STRANGE INVENTIONS used by Crooked Gamblers (Nov, 1933)

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STRANGE INVENTIONS used by Crooked Gamblers

By Thomas M. Johnson

IT WAS after midnight at Saratoga Springs, N. Y. Dark and silent, a large residence on a side street stood apparently deserted. Its shutters were closed, its blinds drawn. But, inside, were brilliant lights and the tense atmosphere of the gambling hall. Men and women leaned over green-topped tables and a tide of chips and currency ebbed and flowed according to the caprice of various games of chance.

At the far end of the room, a big man shoved his pile of colored chips to the center of the table.

“I’ll bet the works, five grand more,” he challenged. “Who’ll cover my bet?”

There was an angry murmur of dissent.

“There you go!” growled another player. “Can’tcha remember there’s a limit in this house?”

The big man pushed back his chair sharply.

“I’m sick of this piking place and its limit. I want action. I’ll find some place where the sky’s the limit!”

He strode angrily to the door, slammed it behind him. Another man followed him out.

“Say, friend,” he said, “I’m as sick of this piker joint as you are Come on with me. I know a place where we can get real action.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were playing in a hotel room, no limit and for cash, with two cordial, well-dressed strangers. Dawn found the big man several thousand dollars ahead. Sure, he said, he would play again tomorrow evening.

The next night, his luck started well, but changed. Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost. Whenever there was a big pot, he seemed to lose. Finally, he got an exceptionally good hand. Masking his eagerness to make a killing, he worked the bets up to $15,000, putting everything he had into the pot. Then he threw down his hand. Four kings! The player opposite spread his cards on the table. Four aces! The big man’s mouth sagged open.

Suddenly a rending crash shattered the door. In the opening stood bulky figures, pistols drawn in a threatening manner.

“Put ’em up, you three,” they commanded: “We’re from New York Headquarters.” Then to the big man: “Not you, buddy. You’re just a sucker. Look up there and you’ll understand.”

High on the wall behind his seat, the big man beheld a tiny opening, just large enough for a peep hole. Leaning against the same wall on a side table, he had noticed an innocent-looking package. Now through its brown wrapping paper, he saw glowing in electric lights a horizontal row of four K’s.

Another door burst open and a detective dragged in a stranger.

“Here’s the guy that stood on the table in the next room, spotted your hand through the peep hole, and flashed the dope to his pals by that electric annunciator hidden in the fake package,” the detective announced. He tore off the wrapper. “See how it’s fixed? Four rows of lights, each representing a suit and each row having thirteen numbers and letters, one for each card, arranged like this: A23456789 10 J Q K. To signal his pals you had four kings, all he had to do was to flash the K for all four suits. If they couldn’t have beaten that, they would have dropped out. But they could. So they let you bet your shirt. They always knew what you had. You couldn’t win—unless they let you and that wouldn’t be often.”

Which climax, Lieut. Grover Brown, who engineered the arrest, caps with this statement:

“They worked that game not just at Saratoga, but at twenty-two different race track and resort towns. They had peep holes hidden in the walls of hotels in each place and they would make reservations for the doctored suites far in advance. The wired-up annunciator worked as well for bridge as for poker. Skipping around the country, they cleaned up a fortune—trimming suckers by electricity.”

I learned recently from my friends among the police, signals flashed from packages by electricity is but one of many ways in which science is now used by crooked gamblers. With electromagnets controlling the roll of dice, with specially-compounded invisible ink marking the backs of cards, as well as with new adaptations of daub boxes and chink ink; tap dice and split coins, table bugs and glims, they are fleecing the unwary.

A sidelight upon the extent to which such gaming is carried on is the fact that one concern, devoted to the manufacture of crooked gambling equipment, has branch offices in Chicago, Ill., Detroit, Mich., Kansas City, Mo., and San Francisco, Calif., as well as headquarters in New York City. It employs expert chemists and machinists in a special research laboratory to develop new aids for the dishonest gambler. Purchasers order by code, “cube,” for instance, standing for dice and “paint” for cards.

Another concern in the same business distributes its catalog through the mails under the guise of a book exposing the evils of gambling. Each crooked device described and illustrated is given a number. Accompanying the book, is a separate sheet. It lists the numbers with a price after each. Orders are sent in by telegraph, thus avoiding conflict with the postal laws.

Even so simple a gambling proposition as spinning or flipping a coin is made crooked by relatively common alterations now being made in underworld workshops. There are on the market coins with beveled edges sure to stop spinning and fall with the high side uppermost. Again, dollars are sometimes sawed in half and the two heads and the two tails sweated together in such a way that the line of joining is practically invisible. They are substituted for genuine coins by the cheaters during play. Whichever side comes up, the result is the same.

Not long ago, in a western city, police raided a gambling joint and confiscated, among other thmgs, a crap stick that had won thousands of dollars for the house. Such sticks, made of rattan and curved at the end, are used to rake the dice back after they have been thrown upon the table. When an officer accidentally twisted the handle of this stick, the secret of the players’ ill luck at this table became apparent and very simple to explain to the victims.

Inside was a secret compartment just large enough to hold two pair of dice, one pair normal, the other loaded to roll as the operator of the game wished. By a slight pressure of the hand, he could push the dice he held in his fingers into the compartment and receive the other dice in his palm without making a movement that would betray him. By this ruse, whenever the time was ripe, he supplied the patrons of the game with dice by which it was impossible to throw a winning point.

Tap dice accomplish much the same result. They contain a small weight which can be made to shift to and from the center. Tap them on the table one way and they are loaded; tap them another way and they are honest. In this manner, the crook loads the dice for himself and unloads them for his opponent.

Another dodge of the dice manipulator, I learned, is to hollow out one side of the cube just enough to make it slightly concave. The suction thus produced is sufficient to throw the odds to the one who bets the dice will land with this side down. Again, special dice, known as horses or tops and bottoms, are made with the spots on two or more sides identical. As only three sides of the cube can be seen at a time, when it is on the table, the trick is not noticed and the odds are all with the cheater who substitutes horses for his throws.

Recently, underworld chemists have produced a new aid for the gyp dicer. It is a transparent, quick-drying dice fluid. With it, one side of the cube can be coated to increase its weight. This coating cannot be seen and it is so hard a fingernail will not dent it.

Of all these ruses for cheating at dice, the most elaborate is the electromagnetic table. Underneath it, are hidden small electromagnets that can be turned on or off by a knee or foot lever. When they are on, they attract bits of metal in the dice, causing them to stop as the player desires. He switches the magnets on and off according to whether he or his opponent is rolling.

Because non-metallic weights are put opposite the metal bits, the cubes are in perfect balance and will pass the common tests for loaded dice, spinning on one corner without wabbling and dropping into a long pitcher of water without having the same number come up repeatedly. However, a small pocket magnet will stick to the side containing the metal and will thus expose the electric dice.

A few years ago, the captain of a transatlantic liner became suspicious that marked cards were being used by certain players who were cleaning up in the smoking rooms. He put a detective on watch. As a result, one of the most carefully-planned gambling plots on record was exposed and the crooks arrested.

Frequently during play, the men would call for a fresh pack of cards. These were always supplied by the steward from those manufactured especially for the steamship line. There was no possibility of the cards having been marked on shipboard or after they were delivered to the players. Yet the men obviously were reading the hands of their opponents.

Sure of this, the captain had them locked in their rooms and questioned. Eventually, the secret of their winnings came out. It seems that the players were members of a ring operating exclusively on the liners of this one company. Posing as a manufacturer, the head of the ring had offered to supply the line with cards at one-half the price being paid. The purchasing agent had accepted without suspicion and the cards, which had secret marks placed in the designs on the back, were sold on all the liners. Only the ring members knew the marks and, by buying fresh packs direct , from the steward, they had completely disarmed the suspicions of their opponents who were being fleeced.

Almost every playing card on the market has an elaborate design stamped on the back. Altering such designs to mark cards has become a regular art. Special inks which do not upset the gloss of the card are now available. They are supplied in the exact shade and chemical composition to match the ink originally used in printing the cards. In other cases, after lines have been shaded or spaces altered, the cards are repolished with a fine grade of chamois skin and vaseline, ending with a final rubdown with powdered boric acid.

One company employs a dozen pen and ink experts to alter cards to order, to produce “readers” for its clientele. Another concern prints a complete line of imitations of popular brands of cards, with minute give-away variations in the designs on the backs. One such deck, on the market for the use of tricksters, is advertised as having a total of 12,000 combinations of secret markings in its design, which the initiated easily read.

Often professional card sharks work out private keys and secret codes for marking cards which would require hours for a suspicious opponent to decipher. Typical of the pains to which the crooked gambler goes in his efforts to defraud is a case reported from Chicago.

Here a sharper spent weeks in producing a “natural” deck of readers. Buying nearly 100 decks of a well-known brand of cards, having a diamond criss-cross design on the back, he sorted them over day after day, noting tiny variations along the top edge produced by the cutting knife at the factory varying up or down a fraction of an inch when it sliced across the design. In the end, he found enough differences to make a deck in which he could recognize any card. Throwing the rest away, he packed these pasteboards in a glas-sine wrapper and box and had a deck which could be examined under a microscope without rinding it altered in any way.

By cutting tiny strips off the tops of certain cards in the deck, the crooked player sometimes alters the upper-edge design of these cards so he can recognize them. Again, he may trim the corners so he can feel them in dealing. A variation of this trick is the production of humps and strippers. Humps are cards trimmed so they bulge slightly at the top and bottom; strippers so they bulge at the sides. Although these alterations are so small they cannot be seen, the practiced fingers of the sharper can feel the cards he wants and can cut or manipulate the deck so he will get the high-value cards.

“Slick ace decks” help the card cheater in much the same way. They are manufactured with the ace, or any other desired card, polished until it has less friction than the other cards, thus causing the deck to cut most easily at the place where the wanted card is located.

The oldest method of marking cards during play is “crimping the deck.” By bending the corners of cards slightly up or down, denting the backs with his fingernail, or bending the pasteboards in the middle, the crook marks important cards as the play proceeds. Sometimes a special ring or thumb-prick is worn having a small raised point which can be pressed into the backs of cards, the position of the mark distinguishing them.

SOME years ago, a notorious master cheat in the east produced a “magic eye shade” which enabled him to trim suckers for several months before its secret was discovered. The shade was made in a special color while the backs of the cards were marked in invisible ink which could be seen only when looked at through a transparent substance tinted the hue of the eye shade. The other players looked at the cards and saw nothing. He looked at them and saw in glowing letters and numbers the marks that identified them all. Today, such shades, as well as tinted glasses, for the same purpose are on the market.

“Chink ink” and “Golden Glow Daub” are also available for marking cards by cheaters. The former is a special preparation that is placed under the fingernail and so transferred to the upper edge of a card, the position indicating its value. The daub comes in a tiny pot which can be sewed into the hem of a vest with a small slit opening outward. By rubbing his fingers over this slit, the crooked card player smears them with the fluid which leaves a delicate smoky smudge on a card and enables him to mark the deck while playing. Special pencils with colored lead that rubs off on the fingers, are sometimes employed.

In an eastern city, a few months ago, an ingenious vest button enabled a card shark to clean up several thousand dollars at stud poker before he was caught. The six buttons running down the front of his vest appeared to be all the same. But the one just below the level of the table was equipped with a sliding top and a tiny mirror inside. In dealing the cards, he held them at an angle which threw their reflections into the mirror and enabled him to know what his opponents held and to bet accordingly.

THIS artifice is a new variation of the old ”shiner” or “glim” trick, in which little mirrors are secreted in rings, in match boxes, in piles of bills, or in the chewed end of a cigar, to show the crooked card dealer what his opponent gets. Highly-polished signet rings are sometimes employed as shiners without attracting attention. Recently, convex mirrors, which show the whole face of the card and which do not throw reflected light that would give away the fraud, are being adopted.

As this is written, police in a western city have reported the discovery of the latest in such devices, a “holdout glim.” It is a convex mirror attached to a lazy-tongs arm which shoots out from under the player’s vest when he pulls a wire by spreading his legs apart. The mirror is projected only when it is needed and is safely hidden out of sight during the rest of the game.

Such holdout mechanisms, strapped to the wrists with elastic bandages or hidden in the linings of coats and vests, are frequently used to switch cards or to supply kings and aces when they are needed by the crook gambler. The users are known as “machine men.” The fact that they sometimes have to make unnatural or machine-like movements in operating their holdouts, usually gives them away sooner or later.

In one instance I heard of, a holdout worked too well. It was designed to operate without any tell-tale movement of the hands or legs, a wire about the chest projecting the lazy-tongs arm when the gambler took an especially deep breath. It worked without a slip for more than a week. Then, in the middle of a game the wearer had to sneeze. The sudden intake of breath operated the device and out popped an ace in full view of the other players!

Called “the coat spider,” a small spring blade, with sharp prongs attached, is designed to hook on the underside of a coat sleeve, holding from one to six cards tightly against the cloth.

MANY of the latest holdouts are installed by experts at the factories where they are made, the gamblers sending in their coats or vests for the purpose. One device is advertised as being attached inside the lining in such a way that the coat can be taken off, turned wrong-side-out and shaken without danger of detection. Other silent smooth-working mechanisms of the kind are so perfectly constructed that they can be used even when the sharper takes off his coat and plays in his shirtsleeves.

The devices I have described are by no means all of those used in the realm of crooked gambling. New ones appear constantly. Nor are they the sporadic products of a few individual crooks. They are factory-made and widely distributed.

Anyone who gambles today, not only bucks the laws of chance but is likely as well to meet the chicanery of science-using crooks.

  1. Boing Boing says: January 9, 20078:01 am

    Cheating gambler technology roundup from 1933…

    This Popular Science expose on crooked gambling technology from November, 1933 is a maker’s dream — these con artists were genius tinkerers, it seems: Even so simple a gambling proposition as spinning or flipping a coin is made crooked by relatively …

  2. […] […]

  3. » links for 2007-01-10 says: January 9, 200710:19 pm

    […] Modern Mechanix » STRANGE INVENTIONS used by Crooked Gamblers (tags: cheatsheet interesting magazine Technology magazines) […]

  4. […] Strange inventions used by crooked gamblers – From 1933 Popular Science Scroll down the page once you load it to read the article. Also check out the cool section on the menu, a few things there will make you laugh. Modern Mechanix » STRANGE INVENTIONS used by Crooked Gamblers […]

  5. justine spohn says: September 26, 200712:11 am

    have you ever heard of a guy by the name of diamond jack?
    i think he was a famouse gambler of some sort.

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