If you’re gambling in a live casino or cardroom, the chances are good you’re going to be carrying large amounts of cash at some point. Whether before you play or after is a matter of luck and skill but, either way, let’s discuss personal security and how to avoid getting rolled when you’re away from the tables.
I’m hardly the world’s greatest (legitimate) poker player and my days of grinding out an edge at blackjack are long behind me but I’ve won enough big pots, Hold ‘Em tournaments and hot shoes to have faced a serious problem we should all consider: how to get home safely with all that cash.
Truthfully, unless you advertise that you’re carrying a lot of money, your chances of being mugged or picked is as rare as any other day.
But when gambling for a living, pickpockets, muggers and con artists know there’s a good chance that players might be carrying more than the average passer-by, so we all need to consider some basic protection.
Assuming you’re not trying to walk the streets of Las Vegas with a million dollars in your backpack, the amount you stand to lose is limited to how much you can carry without being obvious. So, the first rule is to avoid an enormous bulge in any of your pockets.
Remember that how you dress reflects how much you might be worth to a would-be thief. If you’re carrying cash, consider leaving the gold satin shirt, diamond-encrusted Rolex and alligator cowboy boots at home unless you’re staying on property at a secure location.
If you happen to be staying in the same hotel you’re playing, don’t always assume that’s completely safe.
The Bellagio in Las Vegas might be perfectly safe on the gaming floor but not every hotel corridor, elevator or restroom is monitored as closely as the tables. That being said, anyone ripping you off in a major Las Vegas property is extremely likely to get caught. The Bellagio toilets are like Fort Knox compared to many casinos I’ve visited around the world.
The most basic self-defence technique is to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the California-based Okinawan Karate master Nariyoshi Miyagi once said: “Best way to avoid punch, no be there.”
Poorly lit parking lots, unlicensed taxis, unfamiliar parts of town or dark alleys are generally bad places to be if you’re carrying a lot of money or valuables.
Muggers, con artists and pick pockets are often amazed who and what drops into their lap in these places. Always quick to blame their victims, they declare: “What the hell were they doing there?” in a twisted kind of post-theft concern for their victims’ well-being.
How victims find their way into these situations is either a matter of spectacular bad luck or being manipulated into the wrong place at the right time.
Try to remember: that attractive barfly who took a sudden interest in you after winning a poker tournament might have more on his or her mind than you have on yours!
Put simply, don’t follow strangers into unfamiliar places and avoid changing your plans when you’re suddenly loaded with cash.
I know, it all seems obvious right now but add a few drinks, a handful of edibles and a few tokes in the back of a stranger’s car and suddenly, you’re in the emergency room wondering who’s got your cash and credit cards.
Ripe suckers go out for laughs and come home in stitches.
Most stories I hear feature the line “I just had a few drinks” or “I didn’t see him slip anything into my drink” or “she seemed really into me”.
Drugs and alcohol impair judgement and make us really easy to manoeuvre. Separate these from your gambling habits and enjoy whatever libations you like once you’ve played. If you choose to carry cash before or after a game, make sure you bank it or put it in a safe place before you paint the town red.
Picking-off the winners of legitimate games and rolling them into a scam is a classic grifter’s strategy. Why spend hours trying to make the final table of a huge tournament when you can sit down with the winners, cold-deck the game and take everything?
A friend and I once saw a Monte game on the Las Vegas strip, right in front of Caesar’s Palace (late nineties). In this classic con game, three cards are mixed and players (suckers) bet on where they think the winning card is. This often builds to a well-known ploy where the winning card is subtly bent at one corner but later proves to be a losing card after a clever piece of sleight of hand.
Watching the game was a typical Vegas player: a complete amateur, acting like he’s a seasoned pro. You know the type. Well, the Monte players knew him too and when that card got bent, he threw down a thick wad of hundred-dollar bills.
10 seconds later, his money and the crew were gone, and he was left holding a bent Joker.
Whether that cash was his gambling money or his winnings, it was gone in a heartbeat.
No one shoves that kind of cash into their pocket and heads outside to find a gang of hustlers to play with. No one plans to take their winnings to a dimly-lit garage on the outskirts of town to play craps.
Con artists and thieves know how to get you into these situations once you fall into their trap so stick to a plan and get your money squared away before you stumble into a bad situation.
Fold a couple of grand, stick it in your back pocket and go for walk on a crowded street and you’re just begging to have that money taken.
You might as well pin those bills to your shirt.
The front pocket is little better but with an internal zipper, you might make a quick steal impossible though brazen pickpockets will happily go back for a second try if you’re distracted (or drunk).
A concealed money belt is a good option, so long as you load or unload it privately and wear it discreetly.
If you do carry cash, always have a separate wallet with enough money to pay for drinks, meals, tips etc but especially for drawing the attention of pick pockets or potential muggers. Losing a hundred bucks and some expired credit cards is preferable to having your entire bankroll taken so a “throwaway wallet” can be a useful diversion.
Consider this: a professional gambler (and cheater) who played on both side of the tracks told me how he carried his cash in several places. A wallet with a couple of hundred bucks in lower denomination bills, a billfold with a few hundreds and a thick roll of hundreds in his boots. At home he had a lockbox and elsewhere he had another, larger stash.
He told me: “If I get picked, they get the wallet. If I get mugged, I might give them the billfold. If I get tortured, I’ll give up my boots and if it’s me or the money, I’ll let them have the lockbox but they can shoot me in both f***ing eyeballs before I give up my stash.”
If there’s an alternative to carrying cash or chips, take it. Bank that money or send it to the hotel safe. If you must cash and carry, know where you plan to put it and take it there directly and securely.
Then go as crazy as you like; at least if you get rolled, you won’t go home broke.