AMERICAN ROULETTE and BLUE RIBBON COLLEGE BASKETBALL YEARBOOK . December 2003

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AMERICAN ROULETTE: CONFESSIONS OF A CHEAT and BLUE RIBBON COLLEGE BASKETBALL YEARBOOK

Book reviews by Howard Schwartz (Manager of the Gambler's Book Shop in Las Vegas)

AMERICAN ROULETTE: CONFESSIONS OF A CHEAT

Now that New York publishers and Hollywood have discovered America’s fascination with conmen, swindlers, and thieves could sell a lot of books and even more movie tickets, it appears as if the race for even more has begun.

American Roulette  ($24.95, hardbound, 370 pages) by Richard Marcus fits the mold perfectly. The book is subtitled “How I Turned The Odds Upside Down—My Wild Twenty-Five-Year Ride Ripping Off The World’s Casinos.”

Marcas says, “I’m not selling you all this so that you go out and become a casino cheater. I’m simply recounting my story to entertain you.” But I fear we may be in for more from this book, which explains how cheaters work, how surveillance cameras and personnel work and how they can be beat. In short, my fear is that a small percentage of readers may be tempted to test their skills or develop new ones based on Marcus’ detailed “moves.”

He focuses on roulette, craps, baccarat and blackjack for the most part, in remarkable detail. How Marcus can remember, years later, the move at the right place, time and situation is amazing. How Marcus developed his skills is equally incredible—and he tells it in colorful particulars, with arrogance and confidence.

Believe it or not, much of Marcus’ adventure into the con began when he was cheated out of his 20-shoebox baseball card collection in the sixth grade. He made a quick comeback. “Before I hit thirteen, I’d graduated from baseball cards to real money, and I learned quickly that a gambler needs a constant cash flow to support his habit and that, an eighth-grader, I needed to be clever if not a bit dishonest to get a bankroll together.”

Marcus came to Las Vegas in 1976 and tried out as a dealer. His observations about getting a job, the people he met and what attracts players to the tables are on target, just as they happened to most aspiring dealers back then. But it is the people, the characters, the hustlers and scammers he met and who taught him how to cheat which really propel this book. -- plus, the psychological ploys cheaters use to set up the house. It’s like a ballet—the art of misdirection, the observation of lazy or inattentive dealers and steely nerve to make it all appear legitimate.

Marcus remembers being “backroomed” and he explains how he acted and how anyone should act when security at a hotel “detains” someone suspected of cheating.

In the book we travel from Las Vegas to Atlantic City then to London, where Marcus runs into a problem.

“An American-style pastposting team encounters certain factors that inhibit it from doing all its homegrown moves. The highest denomination chip we could work with was 100 pounds, because at 500 pounds the round chips got bigger and at 1000 pounds and up they changed form and nationality, resembling the rectangular plaques seen in French casinos, Marcus explains” Plus, British casinos were “supervised with undivided attention.”

How Marcus and his team circumvented security measures and got away with their cheating make for some fascinating reading, Their sense that were beginning to “take steam” (casinos began to be alerted to their presence) sometimes makes you feel as if you’re there with them. By the time the team gets to France (there’s a great bit of background on French cheats and scams) and Monte Carlo, they’re in high gear and eventually clear more than $50,000. Then they’re off to South America and back to the good old U.S.

Marcus takes us into the 1990s and describes how surveillance and its technology has changed, and how one baccarat cheating scam, perpetrated by a group of Oriental gamblers, failed, when it should have succeeded.

What does the future hold for cheaters in the 2lst Century? He says “quite rosy.” Young, inattentive personnel at the tables; the monotony of casino jobs; a lack of positive attitude and loyalty are all in the cheater’s favor.

This is a fascinating, well-detailed book. It should be read by anyone who thinks its easy to cheat, but might not realize how dangerous it is and the consequence if caught. Marcus survived, retired and has no regrets about his lifestyle. Few have been so lucky.

BLUE RIBBON COLLEGE BASKETBALL YEARBOOK

For more than 20 years, a single basketball resource for college bettors has reigned as the fastest selling, hottest, most sought-after annual title on the shelves at Gambler’s Book Shop. The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, edited by Chris Dortch and compiled by more than two-dozen of his crew (382 pages, paperbound, $21.95, plus $6.50 postage), remains “King of the Hill.”

Originally founded by Chris Wallace of Buckhannon, W.VA. (who has worked his way up to be general manager of the Boston Celtics), this magnificent undertaking receives appreciation not only from bettors, but also from coaches, scouts, players, sportscasters, sports talk show hosts and fans. The reason is simple: The book analyzes almost every important aspect of every important basketball team from Air Force to Youngstown State and conference from America East to Western Atlantic, plus independents.

Most magazines that focus on college basketball gather stats and facts from sports information directors in the spring and summer, well before things start to gel for their teams. The Blue Ribbon people work constantly to update everything into late October, pulling facts from a variety of other sources and making their information so much fresher than anything else on the market.

The Blue Ribbon book examines the team program and the coaching philosophy; then looks at the season schedule, listing all games including tournaments. A special section lists team starters who are not returning; others players who are not returning; the projected starters for the upcoming season; key reserves; other returnees; other newcomers; and questions involving the team, followed by answers. This results in a Blue Ribbon analysis, including an evaluating or grade from A to F in these categories: backcourt, bench/depth, frontcourt, and intangibles. 

The results of every game played last year for the top 25 when properly used will help give readers an indication of improved teams, “sleepers” or those about to pull an upset if the linemaker gets too optimistic or miscalculates, especially early in the season when power ratings have not yet become solidified. (Do not expect spreads or totals or any sort of gambling-related information. You’ll find none).

The book isolates players who are key to each team’s success. It helps point out how good or experienced the backup player at that position might be should he be needed (if a key player is injured).

The sharpest handicappers look for things like injuries, leadership, the sparkplug off the bench, the low-scoring-but-clutch offensive rebounder and they can find them here.

Of the Top 25 teams the Blue Ribbon Book ranks, only five come from the West—Gonzaga, Arizona, Stanford and California, with Connecticut and Duke picked first and second. 

If you’re interested in where the top 150 high schools stars landed, it’s listed. Immediately after that section you get the top 150 high school players still at that playing level, to familiarize yourself with future college freshman or immediate jump-to-the-NBA status.

With 382 pages and a boxcar full of facts, names and statistics to sift through, this book is clearly one to buy as soon as possible to allow time to underline, highlight or transfer the key stuff to a notebook or PC.

I give a pat on the back to Dortch and his group for putting together an essential, comprehensive reference for the upcoming season.

(The books mentioned here are available from Gambler's Book Shop, 630 South 11th Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101. Call l-800-522-1777 from 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday Pacific time to order, using only MasterCard, VISA or Discover card (no Amex accepted). You may order through the store web site at www.gamblersbook.com and view the store's 1,000 books, videos and computer software. You may also call or write and ask for the free 80-page catalog to be sent to you. The store, founded in 1964, is located about two miles from Downtown Las Vegas, and the same distance from where the Strip begins, a block west of Maryland Parkway, just off Charleston Boulevard.)