The Case of Madame Yu & The Baccarat Game

The Case of Madame YU
Baccarat and craps are two of the best jobs in the casino. The chief reasons are 1)there are big limits on the two games, and 2) the dealers and floor persons make big tokes. (tips) In craps, sometimes the boxman was also included. The boxman sits at the table and watches all play etc. When there is big action there are two boxmen; one for each side of the table.

I first started dealing paper baccarat in 1969 at the Dunes Hotel and the dealers plus the floor persons where included in an equal share of the tips. It made the game the most desirous of games to work.

(By the way if you are doing some currency (paper) effects, the best thing to use to make the bills slippery is tailor’s Soap. That’s what we used in Baccarat.)

The following confidential memo was circulated by a large casino in Lake Tahoe in the 1970’s concerning some abnormal play in the baccarat game:

“The following subjects (names purposely deleted), were involved in a baccarat play at (deleted), Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Management feels that the casino was cheated, however, the method used has not been determined. The two subjects cashed out approximately $200,000.00, after playing for over 12 hours. The subjects sat in positions three and ten, varying their bets from a few hundred dollars to $2,000.00.”
What happened? Was the casino cheated? The answer is told as we get into the story of…….Madame Yu.
The Tahoe scam is very similar to a scam that this author uncovered at the Imperial Palace Hotel, in Las Vegas in 1980’s. Here is how it went….

I owned and operated a small casino for several years and was doing quite well until I found out the landlords would not renew my lease. The landlord group had operated it as a bar and pool hall without gambling. They saw something new in live gaming and thought they could operate a casino. So I decided to sell the business and take it easy for a year.

My closest friend owned Paul-Son Dice and Card Company and he was a very close friend of Ralph and Richard Engelstad, operators of the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino. Tom Endy introduced me to them.

They wanted to open a baccarat game and my job was to assist the General Manager and the Casino Manager in setting up the game. After a few meetings, I give them some direction of the different ways that the game could be operated. I furnished rules and procedures for operating the game, including dealing/floor person proceedures that would safeguard the game against cheaters, both on the inside and on the outside.

I was asked by management if I would like to work in the baccarat game, and I accepted. I then was told that I would be called in very shortly to be processed. I waited and waited for the telephone call. It didn’t come. I called the Casino Manager and was told that he didn’t have a position for me. I sensed that something was wrong and immediately arranged a meeting with the General Manager and the Casino Manager to see if I could possibly figure out why my services were no longer needed.

I soon found out that I was the only outsider that was considered for a position in the baccarat game, and that the rest of the crew was hand picked by the newly appointed baccarat manager. In gaming anything can happen, and it did. The man that they picked as the baccarat manager never had any direct baccarat experience in Las Vegas. That is, he was never a floorman or even a dealer. I thought in my mind, “Does this person have the experience necessary for a high rolling baccarat game?”

After letting Richard Engelstad and Tom Endy about what was going on they overulled the Casino Manager and I was finally hired, and placed in the position as floorman. I had more experience in the game than anyone working in the entire pit. I sensed though that I was an outsider. I was not treated as part of the crew or felt welcome. I was given nothing but a hard time from the moment I walked into the job. I was the only person that was not hired by the baccarat manager.

We planned a soft opening, however that night we had quite a bit of business for a new baccarat game, especially since we didn’t advertise the opening. An interesting lady sat down to play. She was adorned with very expensive jewelry and had on the finest garments. Her name was even interesting, Madame Yu. Oriental looking and very charming was Madame Yu, and we were happy to have found a very good high rolling baccarat player. She deposited $10,000 in the cashier’s cage to play against. That is, she would draw markers at the table which would be deducted from the total deposit in the cage.

Madame Yu gave one the impression that she was a big player and very affluent. She did have a lot of money and she did play heavy, but I sensed something wrong with her “act”. Her purse was not expensive and didn’t match the rest of her dress. She looked oriental, but the more I observed her the more convinced I was that she was trying to convey to us that she was an oriental, which in fact she wasn’t. Her play was hot and cold as far as were she placed her bets. That is she would play the bank side and then switch her wager suddenly to the player side. Sometimes she would switch in the middle of a hand after the cards were already dealt. According to the proper rules, switching is not permitted after a card has been dealt from the baccarat shoe. Occasionally one courtesy switch
is permitted, but never a continuous switch.

I felt that she was not complying with the rules and I was over ruled by the shift manager. I was told to let her play the way she wanted. This was against my grain, and a very dangerous thing for the house. I might point out that the dealers were being tipped very heavily. Note: Heavy tipping is a natural way to mis-direct improper playing methods. Dealers will tend to overlook procedures. Nobody wanted to rock the boat. I felt that the casino was not being given a fair shake, however I was constantly over ruled by the immediate baccarat management.

THE TIP OFF

I finally noticed that every time that Madame Yu sat down to play, two other gentlemen also sat down to play, and always in the same seats. I became very suspicious and made every attempt to talk to the men and Madame Yu, hoping to get the slightest clue as to what was the scam. One man was an oriental and the other was red headed, both about 50 years of age. The red headed man, I shall call Tony, told me that he was a designer and handled wall coverings. He would even go over to the walls in the baccarat pit and talk as if he knew exactly the brand of paper and the manufacturer. He was a master of deceit.

The oriental man would not engage in any conversation at all. He would just smile or stare at me.

I once again brought my suspicions to the attention of my supervisors, I was told that I was paranoid. Again I gave my full attention to the developing problem. That evening, Madame Yu began losing which made my theory look very bad. At the close of the evening however, she did win a little, and had given the dealers thousands in gratuities.

I recalled how giving tips has been used as a decoy in many casino scams. The dealers and floormen become blind with greed to see anything out of the ordinary. It never fails.

The following morning, Madame Yu returned to the game bearing a gift for the shift manager and me. I was honored with a solid sterling silver Gucci pen. I still have the pen as a reminder. I thought, beware of Greeks bearing gifts. I became even more cautious.

Finally I caught one of the gentlemen flashing the cards after they were dealt to the player sitting opposite him. (The cards are dealt as follows: one face down to player side, one face down to bank side, one face down to player side and one face down to bank side.) When the cards are dealt to the bank side they are supposed to be slid under the outside corner of the shoe. In this case the gentleman let both cards lay on the table overlapping slightly on the table. He then would slide both cards together under the shoe. At that moment as he slid the cards under, he slightly raised the outside corners allowing a very slight flash or view of the indices of the cards to the player sitting opposite him. That was the move. All of a sudden I just clicked and picked up the move. It was quick and almost imperceptible.

That player would secretly signal to Madame Yu, who was at the other end of the table. She would act like she was not even watching the game, and ask to have her bet switched from the bank side to the player side, or to put down a bet after the cards were already out. She was a master! This was one of the most clever schemes I have ever seen. No marked cards. No
extra cards. No gaffs of any kind. The floorman allowed the changing of the bets, he technically allowed the scam to happen.
When they could determine the value of the player hand, they would know which hand would probably win. It was a simple matter of switching bets. They won quite a bit of money doing this before I raised enough eyebrows to stop the play.

The following week all three individuals returned to play. Also at the table were four Nevada Gaming Control Agents. All parties were arrested right at the table. One of the culprits confessing and confirming my theories.
Several questions still remain unanswered. Was there anyone else involved in the operation beside the trio? How did they know that the baccarat game was being opened in the casino? Actually those questions are not mysteries. Just put 2 and 2 together.