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Glossary Term


A holdout in gambling refers to a concealed device or method used by a player to secretly introduce or remove cards or other game pieces from play, typically to cheat and gain an unfair advantage. Holdouts can take various forms, from mechanical devices hidden in clothing or furniture to sleight-of-hand techniques employed by the player. The primary objective of a holdout is to manipulate the outcome of the game in favor of the cheater, often without the knowledge of other players or the dealer. This practice is considered illegal and unethical, as it undermines the integrity of the game and can lead to severe penalties if detected.


Used In: Baccarat, Bingo, Blackjack, Craps, Poker, Roulette


Introduction to Holdout

In gambling, maintaining fairness is crucial to ensuring that everyone has an equal chance of winning. However, some players try to cheat by using methods like holdouts to gain an unfair advantage. A holdout is any technique or device used to secretly add or remove cards, dice, or other game pieces from play. This can involve hidden compartments, specially designed clothing, or even sleight-of-hand tricks. The goal is to manipulate the game’s outcome without other players or the dealer noticing.

Holdouts are a serious issue because they compromise the integrity of the game. When one player cheats, it not only affects their own results but can also impact the entire table, making the game unfair for everyone involved. Casinos and gaming regulators work hard to detect and prevent holdouts to maintain trust in the gambling industry. Understanding what holdouts are and how they work is essential for players and casino staff to ensure that games remain fair and enjoyable for everyone.

Definition of Holdout

greedyA holdout in gambling is a method or device used by a player to secretly manipulate the game by introducing or removing cards, dice, chips, or other game elements. The primary purpose of a holdout is to cheat by gaining an unfair advantage over other players or the house. Holdouts can be mechanical devices hidden in clothing, accessories, or furniture, or they can involve skilled sleight-of-hand techniques performed by the player. Regardless of the method, the use of a holdout is intended to deceive others and alter the outcome of the game in favor of the cheater. This practice is illegal and considered highly unethical, as it disrupts the fairness and integrity of the game.

How Holdouts Work

Holdouts operate through various methods, all aimed at discreetly altering the game to benefit the cheater. Mechanical holdouts can be hidden in clothing, such as special sleeves or pockets designed to store extra cards or chips. These devices can quickly retrieve or deposit game elements without drawing attention.

Another common method involves furniture modifications, where hidden compartments in tables or chairs allow for the secret exchange of cards or dice. Players can also use accessories like rings or watches equipped with mechanisms to hold or switch game pieces. Sleight-of-hand techniques are another form of holdout, where a player uses manual dexterity to manipulate game pieces. This can involve palming cards, performing false shuffles, or executing quick switches, all intended to deceive other players and the dealer.

Regardless of the specific method, the goal of a holdout is to remain undetected while gaining an unfair advantage. Casinos and gaming establishments implement strict surveillance and employ trained staff to detect and prevent the use of holdouts, ensuring the integrity of the games.

Types of Holdouts

Various types of holdouts exist, each designed to deceive in different ways. Let's explore some common types:


Mechanical Holdouts

These are physical devices concealed on the player's person or within gaming accessories, such as sleeves, pockets, or belts. Mechanical holdouts enable quick and covert manipulation of game elements, like cards or chips.
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Furniture Holdouts

This type involves modifications to gaming tables or chairs, incorporating hidden compartments or mechanisms to facilitate the exchange of cards, dice, or chips without detection.
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Accessory Holdouts

Players may use everyday accessories, such as rings, watches, or jewelry, equipped with hidden mechanisms to hold or switch game pieces during play.

Sleight-of-Hand Holdouts

These holdouts rely on the player's manual dexterity and skill in performing sleight-of-hand techniques. Examples include palming cards, executing false shuffles, or quick switching of game elements to gain an advantage.

Electronic Holdouts

In modern times, electronic devices have been developed to aid in cheating. These devices can read cards, manipulate dice, or transmit information to an accomplice, all with the aim of cheating the game.

Legality and Ethical Considerations

The use of holdouts in gambling not only violates the rules of the game but also constitutes a criminal offense in many jurisdictions. Laws governing gambling typically include provisions specifically targeting cheating behavior, including the use of holdout devices or techniques. Penalties for cheating can range from fines to imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense and local regulations. Moreover, the ethical implications of cheating extend beyond legal considerations. Cheating undermines the trust and integrity of the gambling industry, which relies on the assurance of fair play to maintain its reputation and legitimacy. Players engage in gambling with the understanding that outcomes are determined by chance and skill, not by deceitful tactics employed by fellow participants. Cheating through holdouts unfairly advantages the perpetrator at the expense of other players and the house. It distorts the natural flow of the game, resulting in unjust outcomes and potentially causing financial harm to honest participants. The consequences of cheating can extend beyond individual games, affecting the overall atmosphere and trust within the gambling community. In response to the threat posed by holdouts and other cheating methods, casinos and gaming authorities employ rigorous security measures to detect and deter such behavior. Surveillance systems monitor gameplay for suspicious activity, while trained staff are vigilant for signs of cheating during live gaming sessions. Additionally, casinos may implement strict protocols for handling equipment and conducting inspections to minimize the risk of holdout usage.

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Historical Context

The use of holdouts in gambling has a long and colorful history, dating back centuries to the earliest forms of organized wagering. In the early days of gambling, when games were often played in informal settings like taverns or saloons, cheating was rampant and largely unchecked. Players employed a variety of cunning tactics, including holdouts, to gain an edge over their opponents and secure illicit winnings. As gambling evolved and became more institutionalized, particularly with the rise of casinos in the 20th century, so too did the methods of cheating. Holdout devices became more sophisticated, with skilled artisans and inventors devising increasingly elaborate mechanisms to outsmart casino security measures. These devices ranged from simple sleeves or pockets rigged to hold extra cards to complex mechanical contraptions concealed within clothing or accessories.

Notable figures throughout history have gained notoriety for their use of holdouts and other cheating methods. Legendary gamblers and hustlers, such as the infamous “Greek” George Joseph and the master card mechanic Richard Marcus, became renowned for their skillful manipulation of games through sleight of hand and cleverly concealed devices. Despite efforts by casinos and regulatory authorities to combat cheating, holdouts continue to pose a threat to the integrity of gambling establishments worldwide. The ongoing arms race between cheaters and security experts underscores the persistent challenge of maintaining fairness and trust within the gambling industry.

Famous Holdout Cases

Throughout history, several infamous cases of holdout usage have captured the public's attention and highlighted the extent to which cheating can occur in the gambling world.

Richard Marcus: The Master of Past Posting

Richard MarcusRichard Marcus, a self-proclaimed expert in the art of cheating, gained infamy for his ingenious “past posting” scheme, a technique that involved manipulating bets after the outcome of the game was known. Marcus meticulously devised a holdout device concealed within his palm, allowing him to swap high-value chips for lower denominations surreptitiously. This enabled him to exploit the momentary distraction of the dealer or casino staff and walk away with sizable winnings undetected. Marcus's audacious exploits spanned multiple casinos and garnered him significant wealth until his eventual downfall when his activities were uncovered, leading to legal repercussions and tarnishing his reputation in the gambling world.

Tommy Glenn Carmichael: The Slot Machine Savant

Tommy Glenn Carmichael, a master of innovation in cheating devices, revolutionized the art of cheating in slot machines. Carmichael's most infamous invention, the “light wand,” was a slender tool fitted with a light sensor that could disrupt the internal mechanisms of slot machines. By inserting the light wand into the payout chute, Carmichael could trigger a jackpot without investing any money, effectively robbing the casino of its earnings. His prowess in manipulating slot machines earned him substantial profits until his illicit activities caught the attention of gaming authorities. Carmichael's subsequent arrest and conviction marked the end of his lucrative but illegal enterprise, serving as a cautionary tale about the consequences of cheating in gambling.

The MIT Blackjack Team: Masters of Card Counting and Collaboration

MIT Blackjack Team

The MIT Blackjack Team, a group of highly skilled students and alumni from MIT, achieved legendary status in the world of gambling for their unparalleled success in blackjack. Led by figures like Bill Kaplan and J.P. Massar, the team employed advanced card counting techniques and sophisticated signaling systems to gain an edge over the house. In addition to their mastery of probability theory, the team also utilized holdout devices to discreetly exchange cards and manipulate gameplay, further enhancing their advantage. Through meticulous planning and disciplined execution, the team amassed millions of dollars in winnings from casinos across the globe. However, their success eventually attracted unwanted attention, leading to the unraveling of their operation and subsequent banishment from casinos. Despite their fall from grace, the MIT Blackjack Team remains a symbol of the ingenuity and collaborative spirit that defines the pursuit of success in the gambling world.


Detection and Prevention

Detecting and preventing holdout usage is a critical aspect of maintaining the integrity of gambling establishments. Casinos employ a variety of methods and technologies to identify and thwart cheating attempts in real-time.

Surveillance Systems: Modern casinos are equipped with sophisticated surveillance systems that monitor gaming areas with high-definition cameras and advanced software algorithms. These systems enable casino personnel to closely observe gameplay and detect any suspicious behavior or anomalies that may indicate cheating activity. Surveillance teams are trained to identify common cheating techniques, including the use of holdout devices, and intervene when necessary to prevent unfair play.

Trained Staff: Casino staff members, including dealers, pit bosses, and security personnel, undergo extensive training to recognize signs of cheating and respond appropriately. Dealers are trained to maintain vigilant watch over the gaming table and to be alert for any unusual behavior exhibited by players. Pit bosses oversee multiple gaming tables and are responsible for monitoring overall game integrity, while security personnel are stationed throughout the casino floor to respond swiftly to any suspected cheating incidents.

Physical Inspections: Casino management conducts regular physical inspections of gaming equipment, including tables, chairs, and accessories, to check for any signs of tampering or unauthorized modifications. Specialized equipment, such as magnetic wands and X-ray scanners, may be used to detect hidden holdout devices or electronic cheating devices concealed on players' persons or within gaming accessories.

Collaborative Efforts: Casinos collaborate with gaming regulators, law enforcement agencies, and industry organizations to share information and best practices for detecting and preventing cheating. Regular audits and inspections are conducted to ensure compliance with gaming regulations and to identify any areas for improvement in security protocols. Additionally, casinos may participate in industry-wide initiatives aimed at combating cheating and promoting fair play within the gambling community.

By implementing a multi-faceted approach to detection and prevention, casinos can effectively deter cheating and maintain the integrity of their games. However, constant vigilance and ongoing training are essential to stay ahead of evolving cheating techniques and protect the interests of both players and the house.

Impact on the Gambling Industry

The presence of holdout devices and other cheating methods within the gambling industry has profound implications for both players and casino operators alike. Instances of cheating, whether through sophisticated holdout devices or other deceptive tactics, undermine the fundamental principles of fairness and integrity upon which the industry relies. For players, the discovery of cheating can erode trust in the fairness of casino games, leading to disillusionment and reluctance to participate in future gambling activities. This loss of trust not only affects individual players but also poses a broader reputational risk to the entire gambling establishment. Regulatory bodies, tasked with upholding industry standards, closely scrutinize instances of cheating and may impose severe penalties on casinos found to have inadequate security measures or lax enforcement of gaming regulations. Financially, cheating incidents can result in significant losses for both players and casinos, with fraudulent payouts and increased compliance costs impacting bottom lines. Moreover, the reputational damage incurred from cheating scandals can have lasting consequences, deterring potential customers and investors and jeopardizing long-term profitability. Ultimately, addressing the root causes of cheating and implementing robust security measures are essential for preserving the integrity and sustainability of the gambling industry.

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