How the Tran Organization Cheated Casinos Out of $7 Million in Baccarat

Card in Sleeve

Most gamblers wouldn’t think of cheating casinos. After all, being caught doing so can result in severe legal consequences.

But here’s the question: would you consider cheating if you could win millions of dollars and get away with it?

Some gamblers would still avoid taking such risks with the legal system. Others might seriously consider cheating under the belief that the risk is worth the reward.

The Tran Organization is living proof that gambling swindlers can make a fortune and get away with their crimes — at least for a while anyways.

This skilled cheating ring successfully beat casinos over a number of years. By the time they were finally caught, the Tran Organization had made over $7 million in profits.

They used a rare cheating method called false shuffling to beat gambling establishments. If executed properly, false shuffling can guarantee huge profits in any given session.

Keep reading to find out how this cheating technique works and more on one of the most-successful cheating rings of all time.

What Is False Shuffling?

False shuffling requires that a dealer and one or more players work together at a baccarat table. The dealer’s job is to false shuffle the shoe, while the gambler(s) accomplice must identify the unshuffled cards and increase their bets accordingly.

Everything starts with the dealer shuffling cards so that they come out in a pre-arranged order based on the previous round. The croupier pretends to shuffle the entire shoe when they’re really only pretending to do so for a certain group of cards.

The unshuffled portion of the shoe is referred to as a “slug.” The slug normally consists of between 40-60 cards that will be dealt in the exact order that they were put into the discard tray.

Of course, the challenge for cheating players is knowing when to expect the slug. This requires tracking cards from the previous round so that they can identify the slug’s pre-arranged order.

Baccarat players are allowed to write down card values/suits so that they can track them and bet on trends. A false shuffling crew takes advantage of this by writing down card values for cheating purposes.

Once the cards are recorded, the gambler(s) can better recognize an unshuffled slug when it’s being dealt in the ensuing round.

If another gambling accomplice is present, the ringleader signals them that the slug it is currently being dealt. Involved players then increase their bets on either the banker or player hand, depending upon which is going to win.

In many cases, the cheating players will only have around a 10-card window to raise their bets and take advantage of the situation. Certain ring members may even alternate between placing minimum bets on the losing side just to maintain a cover.

You can see that there are plenty of elements at play in a false shuffling scam. Therefore, the dealer and players must have a sound system in place before they begin cheating.

Here’s a recap of the most important aspects of false shuffling:

  • Tracking cards – One of the gamblers needs to track cards on a piece of paper so that they can identify the slug. The player who undertakes this task is called the “tracker.”
  • Card slug placement – The beginning of the shoe is a good place for the dealer to expertly place a slug. This placement gives the gamblers a better idea on when to look for unshuffled cards.
  • False shuffle – Dealers need to practice their false shuffle before using this technique in a live game. An unconvincing false shuffle can draw suspicion from the pit boss, shift manager, or surveillance.
  • Spotting the slug – One or more cheaters are watching for a specific group of cards that’ll come out in reverse order. An example would be A, 5, 7, 9, 2, 10 coming out as 10, 2, 9, 7, 5, A after the false shuffle.
  • Increasing bets – The gamblers need to increase their wagers when they’ve identified the slug and are ready to take advantage of positive expected value. Players can either bet the table max or wager a smaller amount to minimize suspicion.

One more thing worth mentioning is that the tracker can either use a physical signal or electronic signal to alert members to the slug.

A simple —albeit obvious — signal would be a tracker coughing when they notice unshuffled cards coming out. The advantage to physical signals is that they’re simplistic and don’t require high-tech devices.

Of course, the downside is that it’s hard to use a physical system that other casino personnel won’t eventually spot. Using electronic devices can help solve this problem by offering a more discreet way for ring members to communicate.

The signal can be delivered by a gambler who’s wearing a hidden microphone underneath their shirt collar. Each gambler can wear an in-ear cellular communicator so that they can hear signals.

As you can see, false shuffling can either involved electronics or done the old school way. But certain elements of this scheme are staples, including a quality dealer, proper planning, and good team communication.

How Did the Tran Organization Use False Shuffling to Win Millions?

The Tran Organization started in 2002 in San Diego, California. Founding members included Van Thu Tran, her husband Phuong Quoc “Pai Gao John” Truong, and her family member/accomplice Tai Khiem Tran.

The plot began when a female dealer was caught performing a false shuffle at San Diego’s Sycuan Casino in early 2002. This seemed like an isolated incident, although it was anything but.

The dealer knew Truong and was performing research for him. She was trying to figure out the different methodologies of performing a false shuffle without being caught.

The croupier was fired from the casino after helping several players at the table win hundreds of dollars. However, she had successfully managed to gather intelligence that the Tran Organization would later use to their benefit.

Truong didn’t seem like the typical casino cheating mastermind. Instead, he was a former casino employee with a bit of a gambling problem.

He used his unassuming identity and knowledge of casinos to set up the false shuffling plot. Truong also recruited dealers who would be willing to learn false shuffling and help the group cheat.

Tran’s role was to recruit players who could help them in the scheme. She found 15 family members who were willing to visit various casinos in the area and bet big during favorable card slugs.

Their first target was Cache Creek Casino near Sacramento, CA. They had gamblers rotate in and out of Cache Creek’s mini-baccarat tables day and night.

According to FBI agent Peter Casey, the crew made around $20,000 per shift. Overall, they walked away from Cache Creek with $150,000 in winnings before moving on to the next casino.

The team’s confidence was instantly bolstered, and they hatched a plot to take advantage of casinos all over the US and Canada. Some players stayed in California, some went to the Midwest, and others traveled to Canada.

The goal was to hit as many different casinos as possible and leave before staff members became suspicious of the cheating ring. Casey said that the casino victims usually didn’t realize what happened until a couple of weeks after the Tran Organization left.

The cheating ring peaked in 2005 when they visited Connecticut’s Foxwoods Casino. The Tran Organization’s ranks had grown to over 40 members, and they were winning up to $50k every 10 minutes at the table.

The group was looking to expand their horizons, so they started cheating Foxwood’s blackjack games. The upside to cheating blackjack is that the stakes are normally higher.

But the downside is that casinos don’t allow players to track cards, because it would aid card counters. The cheaters resorted to high-tech devices to get around these rules and successfully beat blackjack.

A single member in each group/shift would track cards being dealt. The tracker’s goal was to find the slug and alert fellow cheating players, who were all wearing hidden listening devices.

The crew also utilized a computer program that would read out the order of cards being dealt after the croupier had performed a false shuffle.

The tracker used physical signals to alert gamblers on how to wager. Puffing a cigarette with one finger on it meant to bet regular while puffing with two fingers on the cigarette meant to double bets.

This elaborate plot allowed the Tran Organization to make more money than ever before, including an $868,000 score during one trip to East Chicago’s Resorts East Casino in 2005.

Prior to this, each player would usually leave a table with less than $10,000 to avoid reporting winnings to the IRS. But they became bolder and more confident with each successful casino trip.

Tran Organization Tries to Bribe Undercover Agent

Various casinos had grown suspicious that they were being cheated in some manner by dealers and/or players. Casey and the FBI were eventually brought onto the case to help figure out why gambling venues from Southern California to Canada were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They didn’t have clear evidence that the Tran gang was using illegitimate means to win. But they eventually caught a break when dealers working with the organization turned FBI informants.

The dealers turned because Truong became greedy and started shortchanging them. Fed up, some of the croupiers began helping the FBI identify all of the ring’s members.

These events led to agents from the Mississippi Gaming Commission going undercover to meet Truong. The agents posed as croupiers and pretended to work out a deal with the ringleader.

The FBI recorded Truong saying: “I only need two guys to go in there with me and light up a cigarette and game over – that’s it. I can smoke my cigarette like this, then you already know where to bet, what to bet.”

By 2006, Casey already had a lot of evidence. But the FBI waited until they actually got video of the Tran Organization in action.

The ring headed back to Sycuan Casino, which is the very first gambling venue that they successfully worked over. This time was different, though, because the FBI was watching them.

Willy Tran, one of the organization’s best trackers, made $20,000 in 20 minutes before they left Sycuan. While this might have brought the gang temporary satisfaction, it was actually the final piece of evidence that the FBI needed to nail them.

The Fallout from the Tran Organization’s Cheating Ring

The FBI served indictments to Tran Organization members in 2007. In all, 47 members were rounded up on charges of theft, racketeering, and money laundering.

Truong quickly pleaded guilty and received 70 months in prison. Tran waited until 2011 to plead guilty and received 36 months behind bars.

Tran was also ordered to pay $5.7 million in restitution to several casinos. According to FBI archives, Tran admitted that she, Truong, and others cheated casinos to win a combined $7 million.

Assistant Attorney General Breuer summed up the case by saying, “Using false shuffles, specially developed computer programs, concealed microphones, and transmitters, and a web of co-conspirators, Van Thu Tran and her co-conspirators obtained up to $7 million during card cheats.”

In total, 42 members of the Tran Organization pleaded guilty to minimum charges of cheating conspiracy.


Most casino cheaters don’t get away with their plot for long. In fact, many such stories involve the perpetrators being caught within months.

But the Tran Organization tapped into a cheating technique that was lightly known up until the mid-2000s. They used false shuffling to earn millions of dollars after targeting a total of 29 American and Canadian casinos.

Their ultimate downfall was greed, especially on the part of Truong, who began shortchanging dealers. I wonder how much longer their scam could’ve gone on if leadership had gotten greedy.

Regardless, I highly doubt that the Tran Organization would’ve continued getting away with their plot for many more years. After all, they were already beating the odds by scamming casinos for five years.

Cheating casinos almost never works out for the involved parties. Even when a group does get away with this, they eventually let greed get the best of them and blow their cover.

That said, the safest way to play baccarat is simply with basic strategy. Sure, you’ll be facing a house edge of 1.06% when playing normally.

But the good thing is that you don’t have to continually look over your shoulder and wonder if/when authorities will catch on to your cheating plot.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.