MACAU – Sal Piacente is a casino security firm's worst nightmare. The native of Brooklyn, New York -- whose business card describes him as 'The Hitman' -- has seen every casino scam and promises he can pull a sleight of hand so fast that even cameras trained on a blackjack table are useless.
Inside the booth of a major security firm at Global Gaming Expo Asia, which kicked off in Macau this week, Piacente shuffles a deck of cards in full view of the camera and then pulls out the promised ace, leaving staff stumped.
"That was incredible," said one employee.
"That wasn't even the good stuff," said Piacente, 46, head of UniverSal Game Protection Development.
Cheating has emerged as a serious problem for Macau, a former Portuguese colony and now the world's biggest casino market with about 14.5 billion US dollars in gaming revenue last year, outpacing Las Vegas.
There are no reliable figures to gauge the cost of cheating to casinos, Piacente said, but he warned that the gambling powerhouse needs to take staff training seriously if it wants to tackle the growing problem.
"This is big money here," said the 25-year casino industry veteran, draped in a chunky gold necklace, bracelet and diamond ring.
"And the industry is growing so fast that it's hard to find good help. A properly trained employee will beat a million dollar system every time."
Industry analyst Jonathan Galaviz agreed it was key for operators to constantly assess their weak spots and devote resources to the problem -- many scams involve dealers pulling an inside job with crooked gamblers.
"(Casinos) have to identify where the leaks are and what resources are required to plug those leaks," he told AFP.
"Cheaters will always be one step ahead so it's important for the industry not to fall two steps behind."
And now cheaters have cutting-edge technology, such as mini-cameras, that make mirrors and other basic cheats used throughout history look outdated.
"There aren't too many new scams but the technology has changed," Piacente said.
The false shuffle -- keeping an ace palmed in your hand -- or using a card to knock a chip off the table in the case of a bad hand without detection are still most cheaters' tricks of choice.
"The false shuffle is the ultimate -- it's the simplest and the hardest," he said
Piacente concedes he is impressed by some cheaters' skills.
"Sometimes I'll say 'damn, that guy was good' but other times I think they should just get sentenced for their lack of skill."
"I always knew how to cheat," he added. "I just never did."