While many craps aficionados scoff at the idea that a player can effectively control the roll of the dice, Wynn Las Vegas has become a believer.
The Strip resort has filed a lawsuit in Clark County District Court against frequent customers Leonardo Fernandez and Veronica Dabul, both Argentine nationals, asking for the return of about $700,000 Wynn officials say they illegally won during a monthlong cheating spree that ended with their arrest on July 18.
The two are suspected of working with several unidentified customers who placed bets or distracted dealers and are accused of pulling off their gambit by using an infrequently seen technique known as dice sliding.
As the name implies, dice sliding involves sliding at least one of the dice across the table after positioning it in the hand so that the desired number, generally a six, remains face up.
No one claims that sliding, also called scooting, can deliver exact numbers, but skilled sliders can considerably shorten their odds of winning.
Dabul was released after two days in the Clark County Detention Center. Fernandez was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service on July 25. Immigration officials could not say what Fernandez’s current status was late Friday.
The district attorney has not filed charges against either.
Although sliding cases have come up in the past, few have been reported in recent years to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which had the two arrested.
"It’s not a common form of cheating because it involves a considerable amount of skill and practice," said Jerry Markling, the board’s enforcement chief.
Although not familiar with the lawsuit, he said the $700,000 that Wynn claims it lost was a "relatively large sum. It is unusual for cheaters to be able to win that much."
Alan Mendelson, a former Los Angeles television reporter who has covered gaming issues and now runs a consumer finance website, said he was surprised by the Wynn lawsuit.
"Dice sliding is so obvious that it is easy to stop," he said. "It makes no sense they could get away with that much money unless they had inside help."
Without closely examining details that have not been released, such as how many slides the two engaged in, over the period of time they were spread, or the size of the bets, University of Nevada, Las Vegas gaming professor Anthony Lucas was reluctant to finger employees as complicit.
"I would tend to doubt it," he said, in part because many legitimate dice rolls come up short of the back wall, a key component of sliding.
Many sliding cases remain unknown because the casino quietly shows the players the exit, Lucas said.
A Wynn official declined to comment on the matter. But according to court papers, "Wynn Las Vegas justifiably relied on the defendants’ conduct," as people who visited the property several times and took care to stay apart.
This time, Fernandez checked into the Wynn on June 3, and Dabul arrived at the adjoining Encore on June 12. They did not always play together, and Fernandez did not bet on his own slides, the lawsuit said.
When they won $145,000 on seven slides on the night of July 17, alarm bells went off within Wynn management and caused them to review the tapes, according to the lawsuit. They then called in the gaming board, which arrested the two the next day.
A legal roll is one in which the dice tumble so that their face up becomes random, said David Salas, the gaming board’s deputy enforcement chief. Other gaming experts have listed three components to a valid roll: tossing the dice in the air, having them bounce and then rebound off the back wall.
If a boxman at a craps table sees a roll that doesn’t conform, he can call a "no roll."
Lucas and other experts say the case for sliding is relatively simple. Two sixes, known by names such as boxcars or midnight, pay out at 30-to-1. But ensuring that just one die comes up a six greatly improves the chances of the 30-to-1 payout, even if the other die is tossed at random.
That spread keeps the odds in the player’s favor even if several slides misfire.
Also, Lucas said, a successful slide eliminates any number below seven, so sliders will bet eight, nine or ten among other strategies.
"What scooting does is change the expected value of a bet from negative to positive," Lucas said.
Still, Mendelson, a frequent visitor to Las Vegas for years, said he had seen a slide only once. The player had been on an extended losing streak when he pulled off only one slide that cut his losses slightly, so Mendelson assumed the boxman let it go.
Fernandez, of Buenos Aires, had visited the Wynn on at least 39 occasions over the years, according to hotel records, staying anywhere from two days to two months and often playing craps.
Dabul came once or twice a year for several weeks at a time, playing blackjack and baccarat in addition to craps.
According to what Wynn officials were able to piece together, the two built their winnings in steps over the early summer, working with other people. The court papers depict them as playing different tables, in different teams, with at least one trying to distract people working at the table during slides.
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The starting point for any slide, said several gaming experts, is to stand next to the stick man who is positioned in the middle of a craps table. This gives the player the shortest possible distance to the table’s back wall.
Then, the slider positions the dice in his hand so that at least one will remain face up on the desired number. Usually giving the dice a spin upon release helps desired face to remain up while going across the felt table top.
Finally, at least one of the dice should come just short of the back wall, close enough to keep the boxman from calling a "no roll" while far enough to avoid the rows of hard rubber spikes that form the inside lining of both ends of a table.
Because even basic competence at sliding, also called scooting, can take thousands of practice repetitions, often at home, not many people pull it off, said University of Nevada, Las Vegas gaming professor Anthony Lucas.
"You have to have a real passion for it," he said. "There are scooters, but you can’t become one by just reading a book or watching a video."
Nevada Gaming Control Board deputy enforcement chief David Salas likened sliding to walking a tight rope. "You can do it after a lot of work, but a lot of people fall off," he said.
TIM O’REILEY/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL