Find out how to legally beat a casino game, either through a fairly benign act of counting cards or making a move as bold as Kelly Sun’s multi-million dollar ranking move. Casinos are a job risk.
Advantage players recognize the back-offs and 86s as an expected consequence of brutally tearing down the house. As Bill Benter, the world-class horse equestrian, once told me, “if you don’t get kicked out, you’re doing something wrong.”
But upon landing in the so-called Black Book, a list of people who are legally prohibited from entering the premises of any gambling company in the state of Nevada, that’s something else. For starters, placement in the Book often involves a criminal act.
According to Anthony Curtis, editor of Las Vegas Advisor and a former headman, he is a special circle of casino hell. “Take the undesirables to the No level,” Curtis says. “There are different degrees of being removed. This is the last thing. You’re not being removed from a casino. You’re being removed from an industry.”
Officially known as the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s Excluded Persons List, the Black Book was released in 1960. Once a real book bound on black covers, although over the years there have been other colors, the Black Book is a list of criminals. casino cheats, scammers and various nasty guys who are believed to damage casinos just by being there. Mobster Sam Giancana, who allegedly had ties to the CIA, gained control of casinos such as Sands and Desert Inn, and proved to be a prolific-earnings skimmer, ranked among the first gang members to be admitted to the Book.
The story says the Black Book was created as a means for the gambling industry to convince the U.S. Congress that it could properly control itself and keep criminal elements out of the playing rooms.
A copy of an old Black Book, which debuted with a list of only 11 undesirables, open to the page of the tiny but ultra-violent mobster Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, is on display at the Museum of The Museum in Las Vegas. The most recent additions to the Book, which now has 35 participants, are Anthony Grant Granite and James Russell Cooper. Both convicted of defrauding the Bellagio for about $1.2 million, did so last November.
Working in collusion with a croupier, the two men gambled after the dice fell. Of course it turns the dice into an easy to beat game. So easy, in fact, that they surpassed an estimated probability of 452 billion to 1 in stranger to reap their seven-figure rewards. A grand jury found them guilty of theft and deception and the two men were sentenced to at least four years in prison. But the Nevada Gaming Board took things further by placing them in the Black Book, which currently exists as an online list of photos, the last known residences and, of course, misdeeds.
For some cheaters, entering the Black Book is a burden enough for them to prefer to go to jail if it helps them beat the Book. A gaming expert remembers a recent con artist who was famous for marking cards on the blackjack table. “He was arrested at his house and the boy had a mini-factory to create flowers (the dye used to mark cards), cheat and disguise,” the intern says. “He made a living stealing casinos and didn’t want to be banned from entering them.”
He reportedly met to serve the prison sentence, but was kept out of the Black Book. “I would have preferred that a lot,” the source says. “But the guy didn’t get it, and now he can’t go to a casino in Nevada.” He pleaded guilty to a count of robbery and received parole, plus his place in the Book.
While it’s hard to get into the Black Book, entering the rogue’s gallery involves doing something that really offends the powers of the Nevada Gaming Board, it’s even harder to get out. Most of those who escape the Book manage to do so by dying. Even giving up the game won’t help. According to Las Vegas Review Journal, the last of the surviving Black Book GOs was the Los Angeles-based mob boss Louis Thomas Dragna. He died in 2012, aged 92, and was freed from the Book with his death.
But what is it like to be in the Black Book? Surprisingly, it seems that most members of the deviant sect, except for the cheater described above, don’t mind being there that much.
For starters, for when you do something notorious enough to enter the Book, it’s probably persona non grata in most casinos. In fact, in some quarters, placement in the Black Book is essentially an announcement of inflexible skills. Being in the book, says card-marker expert William Gene Land, “was a badge of honor. I held my cup and he opened up a lot of opportunities for me, if you know what I mean.”
What it means is that it was able to work with highly profitable card marking teams that operated beyond the Book’s range of influence. Now claiming to be out of the trap business: “I’m retired; I stay home and play with my grandchildren”- Land made millions by topping plays despite their notoriety. “I couldn’t get into a Nevada casino,” he admits. “But there were a lot of games outside the United States.”
Another induced to the Black Book, a cheater who famously put slot machines together and asked that his name not be used, he also shrugs. “It doesn’t really affect me,” he says. “[Being in the Book] felt more like a publicity stunt than anything else. The irony is that I live in Las Vegas (where bars and even supermarkets usually have slot machines) and I can enter any bar to play slots.”
He considers this for a minute, laughs and concludes: “What’s really the point?”