Beating the House: How a Casino Con Man Won Big -- Until He Lost

Beating the House: How a Casino Con Man Won -- Until He Lost Any fan of the Ocean's Eleven films knows the setup: An inside man handles the cards. A high roller rakes in the dough. Two other players, in on the game, lose money hand over fist. And outside, the communications guy sends information to everyone at the table, telling them when to take a hit and when to stand pat. It's a fun fiction, and a great movie plot, but for Phuong Quoc Truong, the big scam wasn't just a story: For an estimated six years, it was his way of life and a multimillion dollar business. In a video released earlier this week by San Diego's 10 News, Truong's team can be seen at their craft, bilking a casino out of more than $25,000.

Truong, also known as Pai Gow Jon, started out as the inside man. In 2002, while working as a blackjack dealer for the Sycuan, a casino resort located on San Diego's Sycuan Indian Reservation, he latched onto a new way of making money: conspiring with players to help them win. In 2002, he helped his associates walk away with $525 -- and lost his job.

Truong's scam was simple: he performed false shuffles. During the game, he would collect discarded cards in a pile while an outside viewer kept track of the cards' sequence. Later, he would pretend to shuffle them, but would actually keep the pile intact and in order. For the next few hands, Truong's allies would know precisely which cards were coming next.

After getting fired from the Sycuan, Truong and his associates took their show on the road, finding new inside men at other gaming venues. His team hit more than 27 casinos in the U.S. and Canada. In the process, they perfected their technique, ultimately reaching the level where they were able to clear several hundred thousand dollars on some nights. On their best night, they netted $868,000 in 90 minutes of playing.

A Simple Scam Undone By an Honest Man

In blackjack, players add together the face values of their cards, trying to get to 21 without going over. After they take their additional cards -- if they choose to -- the dealer does the same, until he hits 17 or more. If the dealer goes over 21, all players who haven't "busted" win. If the dealer doesn't bust, any player who has gotten closer to 21 than the dealer wins. If the dealer has the best hand, the house beats everyone.

Knowing which cards were coming next, the members of Truong's team were able to predict their hands, as well as the dealer's. This let them manipulate the game, ensuring that they won far more often than not.

By all accounts, the hardest part of the scam was recruiting the inside men -- dealers who were willing to help Truong and his team cheat their casinos. In fact, it's believed that one dealer they attempted to recruit contacted the FBI, which led to Truong's downfall. But not all dealers are as honest, and Truong's team enlisted quite a few: so far, 37 people have been indicted in connection with the scam.

As for Truong, he pleaded guilty to "unlawfully obtaining up to $7 million during card cheats," and was sentenced to 70 months in jail and fines of more than $8.5 million. He also had to surrender several of his assets, including two houses in San Diego, land in Vietnam, a 2001 Porsche Carrera, a Rolex watch, and several other pieces of jewelry.

As the saying goes, the house always wins, and Truong's lost homes, emptied bank accounts, and surrendered jewelry attest to the long arm of the law. On the other hand, some experts have speculated that Truong has millions more hidden away, awaiting him after his release. If so, he has a few years left in prison to plan how he's going to spend his ill-gotten gains.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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zygi & paris

I am happy to hear that someone beat the casino at their own game. They cheat people out of money every day of the week. Sorry that got caught.

November 23 2011 at 12:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did the samething in the Midwest states and it allowed me to retire pretty young thanks to the indians.

November 21 2011 at 5:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A 2001 Porsche ? That car is 10 years old, hardly extravagant. Why did he have a Rolex watch ? Like where did he have to be not late to ? You can buy a 10 year old Porsche for about 20% of new, and a good used pawn Rolex for about $500.00 Both items in reach of say a Baker or Plumber and it's legit....Al-

November 18 2011 at 8:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good for him, way to go!

November 18 2011 at 3:37 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I lived in Las Vegas for many years (recently) and let's clarify one things. Las Vegas was not built on the backs of winners. Sure, there are some people who can control themselves and don't mind throwing money in the garbage (because that's what you're doing) but the vast majority can't control themselves and the casinos manipulate everything around you. There is a reason why natural sunlight doesn't shine in and why you don't see clocks anywhere. I don't agree with cheating but I also don't feel bad for the casinos. I have seen way too many unattended children off on the sidelines while their parents spend their hard earned vacation money thinking they can score big. It's not like you see in the movies folks. It's a dirty dirty business and the only people who can successfully live there, are ones who don't gamble ever. I have never so much as played a slot and I never will. I would much rather control where my money goes and how I spend it.

November 18 2011 at 3:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I feel so safe knowing that the FBI is using all its resources to protect th assets of the millionaires that own these casinos.

November 18 2011 at 3:25 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Where is Occupy Las Vegas, Occupy Jersey City, Occupy Casinos? If Occupy tried that with casino's, they'd be displaced very quickly.

November 18 2011 at 3:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
FCI Fincl Serv

Anybody who gambles is an idiot! The house "always" wins! Most of the casinos manipulate the odds in their favor and add even more to the house's take. They allow a few to win big which then entices more suckers who lose and make the casinos rich!

November 18 2011 at 2:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to FCI Fincl Serv's comment
Shawn is # 1

Disagree. Some people get enjoyment out of gambling and can control themselves. For instance, I dont mind sitting at a table with $100 in Vegas for a few hours drinking free beers and having the chance to win some money. If I lose the $100, oh well I had some free drinks and some fun. If I win, even better.

November 18 2011 at 3:03 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Shawn is # 1's comment

Well, actually, you paid $100 for the drinks and fun.

November 18 2011 at 3:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

I agree man. It's about the thrill of the chance to win some money. Gambling is for responsible adults. If you're there in hopes of making your next mortgage payment or blowing all your paycheck at the tables, you deserve getting bent over by the casino. For those people that do this, If the casinos don't take your money, I'm sure some other sleazy scam or vice will get them.

November 18 2011 at 3:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

I love a good con. Its quite a thrill when you can pull a con and get away with it. The thrill, not the money, is the addiction.

November 18 2011 at 1:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My family was in the business and trust me They got greedy it would have worked longer without getting piggy and coning more dealers. However though any continual winning always draws the pit bosse's attention and eventually you get caught anyway. Hey if you don't want to lose don't gamble the house has the best odds for a reasion dumby.

November 17 2011 at 2:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply