FBI Shuts Down Casino Scam Worth Millions

Whoever coined the term “Cheaters never prosper” must not be familiar with the criminal enterprise known as the Tran Organization.  Forty-five year old Van Thu Tran, along with other individuals including her husband, parents, extended family, and friends, were charged with participation in a scheme to cheat casinos at gaming tables.   To date, 47 of the 42 individuals indicted in the case have entered guilty pleas to various charges.

According to the FBI, the scam was relatively simple, but resulted in great profit to the Tran Organization.

Van Thu Tran, the Tran Organization’s co-founder, pled guilty last month to scamming casinos across the United States.  It is alleged that her organization bilked millions of dollars from those casinos in what the FBI believes was one of the largest card cheating cases in recent history.  Tran and her husband were dealers at a San Diego area Indian tribal casino in 2002 when they hatched a plan to use what is known as a “false shuffle” to track cards, guaranteeing successful betting.

According to the FBI’s San Diego Field Office Special Agent Peter Casey, one of several case agents working the Tran investigation, “Initially, it was a pretty bare bones operation.  It’s a sophisticated scam, but at the same time it’s simple.  And that’s why it worked so well. The organization controlled every aspect of the table.” Over a period of time, the couple branched out from an Asian card game called Pai Gow to blackjack.  They enlisted various family members, friends and other casino dealers in their scheme, after promising a quick windfall.

Years back, tribal casino security was not exactly sophisticated.  Because of this, the Trans were able to easily get away with their scams.  The FBI estimates that over $7 million was stolen from 29 casinos from Canada to Mississippi, in the time frame spanning 2002 to 2007.

Making the Scam Work

After being signaled, one of the crooked dealers would reportedly make a false shuffle using sleight-of-hand techniques that went undetected by pit bosses and security cameras.  The false shuffles would create what is known as a “slug” – a group of played cards whose order would not change when the rest of the cards were shuffled.  When the slug next came to the top of the deck, members of the ring recognized the card pattern and knew how to bet.

“The ring eventually began using card trackers, nearby spotters who used concealed devices to relay the order of the played cards to someone at a remote location who instantly entered the information into a computer. When the slug reappeared, the computer operator picked up the pattern and relayed it to the spotter, who then secretly signaled the bettors. One finger on a cigarette, for example, might mean bet, two fingers might mean stand pat.  It was almost like a catcher giving signs to the pitcher in baseball,” Agent Casey said. In one instance, the ring won $900,000 in blackjack during a single sitting.

Authorities Close In on the Tran Organization

Several of the casinos realized they were being cheated, although they did not quite know how – that was when they contacted the FBI and the case was opened in 2004.  As tribal casinos got hip to the scam and beefed up security, the Tran Organization began hitting other casinos in the United States and Canada.

Authorities indicate that Tran and her husband had two homes in San Diego, property in Vietnam, high-end luxury vehicles, expensive jewelry, and other high-end items, most of which was seized and forfeited upon their arrests.

In the end, FBI agents broke the case through surveillance, wiretaps, an undercover operative posing as a crooked dealer, and strong partnerships with IRS investigators, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the California Department of Justice, and the Ontario Provincial Police.

About the author

Arlene Culpepper, Asst. Editor-in-Chief

Vice-President & Asst. Editor-in-Chief of The Heat Magazine, Arlene is a Louisiana native, Certified Paralegal, Publicist, Owner of MIKODreamz PR, co-owner of 504Diffusion, writer, producer, and jack of all trades, who is heavily involved in her community as well as serving as Media Advisor for New Orleans Union for Entertainment (NOUE), Member of the 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, & 2016 NOLA Music Awards & Member of the Press Club of New Orleans. Her work is published across the web. She is also working on her first novel & aspires to turn it into a film & is currently writing the authorized biography of the legendary Pimp C of UGK. She can be reached via email at Arlene@theheatmag.com. Follow her on Twitter - @Arlene_HeatMag & Instagram - @hurricanearlene.