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Book Review : Memoirs of a Casino Cheater

November 06, 1985|DAVID M. HAYANO | Hayano is the author of "Poker Faces" (University of California). and

Loaded Dice, the True Story of a Casino Cheat by John Soares (Taylor: $15.95)

Who wouldn't like to do what John Soares did: stroll confidently into a gambling casino and walk out an hour later, pockets bulging with money.

As enticing as this might sound, what one might not like are his methods. From 1962 to 1972, Soares was a crossroader--a thief and a cheat--who worked with a crew of like-minded people to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from casinos around the world. They opened slot machines with duplicate keys and set the reels to win jackpots. They switched regular dice for weighted ones. They practiced to perfection their ploys of disguise and deception.

Beginning his early adult life as a doughnut shop owner in Visalia, Calif., Soares ran into some bad luck: "I had failed with the doughnut shop, struck out as a legitimate dealer, ended up in prison and was being sued for divorce by my wife. My life had hardly been an uninterrupted climb up the ladder of success."

In the Carson City prison, he patiently learned the craft of dealing and cheating from Ned Coleman, a master card mechanic. At 34, he left prison and joined a crew of Las Vegas crossroaders organized by Glen Grayson, known at that time as the King of Crossroaders. Soares estimates that in the 1960s, when the casinos were less supervised, possibly 100 crews of thieves were working in Nevada.

His was the longest and most successful because of strong leadership, discipline and practice. And who would ever suspect that the diverse band of members--the Peter Lorre look-alike, the big, clumsy oaf, the mild-mannered cowboy, the whiner and the female decoy--were working together?

Infamous Black Book

Soares says that he eventually was caught on trumped-up vagrancy charges. Worse yet, his picture was placed in a photo index of convicted and suspected cheaters, the infamous Black Book that Las Vegas casino owners continually update.

Soares later spent eight months in a Macao prison for winning too much under suspicious circumstances. He finally was bailed out by some East Coast gamblers. In order to repay them, he had to do what no crossroader had ever done--switch eight dice at a table in Lake Tahoe with everyone watching! Right hand to left hand, he practiced the move for hours in front of a mirror. His friends provided the distractions: One man asks for change, another spills a drink on the dice layout, and a voluptuous lady leans over to display her ample bosom.

Tossing loaded dice, they won $148,000--enough to pay off the East Coast high-rollers and have some left over for their high-flying life styles.

Other Escapades

This is an exciting book that can be read in one sitting. Numerous other escapades and close calls are offered, as are some of the social and sexual habits of the colorful crew members. As far as I know, this book is the only full-length treatment of the workings of a team of casino cheats. (These crossroaders should not be confused with card-counting blackjack teams or groups who have used hidden microcomputers to keep track of cards or roulette balls. Casinos do not make such fine distinctions and classify stealing and winning with the aid of technical implements--including memory!--as cheating.)

I wondered why one should identify so strongly with Soares and his team. Why does the reader want them to succeed with their high jinks? After all, they were just a bunch of crafty crooks.

I think there is a Robin Hood principle working here: Soares claims that everyone in the casinos (at least in the wide-open 1960s) was stealing, from the managers to the pit bosses to the lowly dealers. It was a challenge--almost an obligation--for them to steal from the bigger thieves, the guys in expensive suits and ties and sparkling pinkie rings.

Indirectly, the greedy values of American materialism and consumption are opened like a festering sore. When the legitimate road to the American dream doesn't pan out, Soares, like many others, finds other ways to share the pie. Rooting for the underdog, for the little guy, is what this book is all about.

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