Casinos Defend Against 'Supernotes'

16 December 2005

LAS VEGAS -- North Korean-produced 'supernotes' -- authentic looking but counterfeit $100 bills -- have infiltrated cashier cages of Strip casinos but are not causing widespread problems, federal and state authorities said.

"They have been passed around, but it's infrequent and there are only a small percentage of the notes that have been passed here," said Paul Masto, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service office in Las Vegas. "We're a city with a considerable amount of cash transactions. We probably take in $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 in counterfeit money in town per week."

Currency validation equipment on slot machines and the education of dealers, casino cage personnel and gaming employees who handle money is the first line of defense against counterfeiting.

"Counterfeiting is a considerable problem, but we do a lot of training with the casinos so they can recognize counterfeit money, credit fraud and identity theft," Masto said.

The spread of supernotes was the centerpiece of an FBI investigation this year that led to arrests in several U.S. cities. One of the individuals charged, according to the indictment, was a Taiwanese national who had agreed to move the counterfeit currency through Las Vegas.

Jerry Markling, chief of the State Gaming Control Board's enforcement division, said the agency isn't aware of recent concerns about supernotes.

Markling said gaming agents will routinely work with federal and international authorities on counterfeiting issues.

"We've had some counterfeiting cases involving chips and tokens," Markling said. "When there's an indication of some new type of counterfeit currency, the Secret Service has been really good about flooding the area with training information."

Masto said most counterfeit currency is of poor quality and can be readily spotted. Most fake bills are picked up by currency validation systems.

JCM American Corp., a Japan-based manufacturer of currency acceptors -- also known as bill validators -- has its devices embedded into 85 percent of all North American slot machines and about 75 percent of the world market, company Vice President Tom Neiman said.

While not commenting on specifics concerning the supernotes, Neiman said the company interacts with representative of the U.S. Department of the Treasury and other federal authorities to ensure counterfeit currency doesn't make it through its validation devices.

"The counterfeiters today are not some semi-idiots. They do a good job," Neiman said. "That's why we work closely with Treasury to make sure we're updated and our products can detect counterfeit notes at all levels."

JCM, which has its American headquarters in Las Vegas, unveiled a currency validation product for table games during the September Global Gaming Expo. The company is also working on a device for soda, snack and other vending machines that will return change in currency rather than coin.

Neiman said when new counterfeit markings are discovered, the company quickly updates its devices.

"Every now and then, we get a really good $10 or a really good $100," Masto said. "We'll allow JCM to come in and capture the signatures so they can do what they need to with their equipment."

Casino employees, however, can be the primary arbitrators of what is and isn't counterfeit.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said the Secret Service routinely conducts training for all cash handling workers at the company's 12 Strip resorts.

"Ultimately, everyone gets training to try and spot this stuff," Feldman said. "They'll send in experts in what amounts to large training seminars for our staff."


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