For some people, their destiny seems to be sealed.
This certainly seems to be the case for Joe Classon, who came from a family of casino cheats but never had any intention of going down that path himself.
His uncle, Stanley Classon, was a bit of a big name in cheating circles at the time, and his brother, Harry, got involved in the family business from an early age, even encouraging Joe to join him.
Joe preferred to explore other career opportunities such as working in finance, but nevertheless he grew up knowing a lot more about casino games than your average guy.
He was drafted into the army and sent to Korea during the 50s, and he used to play cards with the other soldiers when they were back at the base and killing time. Even now though it was only as something to do for a bit of fun, and ironically, it was often Joe being cheated by other members of his unit.
Back in the civilian world a few years later, and Joe was struggling for any sort of meaningful work, and eventually gave in and joined his brother who was, by now, an established cheater, with dice being a speciality.
Joe soon perfected his cheating skills and began hitting casinos and coming up with new tricks, and Vegas was the obvious place to test himself.
Falling for a Vegas Showgirl
Classon was a good looking chap, well built and with a confident personality. So when he met a dancer named Ruthie Berin in the mid 60s, she was instantly attracted to him.
Joe didn’t try to hide what he was doing at the casino, and not only was Ruthie impressed, but she thought she could help.
Thus a successful partnership began alongside their blossoming romantic relationship. Ruthie would make claims on past post bets, and being such a beautiful young woman who was not afraid to use her womanhood to change a man’s mind, she was usually successful in convincing dealers and pit bosses to pay out.
One night though, in 1967, a Hollywood film producer saw Joe drop two $100 chips on number 13 after the roulette ball had landed, then saw Ruthie make a fuss of the pit boss who was asked to authorise the payout. He knew exactly what was going on.
He gave Ruthie his card along with promises of an acting career, and she took the bait.
The next day she flew to meet the producer for lunch in Hollywood, and never came back. The pair hooked up, Ruthie called off the relationship with Joe, and began a new life as an actress. She used a stage name for her new life, so her true identity is hard to decipher, but some think it is Valerie Perrine.
He might have been broken hearted, but it was around this same time that Classon came across Jerry Palmer and Duke Swenson, the two men who would become his team mates for the next 20+ years.
Between them, they hit blackjack tables, roulette tables, baccarat tables, and even craps tables, using all sorts of different cheating methods, but their favourite and signature move was past posting; replacing small denomination chips with big ones after the result was known, then claiming the higher payout.
Meeting Richard Marcus
One tactic Classon used to like was to play at tables with dealers who were new. He visited the casinos often enough to know when someone hadn’t been there long, and would try and exploit this lack of experience.
One day he sat down at the blackjack table of a young Richard Marcus, himself a cheater who was only working there to earn some money and learn the ways of the casino from the inside.
It didn’t take much convincing to convince Marcus to go in on a scam with him, and before long he was part of the team, and Joe’s protege.
The very first time Marcus worked with the team they used a pre-shuffled deck and made $105,000 in a single night.
This was in 1977 so the past posting team had been plaguing casinos on the strip for a good 10 years by now, and it was getting very difficult for them to continue due to their notoriety.
So, they began a decade long casino tour, travelling the world to places where they were not known and trying the same tricks and cheats to continue to earn money.
It was a great time for them, but after so long in the game and approaching his 60th year, Joe began to feel like it was time to stop.
Hanging Up His Chips
Just before retiring in 1989, Classon made one final play, The Rainbow.
As Richard Marcus tells it, “he bet five reds and switched it for a red with a green, black, purple and yellow underneath it. $1,630 in all and it got paid without a moment of doubt.”
This was the end of the past posting team that had been working together for over 20 years, with Duke and Palmer retiring not too long after, and Palmer sadly dying of a drug overdose in 1994.
Classon’s mentee, Richard Marcus, was younger than the others though, so he built his own team and went back to betting on roulette, inventing what would become his signature move – The Savannah.
Marcus became a legend in casino cheating circles, and went on to write several books on the matter as well as being an authority on the subject in the media.
As for Classon, well, understandably he did his best to stay under the radar, and that means that what little information there is on him has come from word of mouth.
After he retired there is virtually nothing known about him. He would have been around 56 in 1989, so he had plenty of years ahead of him, but what he did with them is anyone’s guess.
We don’t even know if he is still alive, but given that he was born in 1933, if he is still with us, he will be a very old man by now.