Theoretically, poker dealers can cheat by performing false shuffles, stealing chips, and/or deliberately assigning an incorrect amount of chips to a player.
However, all poker dealers must follow strict procedures that make it virtually impossible for them to cheat.
Besides, cheating in casinos is against the law, and any poker dealer who decides to cheat probably isn’t very sensible. No amount of money would justify the risk of losing a good job and possibly being prosecuted.
Now, let’s have a look at six possible ways in which poker dealers could, in theory, cheat, and eight casino countermeasures that prevent that.
Techniques poker dealers could use to cheat
1. False shuffle
There are a few moves in card magic where it looks like you shuffle the cards, but the order of the cards remains the same.
These are called false shuffles. Some of them are relatively easy to learn, and if executed quickly, they do look like a standard shuffle, even if you watch closely.
2. Bottom deal
During the poker pitch, the dealers slide the top card with their thumb. But with practice, you could learn to deal the bottom card instead, and make it look like it’s the top card.
So for example, if the dealer knows the last two cards of the deck are an ace and a king, they could perform the bottom deal when dealing to a friend, so they would have an advantage.
3. False cuts
Just like it’s possible to make it look like you shuffle the deck, although the cards remain in the same order — you can do the same when cutting the deck.
After the shuffle, poker dealers could pretend to cut the deck with a false cut, so that the top card would remain the same.
4. Deliberate miscount
Let’s say player A and player B go all-in, and player A, who has the shortest stack, wins the pot.
The dealer could miscount player A’s stack on purpose and announce that they have, say, $430 instead of $330. This way the player would get an extra hundred for free.
As a poker dealer, I am maniacal about this. When I deal the cards, I always make sure the cards are as low as possible, and actually slide on the felt.
Now, if you “helicopter” the cards (throw them way too high) there is a chance a player may see them, thus getting an unfair advantage. Thankfully, this is not allowed.
6. Stealing chips
No point in stealing poker tournament chips, but when dealing cash poker, the dealer could try to steal a few high-denomination chips from the float.
I guess the easiest way to do this would be to put them in a pocket (although some casinos do not allow dealers to have pockets in their uniform).
This prevents poker dealers from cheating
This may look funny if you’ve never played poker in a casino. Before the actual shuffle, the dealer performs what’s called the scrambling, or wash, or Chemmy shuffle.
Basically they’ll spread the whole deck on the table and mix the cards with both hands, with circular motions. This type of shuffle is designed to change the order of the cards randomly.
2. Riffle, riffle, cut, riffle
Now, when it comes to the actual shuffle, poker dealers (as well as casino dealers in general) must follow a very specific procedure. They can’t just shuffle the deck casually.
Typically, the standard shuffle is a riffle, another riffle, a “strip cut”, and one more riffle, although it may be slightly different depending on where you play.
3. Shuffling machines
And then there are casinos and poker rooms where the dealer doesn’t actually shuffle the deck — shuffling machines do all the work.
In this case, it is physically impossible for poker dealers to perform false cuts or shuffles, as they only cut the deck once and deal the cards.
4. Cutting the deck with one hand
After the standard shuffle (riffle, riffle, strip, riffle), poker dealers must cut the deck.
By doing this quickly, and with both hands, a dealer may be able to make it look like they’ve cut the cards even though they haven’t. So the rule is that dealers must cut the deck with one hand, and keep the other hand on the table.
5. Cut card
In poker, dealers use a few accessories including a special card called the “cut card”. Usually black and thicker than a regular plastic card. This is placed at the bottom of the deck.
This prevents two possible cheating techniques — the bottom deal, explained earlier, and flashing the bottom card (exposing a single card is unlikely to give anyone a big advantage, but obviously it’s better not to do it).
6. Cutting/spreading the chips
We’ve already seen how poker dealers could miscount someone’s stack on purpose and cheat by awarding that player an extra few chips.
But this is virtually impossible simply because when counting a stack, dealers must follow the same procedure at all times. This means cutting down and spreading all stacks so that the amount is visible to the eye in the sky, as well as to all players.
7. Burn cards
This is a procedure that’s been implemented in a few casino games, but it’s especially important in Texas Hold’em as well as all common poker games.
The dealer cannot deal any community card unless a card has been “burned” (discarded, usually close to the pot). If the dealer forgets to burn a card, the floor must be called.
8. Clearing hands
Finally, all casino dealers must clear or clap their hands to show they are not hiding chips in their hand.
Typically, the rule isn’t as strict for poker dealers, but you’ll probably see them clear their hands at least before leaving the table.
What happens if poker dealers cheat
In casinos, any form of cheating is unacceptable and will almost always lead to dismissal.
If a poker dealer is caught cheating, chances are they will lose their job immediately. They may also be prosecuted as cheating is against the law.
If a poker player is caught cheating, they may be taken to court although it depends on how they were trying to cheat, and for what amount. Management may simply ban them permanently without reporting them.
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