The Las Vegas Counterfeiting Story: Is Your Privacy Worth More Than a Poker Chip?

What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, unless it spotlights how companies are tearing down the last remaining personal data protections.
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Last week in Las Vegas, a husband and wife team were indicted for putting $60,000 in counterfeit $100 bills into slot machines at Caesar’s Palace.

Apparently the fake bills were of such high quality that the bill scanners on the slot machines accepted about 600 of the bogus Benjamins over the course of four days before the money laundering plot was uncovered.

But what makes this story interesting from a privacy and security perspective is how the alleged perpetrators were caught. It wasn’t the ubiquitous “eye in the sky” – the network of thousands of cameras watching every moment of action on the casino floor.

The bad guys were foiled by the player’s club card they were using to “earn” discounted show tickets and free buffet passes from gambling with their phony bills.

Greed, stupidity, and laziness are usually the downfall of any otherwise successful criminals, even ones who can allegedly create convincing counterfeit currency. In this case the indicted couple, Chen and Min Liu, seem to embody all three.

According to my favorite news source for all things Vegas, The Strip Podcast, local Sin City journalists Steve Friess and Miles Smith reported on August 16th that Lius were allegedly putting the counterfeit bills into slot machines, playing for a while then hitting the “cash out” button which issues a machine-readable ticket for the balance.

In addition to the money they were laundering, the pair reportedly won tens of thousands of dollars during their gambling spree, and then cashed in their pay-out tickets for cash – but not before making sure that they had plugged their Harrah’s (the parent company of Caesars Palace) “Total Rewards” cards into the slot machines.

The Total Rewards program lets the casino electronically track your gambling and in return you get credit towards “comps,” like free Celine Dion tickets or cheap eats at places like the celebrity restaurants of Bobby Flay or Guy Savoy.

It was only after the bills were removed from the slot machines and added to that day’s receipts – almost 48 hours later – that the alarm bells went off on the more sensitive currency scanners in the counting room. Any good crook working in Las Vegas knows that even before they set foot on the casino floor, their every move is being scrutinized by security staff monitoring myriad systems, from the aforementioned cameras to sensors on slot machines and roulette wheels looking for signs of tampering or other misbehavior.

When casino security began looking through their massive surveillance systems to see who’d been pumping the funny money into those Gems Wild-Tiles and approximately a dozen other slot machines, they were able to identify precisely when the bills were inserted.

That’s when investigators noticed that the perps were using their Harrah’s Total Rewards card.

Naturally, it didn’t take long for investigators, who by that time included casino security and the United States Secret Service, to assemble enough evidence to make the arrests. When the trap was sprung, the couple had about $27,000 in genuine cash in their possession, and about $30,000 in fake bills stashed in their SUV – an Escalade, of course.


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