on to a gaming table a split second after the roulette ball has dropped - in slow motion.
The deception relies on the dealer, casino inspector, security staff and other players all being distracted at the vital point when the ball drops.
The trick, which requires months of practice, involved one of the men acting as a distracter and another as the claimant. Just as the roulette ball drops, the distracter would lean forward with a cash note to put off the dealer while hiding gaming chips in his hand.
As he distracted the dealer, he would spot the winning number and place the chips belonging to his colleague on the same figure on the table.
Detective Constable John Wedger said: "The trick relies on incredible timing and sleight of hand, and the ability to see the roulette ball in a split second.
"The actual offence takes less than a tenth of a second. That's around 2,000 profit for less than a second's work. This was a well-thought-through, skilful scam."
Hong Kong-born Kwong Lee, 42, of Mitcham, Surrey; Martin Fitz, 45, of Hendon, London; and Shuhal Miah, 36, of Bethnal Green, London, all admitted to cheating at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court.
Lee was given a 180-hour community punishment order and fined 170, Fitz was given a community rehabilitation order, and Miah received a 12-month conditional discharge and was ordered to forfeit 880.
The men, all unemployed and with gambling addictions, mainly targeted the high-turnover casinos in the West End of London. They were convicted of offences at the Barracuda in Baker Street and the Gala in Russell Square in 2003 and last year.
Police know the group used at least one woman accomplice, but have been unable to identify her. The gang used aliases and, in some cases, disguises to trick their way into casinos from which they had been banned.
Police say the deception is evidence of the growing sophistication of criminals.
Inspector Ben Bhangoo, head of the gaming unit, said: "We are coming across more and more international criminals operating in casinos in London. We have been successful in driving many cheats abroad. We can make it very difficult for them to operate here, but it is equally difficult to prosecute them for some of these offences."
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
One scam sees cheats mark the cards. A conman once grew his thumbnail into a point so that he could make tiny indentations. He was caught but never convicted.
Card crimping is similar to card marking, but crimpers use tiny folds.
Scanners use technology to gain an unfair advantage. The Met's gaming unit recently arrested three roulette gamblers who allegedly stole 1.3 million at the Ritz last year using a computerised scanner hidden in a mobile phone. In that case, there was not enough evidence to prosecute.
The Met unit recently found a minute camera hidden in a gambler's cuff. In this con, an associate in a nearby room or car sees the pictures and passes on information to another player.
A legal trick gamblers can try is card counting. It uses a system of remembering which cards are dealt in order to predict which will come up.
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