Most people would not even notice how many fingers were placed on a cigarette, but for Van Thru Tran, the main character in this tale of a great USA casino scam, noticing the number of fingers on a cigarette was worth millions of dollars. One finger meant bet, two fingers meant stand pat.
This clever signaling system won the Tran gambling ring $900,000 in a single sitting of blackjack. It was almost like the signals between a catcher and pitcher in a baseball game, noted one FBI agent assigned to surveillance of the Tran Organization.
Made up of forty-five year old ring leader and seductress Van Thu Tran and other co-conspirators — including her husband, parents, and three generations of extended family — the ring hit twenty-nine casinos across Canada and in eight states in the U.S.: Mississippi, Louisiana, Connecticut, Indiana, Nevada, California, Washington, and Idaho.
The scam worked because it was simple. It also worked because the organization controlled every facet of the table.
Why The Great US Casino Scam Worked
Like any mamma-pappa venture, the Tran Organization started out small and increased in numbers as it grew in earnings. In 2002, in San Diego Tran and her husband were dealers at an Indian tribal casino. The couple formulated a plan that used a “false shuffle” to track cards which naturally would assure successful betting.
Their modus operandi always involved a false shuffle and a “slug.” A slug is created when the dealer pretends to shuffle all of the deck. Instead, through sleight of hand he holds several cards wherein the order of those particular cards does not change while he shuffles the remaining deck.
When it was time for the slug to come into play, signals were given to members of the Tran Organization to come to the table and bet. Once the cheaters were at the table, the simple signals for when to bet or to stand were given by a person who knew the sequence of the cards.
Because the organization was able to successfully evade detection by security cameras and pit bosses, The story of the great USA casino scam continued unabated. The ring stepped up its activity by employing a web of co-conspirators who used concealed microphones and transmitters in conjunction with special computer programs. Signals were now conveyed from a distant location inside the casino, making detection more difficult.
In the beginning, the operation was a mere bare bones scamming venture that involved only one card game, the Asian card game of Pai Gow at a San Diego casino. However, as the couple gained confidence in not getting caught, the scam moved to other games and then to other casinos.
Over a period of time, the Tran Organization expanded to include blackjack and enlist fifty-plus other people in the betting scheme, which also included several dealers. Tran would seduce male dealers at other casinos and then bribe them with the promise of easy money. All a bit more glamorous than an evening spent playing live roulette at home in your pajamas I guess.
The scheme would go unnoticed for approximately five years. Because the security at certain tribal casinos was not yet advanced enough to detect the scam, the Tran Organization was able to amass seven million dollars before it was rounded up in 2007 and The story of the great USA casino scam would take a different turn.