It sounds like the set-up to a Hollywood movie.
But it’s true: the picturesque Marina Bay Sands Casino in Singapore was taken for more than £250,000 by a baccarat syndicate led by a female protagonist known as The Sorcerer.
And what’s more, they made their buck simply by following the instructions of a routine Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
Unfortunately for the gang, The Sorcerer couldn’t magic them out of the criminal charges that have since come their way….
Trying Their Luck
The incident in question happened as long ago as December 2022 – the court case that has followed has rumbled on for months as the jury tries to understand whether the syndicate had cheated or merely been ‘creative’ in their strategy.
The Sorcerer would be seated at the baccarat table wearing a concealed earpiece. When her cards were dealt, she would relay her hand to a waiting team of accomplices, who included Tan Kian Yi and Hung Jung-Hao. The gang communicated via a chat messaging app, with their group ingeniously titled ‘15/12 Work in Singapore Chat Group’.
They believed they had set up a ‘secret system’ that would ensure they had an edge over the dealer – said strategy contained in an Excel spreadsheet that the accomplices had open in front of them. They would then tell The Sorcerer how to play her hand.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: there is no system that can beat baccarat, a game of pure chance with a clear and defined house edge. However, if I also told you that the gang walked away £258,000 richer, you might be interested to know a little more about this soothsaying spreadsheet, which – according to Tan – was a foolproof strategy created by someone, and I’m genuinely not making this up, with the codename ‘Kelvin’.
As is often the way with these things, the syndicate was caught out and hauled in for questioning, with Tan and Hung charged with various offences and at least three other individuals accused of being part of the ruse. Tan has since pleaded guilty to the charges levied at him.
Hung was the first to have his collar felt after Marina Bay security chiefs spotted him acting suspiciously on CCTV. After he was arrested, it’s thought his accomplices fled from Singapore and headed for Malaysia, where they were caught and deported back to face questioning.
The court case is rumbling on because defence lawyers are arguing that their clients have done nothing wrong – their system involved manipulating data, they argue, as opposed to cheating or fraud, which comes with a heavy price in Singapore of prison sentences of up to seven years.
The case continues….
Although blackjack is usually the game that architects of is-it-clever-or-is-it-cheating tactics target.
But baccarat has had its moments over the years, with criminal gangs, wily individuals and even millionaire poker professionals trying their luck at manipulating the rules of the game to their own advantage.
Phil Ivey, who is considered by many to be one of the best poker players of all time, won £7.7 million playing Punto Banco, a variant of baccarat, at the Crockfords Club, one of Mayfair’s dazzling casinos.
But the operator refused to send Ivey his money, claiming he had used a technique called ‘edge sorting’ to defraud the casino of the seven-figure sum. This basically requires the individual to spot defects or imperfections in the pattern or form of the cards, enabling them to predict which cards are on the table or about to be dealt next.
The Supreme Court decided that Ivey had cheated, claiming that his interactions with the dealer – which he claimed were down to ‘superstition’ – were a bid to defraud the house.
Sometimes, baccarat is the target of an ‘inside job’. In 2020, Chenguang Ni won nearly £700,000 at the table at a casino in Maryland with a success rate of 18 winning hands out of 21, including 14 in a row – given that the average player wins less than 50% of hands in baccarat, this was naturally a cause for much suspicion.
The casino called in the FBI, and after examining CCTV tapes and surveillance footage they learned that the dealer, Ming Zhang, had not been shuffling the cards – enabling Ni to know the order of the deck. It was also suggested that Ni had been allowed to take photos of the cards, before taking periodic trips to the toilet to review the images.
Something similar happened at the Star Casino in Sydney a year later. Here, the dealer took a peek at the order of the cards in the deck, before communicating the combinations to his accomplice at the table via a messaging app.
Once again CCTV caught them in the act, with the dealer – Hieu Duc Lam – sentenced to a two-year jail term, which would be served via an intensive correction order.