The question of whether or not card counting is cheating comes up regularly. It’s not, for the record, but casinos hate it anyway and will limit your bets or ban you completely if they catch you doing it.
For Dustin Marks, this was never an issue. He wasn’t even really a gambler, and he didn’t try and play with a mathematical advantage; he went for a much simpler approach. He cheated.
For four years during the 1980’s, Marks and his accomplices took casinos for millions using scores of different cheating strategies, and the most amazing thing is that they were never caught. Not once.
Not a great deal is known about Marks personal life, and although he regularly speaks in public his real identity is kept under wraps. We know that he was born in the 50’s in the American mid-west but his name is a pseudonym.
In 1983 he moved to Las Vegas, fascinated with the spectacle of the place, but mainly because he noticed that many of the top magicians in the country lived there. He was already good with magic, especially close up card tricks, and those sleight of hand skills would come in very useful once his cheating career began.
He began attending a weekly event for magicians where he met masters of the craft and improved his skills, hoping to become a top Vegas magician himself. As gambling card tricks were part of the act for Las Vegas magicians, he also learned a fair amount about blackjack, including counting cards and hole carding.
It was when he met an old hand at cheating though, that he realised just what might be possible. The man in question is known only as JS.
Dustin Marks Becomes a Blackjack Dealer
Although he made plenty of money by cheating casinos, he mostly managed it by working for them, so Marks was a competent blackjack dealer. In fact, this was key to most of his scams.
Becoming a casino employee was an orchestrated move that was all part of the plan. JS was a master and taught Marks everything he knew about blackjack, dealing, and cheating, and it was a lot.
When he was ready, he successfully applied for a job at a casino and a few days later he was dealing to his ‘agent’. The scam could earn them thousands of dollars each a week, but the key to not getting caught was not to be greedy. Marks would also deal extra fast when his agent wasn’t at the table in order to get through more hands with regular punters, take more money per hour, and cover his tracks.
The ruse continued successfully and Dustin was very happy with his returns, but this was small fry compared to what was to come.
It’s worth noting that while card counters risked an unpleasant conversation and a ban from the casino, Marks risked prison and worse. What he was doing was a criminal offense, not that he seemed in the least bit concerned.
Blackjack Cheating in Teams
JS had been impressed with Marks, and the two had become friends, so when he got in touch and asked if Marks wanted to be a part of a large scale cheating team there was no hesitation.
The job wasn’t in one of the big casinos, rather they targeted a casino in the Laughlin area about 90 minutes South of Vegas. This would be an easier target.
All told, there were 22 people involved; 6 dealers, 15 players, and 1 pit boss. They played around the clock, and although the casino did start asking certain players to leave as they were winning too much, the scam was never uncovered.
Their time did come to an end though, albeit more down to random luck on the casino’s part than anything else. Players were suspected of counting cards and banned, and dealers were subjected to random lie detector tests which, if failed, resulted in being politely sacked.
By the end only JS and Marks were left standing, and JS was drawing a lot of attention by winning so much. The pair even had casino officials looking over their shoulders, but they were so skilled that they continued to play (and cheat) right in front of their eyes without getting caught.
The officials knew something was going on, they just had no idea what, but eventually Marks was invited into a back room and accused of giving up hole card information for tips. This isn’t what was going on, despite the fact that they were 100% cheating, and Marks knew the officials had nothing on them. Nevertheless, JS was banned, it was made clear that Dustin’s job was no longer available, and that particular jig was up.
Using Technology to Cheat at Blackjack and Calling it Quits
There were many many more hustles to come, including plenty where Marks headed up his own team, but eventually he decided that the party was over.
He had come a long way in a short amount of time and managed to stay out of trouble while successfully implementing hundreds of different cheating strategies, each one cleverer than the last.
The fact that he regularly changed his methods no doubt helped him remain undetected, as did the fact that he was careful about who he worked with. He wasn’t fond of working with criminals or anyone who had previous been in trouble, as this would not only draw attention but the likelihood of them getting caught and then giving the game away in exchange for leniency was high.
He also knew when to say no to a job; such as the one where he was invited to stack the deck at a casino famous for rough treatment of anyone caught cheating, especially those who were employees (this was the 80s/90s remember). He also turned down a job that too many people were involved in, including a pit boss who got himself in trouble for something else and gave the game away under scrutiny.
It was when technology came into play though that Marks headed for the exit sign. A NASA scientist of all people introduced him to a pocket computer that could tell the player how to bet once the shoe had been played through normally once. It required the dealer to do a false shuffle and worked a treat, becoming one of his biggest earners, but it also killed his passion.
He enjoyed the creativity, the skill, and the thrill of the game, and clever tech removed that aspect. Dustin Marks quit, and in hindsight it was probably a very smart move.
Methods of Cheating at Blackjack
Most of the methods Dustin used to cheat would not be possible today. The games are played differently with many of the chinks in the game’s armour long since repaired.
For instance single deck games are much less common, automatic shuffling machines make it impossible for dealers to use any cheating methods involving shuffling (or false shuffling), and cards are never dealt face down anymore.
Nevertheless, some of the cheating methods Dustin is best known for are covered below. It has to be said though that these are a mere handful, the man came up with hundreds of ways to use sleight of hand and other skills to get one over on the casinos.
Marks used to actually video tape himself practicing this trick at home so that he could watch back and try and spot the false shuffle.
Usually used with single deck games, card stacking requires the dealer to keep track of strong hands as they are discarded after each hand. This works because cards have to be discarded in a certain order as they are swept up from the table.
So for example, if the first hand was blackjack, the dealer would know that the first two cards in the discarded tray were blackjack. They would then perform a false shuffle at the end of the deck, and signal to their counterpart to bet big on that hand the next time around.
That is an oversimplified example but it makes the point.
It’s a very tricky manoeuvre to get right, because it requires not only excellent sleight of hand skills, but also a perfect memory that can operate at the same time as dealing, and a flawless knowledge of the game.
This one was possible in single deck and multi deck games but took a lot more coordination and pre-planning, and often extra members of the cheating team.
The cooler refers to a prearranged deck of cards which would be hidden on the player in some way. In the days when players were allowed to cut the deck, the dealer would hand the player the regular deck and the player would switch it with the prearranged deck. Another team member would then take the original deck from the player and go home, so once this point was reached the cheaters were safe.
The dealer would usually be in on the scam but if they weren’t then a distraction was required. You might also need an employee higher up the food chain to get hold of the cards in the first place.
The player would then win every hand because they were all planned out in advance.
With a multi deck cooler it was much more difficult and required more coordination. It was extremely risky and the chances of getting caught rocketed, so players would often throw a few hands to make it look more legitimate.
Card mucking is all about swapping cards, and there are several ways of doing it.
This is a technique used by the player, most likely without the dealer being in on it.
At some point, the player would lift a high value card from the table and keep it out of site until it became useful. When the player next has a weak hand that would benefit from the high card they would switch it out to create a winner.
This requires incredible sleight of hand skills, often incorporating a drink or some sort of interaction with another player to cover the move up. Marks also used to target particularly inattentive or bored dealers to heighten his chances of success.
Another way of doing it would be to swap cards with a fellow cheater sitting next to you, again requiring incredible amounts of skill as it has to be done right in front of the dealer.
As a close up card trick magician, Marks was especially good at card mucking.
The final cheating method is all about adding or removing chips from your stack after your first two cards have been dealt.
This is another trick requiring nimble fingers, and it works because after the deal the player has a good idea of how strong their hand is compared to the dealers up card.
A strong hand would see the cheater adding chips to their stack to maximise profit, while a poor hand would see the cheater remove chips from the stack to minimise losses. They would do this by sliding their cards under the stack as a way to fold or reveal their hand.
To add a high chip to the bottom of the stack the cheater would position that chip under the cards before sliding them under the stack, then removing them again perhaps to double check them or to show the player next to them, leaving the high chip under the original chips.
To remove a chip they would do the same thing, but slide the cards on top of the bottom chip in the stack, flicking it back to their pile of chips, and then leave the cards there, so it looked like they had simply slid their cards under the stack to fold.
Who is Dustin Marks?
He’s not exactly the Scarlet Pimpernel, but he does still like an air of mystery around him; he keeps his real name and how much he managed to make under wraps.
Dustin Marks may be a pseudonym, but the man himself wrote a book on how he cheated the casinos, speaks about it publicly at events, has done documentaries, and even has a website promoting his services and a Youtube channel where he shows off his skills.
He is also an interesting man to study, showing no remorse for cheating the casinos out of what must have been millions, but being extremely ethical in all other areas of his life. In every other way he is a model citizen with respect for his fellow man, even stating that he would never play poker because he wouldn’t want to take money from other players.
He has also showed a lot of respect and affection towards career cheaters with whom he worked, while at the same time having nothing nice to say about casino bosses or cheaters who were caught and spilled the beans.
That said, he has himself worked for casinos training their staff in how to spot cheaters in the past, although he never visits casinos anymore and hasn’t for decades. He wasn’t even interested in gambling, finding his job boring when he was working a regular shift.
His uncanny ability to not only devise and execute ingenious cheating plans has made him a legend in the blackjack world, and his willingness to risk serious prison time crossed with his polite unassuming persona makes him something of an enigma. Whether he is a hero or a villain depends completely on who you ask.