The dark side of con artistry

The great thing about people is that they can justify virtually anything to themselves. To hype a show called “Casino Takedown,” a con artist and casino cheat rationalizes his career by saying it’s not really stealing. Really?

From Newsday:

For years now, [Paul] Wilson has made part of his living advising casinos and other security-conscious businesses how to protect themselves against scammers, thieves and confidence men. Whether he’s made another part of his living devising and executing the very scams he’s helped to guard against – well, he prefers to leave that question dangling in the air.

“Most of what I have done I don’t consider to be illegal,” he says. “Certain casinos might argue that fact.”

Beginning Tuesday night, Wilson is stepping out of the shadows as host of “Casino Takedown,” a new con-artist reality show on Court TV. Cameras follow Wilson and his small band of fellow cons as they demonstrate in real time how they pull off their cleverest schemes.

In one episode, he demonstrates the art of subtle dice-switching, right under the probing eyes of a dozen casino security cameras.

In another, he walks into an art gallery and deftly replaces a real masterpiece with a fake.

The truth, Wilson says, is he’s been training for this since he was a boy in Scotland, with more than a boy’s fascination for magic tricks. “I always loved sleight-of-hand,” he says. “My grandfather taught me how to cheat at gin. He also warned me, ‘You can’t tell people about this. Nobody ever likes a cheater.’ In his world, cheaters were pariahs. That stuck with me for a long time.”

So as he honed his finger skills, imagined elaborate con games and gradually built up his nerve, he was never one to brag.

“Years later,” he said, “I’d be talking with professional magicians and someone would mention bottom dealing. I wouldn’t let on that I knew how to do that. I knew it better than they did.”

He never considered himself a thief, he said.

“The difference is simple,” he says. “A thief, you come home at night and find him burglarizing your house and stealing your silver. A con man, you drive him, give him your silver and wish him luck. It’s a kind of magic, really – a particular kind of human interaction. In a con, you take full control of everything without appearing to be in control of anything. That’s the illusion, right there.” Opening the door to a cheater’s closet

So obtaining money under false pretenses is OK? Cheating is good? It’s “a kind of magic?”

Like most of the people who do this sort of thing, Wilson gets coy by saying “certain casinos might argue” whether what he does is illegal, like it’s just their word against his. Let’s see what the law says:

NRS 465.070 Fraudulent acts. It is unlawful for any person:

1. To alter or misrepresent the outcome of a game or other event on which wagers have been made after the outcome is made sure but before it is revealed to the players.

2. To place, increase or decrease a bet or to determine the course of play after acquiring knowledge, not available to all players, of the outcome of the game or any event that affects the outcome of the game or which is the subject of the bet or to aid anyone in acquiring such knowledge for the purpose of placing, increasing or decreasing a bet or determining the course of play contingent upon that event or outcome.

3. To claim, collect or take, or attempt to claim, collect or take, money or anything of value in or from a gambling game, with intent to defraud, without having made a wager contingent thereon, or to claim, collect or take an amount greater than the amount won.

4. Knowingly to entice or induce another to go to any place where a gambling game is being conducted or operated in violation of the provisions of this chapter, with the intent that the other person play or participate in that gambling game.

5. To place or increase a bet after acquiring knowledge of the outcome of the game or other event which is the subject of the bet, including past-posting and pressing bets.

6. To reduce the amount wagered or cancel the bet after acquiring knowledge of the outcome of the game or other event which is the subject of the bet, including pinching bets.

7. To manipulate, with the intent to cheat, any component of a gaming device in a manner contrary to the designed and normal operational purpose for the component, including, but not limited to, varying the pull of the handle of a slot machine, with knowledge that the manipulation affects the outcome of the game or with knowledge of any event that affects the outcome of the game.

8. To offer, promise or give anything of value to anyone for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a race, sporting event, contest or game upon which a wager may be made, or to place, increase or decrease a wager after acquiring knowledge, not available to the general public, that anyone has been offered, promised or given anything of value for the purpose of influencing the outcome of the race, sporting event, contest or game upon which the wager is placed, increased or decreased.

9. To change or alter the normal outcome of any game played on an interactive gaming system or the way in which the outcome is reported to any participant in the game.

NRS 465.083 Cheating. It is unlawful for any person, whether he is an owner or employee of or a player in an establishment, to cheat at any gambling game.

– Nevada Revised Statutes

It looks like the state of Nevada thinks cheating at casino games is illegal, too.

How about this? Don’t take stuff that doesn’t belong to you.

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