As I write its just 41 days, 21 hours and 54 minutes until Christmas.
Which can mean only one thing. It’s time for my annual Christmas wish list.
All of the scam related paraphernalia and literature missing from my collection.
This year, I have my eye on three things you can buy me.
1) Steve Forte’s Casino Protection
Steve Forte is the world’s leading expert on card cheating and this is his bible. It contains a lifetime of work on every move, gimmick and gambit used to separate casinos from their money. Steve also produced a 4 DVD set of him performing incredible card cheating sleights and companion book called Poker Protection but sadly, I do not own this book.
It’s out of print so be prepared to pay up to $200 for a copy. Of course, if you love me, you’ll do it.
2) Smokey Mountain Shagbark Shells
If $200 is too much to spend on me, why get a set of these beautiful shells for me. Sure, I have over 40 sets of shells used to play this classic swindle but these are among the best. Don’t let their rough and tough plain exterior fool you. These are a thing of beauty.
And they’ll on set you back $47.50.
The Notorious Roscoe from Biloxi performing with the shells
3) The Con Man - Ed McBain
Seriously? You won’t spend $50 on me. Fair enough, if you’re a cheapskate then you can buy me a copy of this book by Ed Mcbain from the 1950s. It’s a fun read. A con man is swindling new yorkers while a serial killer knocks off beautiful woman. The real joy of these books, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, is the fantastic covers. I have six different editions of this book and I’d love a seventh.
You can find this book on ebay or at abebooks for just a few bucks.
There is a perception that con artists have a code of ethics that sets them above the common thieves and thugs.
And yet, in my experience, this is rarely the case.
For most con artists, it’s simply a case of swindling being easier than straight thievery. After all, if the victim gives you his money, it’s a lot simpler than trying to steal it or resorting to violence.
And, I suppose it’s also easier to fool yourself that you’re not a criminal if the victim is, in some way, complicate in the crime.
However, I’ve also heard stories and seen with my own two eyes, con artists resorting to theft, violence and even murder to keep hold of their gains. Take, for example, this story from the police blotter in The Villager newspaper in New York, the spiritual home of the Three Card Monte.
A three-card monte dealer who worked various sidewalk locations on Broadway near Prince St. was arrested Saturday afternoon Oct. 30 for snatching money from the hands of victims, police said. Keith Jackson, 54, urged victims to step closer by saying, “It’s easy, you’ll win. You just need to show me your money,” police said. The suspect grabbed a $100 bill from one victim, $80 from another victim and $500 from a third, according to the complaint filed with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
What do you think?
Doesn’t snatching people’s cash sounds an awful lot like common theft?
Or was he simply taking what he’d won fair and square in a battle of which from which the victim can off second best?
Regardless of the truth of the matter, it is clear that the ‘rules of grift’ are not as black and white as con artist’s biographies and fictional swindlers would have us believe.
I’ve just finished reading The Grifters by Jim Thompson and also recently watch The Flim Flam Man starring George C Scott. Both are highly recommend and both feature the classic keyed punchboard scam.
A punchboard is block of wood or cardboard, perhaps 2-3 cm thick. Drilled in the surface of the block are dozens of tiny holes. The block is covered with a label that covers the holes with a number.
The player pays a small fee to the owner, usually a shopkeeper or bartender, and then punches a hole in one of the numbers with a small punch. If he wins, a small piece of paper pops out of the back telling the player how much he has won.
Many manufacturers would offer for sale ‘keyed punch boards’.
These punch boards would come complete with a key, telling the owner where the winning numbers were. That way, the shopkeeper or bartender could remove the winning numbers in advance.
Often con artists would buy these punchboards in bulk. They would sell the punch board for a few dollars to the shopkeeper. A short time later, his accomplice would come by and win the top prize.
According to punchboard.com (yes, that website exists) at the height of the punchboard’s popularity, dishonest boards outnumbered to honest ones.
I’ve had three separate emails from readers asking questions about the film Inception.
Without spoiling too much of the plot for the four people who have not seen it, Inception swaps back and forth between reality and the dreamworld, leaving the viewer and the characters unsure as to whether they are trapped in the real world or a dream of someone else’s construction.
One of characters, Arthur - played by Joseph Gordon Lovett, carries a loaded casino dice as his totem.
Since only he knows the unique weight and feel of the dice, he simply needs to handle the dice to know whether he is in a world of someone else’s creation.
The question I’ve been asked repeatedly is, can you load a casino dice?
For many people, the answer to this questions has serious philosophical and extensional ramifications for the nature of the film.
These people also have serious opinions on Stargate and Rubik’s Cubes.
Worst. Blog. Ever.
According to Scarne on Dice, the bible for all things bones, a loaded dice is any dice with a weight in it.
Since casino dice tend to be constructed from a clear celluloid, one would assume it would be impossible to load a professional, Vegas style dice.
It’s an idea that has continue to this day, with many people, even casino professionals, assuming it is impossible to mess with a clear dice.
However, this fallacy is based on the assumption that casino dice are completely clear.
Few people notice that the spots on a dice are made by counter sinking small holes in the dice and then filling them with the solid white.
Within months of the introduction of the new, supposedly foolproof dice, a clever scam artist figured out he need simply drill out the spots on one side of the dice and fill them with thin, yet heavy, metal plates.
The metal is then painted and the dice looks 100% real yet will weighted so that the opposite side of the slugs wins.
Obviously, different metals can be used, but popular choices include gold, aluminum and platinum. To give you an idea of the work involved, a set of two dice will set you back around $200.
If the dice maker wishes the dice to roll the chosen number more often, he simply drills a deeper whole and puts in more metal. He may also drill deeper holes on the other sides and fill them with matching paint.
If you use a magnetic metal, you can also juice your dice. These dice would feel and roll normally until a strong magnet is placed under the table.
Clear dice can also be bevelled, rounding the corners or edges to make one side roll more often.
Or they might be shaved, with one side sanded down and respotted.
An expert could tell the difference between them, but only just.
I could on and we could talk about baking dice, suctions, raised edges and slick dice but who knows how far down the Inception rabbit hole that might send you….