The Tran organization, big cheaters in the gambling world

Lucas Costa
June 4, 2022

Cheating is done everywhere and it is no different in the gambling world. Even in the casino people try to cheat and often they succeed. Until they are caught, but then they have usually already made a lot of money.

Such was the case with the Tran Organization, which over the years has made more than seven million dollars in casinos throughout the United States. The Tran family used a simple yet very effective way to do this and started it at the beginning of this century.

The Tran Oranization

The criminal group was founded by Vietnamese Van Thu Tran and Phuong Quoc Truong. The couple worked in a casino in San Diego and had hatched a plan to fool the casinos in the U.S. and take money from them. When a casino employee was fired in 2002 for fraud in dealing the cards at her table, Tran was given an idea about how to cheat. He began making a plan to execute it as best he could.

Working with (many) family members proved rewarding

When the croupier still worked for the casino, the couple had watched closely how she proceeded when dealing the cards. The casino saw the incident as a one-time incident and thought it had been resolved after the dismissal, but nothing could be further from the truth. It cost them quite a bit as the scam continued.

Why was their way of cheating so successful? They used numerous family members who they could trust (at least in the beginning) and they all cooperated so that the fraud could take place on a large scale and a lot of money could be won.

How did they cheat?

So how did the scam work? It began by playing the game of Pai Gow. They did this by shuffling to determine which cards were drawn. This was an instant success and the Trans decided to involve more family members to increase the chances of winning.

The basis of the cheating, then, is the shuffling of the cards. The dealer ensures that a certain part of the cards is shielded from the rest and that they remain in the same order as they were originally.

Why is the cheating not seen?

This means that the same cards are dealt one after the other and you know what to expect as a player. Isn’t this obvious, you might think? If you are dealing with a good croupier it won’t, because they have mastered the technique so well that you won’t even notice what they are doing. It’s just like magic: you’re being tricked but you don’t see it.

Trying your luck in other casinos too

When the first dealer who did the trick was fired, they started playing in other casinos as well and did so with different casino games so it was less noticeable what was going on. The group at the time they decided to go to Sacramento to try their luck consisted of the couple and fifteen family members. Of course, in order to be successful there too, they needed someone to help them with the cheating and so croupiers were bribed to work with them.

Where and how?

They then began to play at baccarat tables and did so in rotation so as to be as unobtrusive as possible. Since there was always someone in the group playing, the scam brought in over $150000 and the group decided to expand their operations to casinos in the western and central US and even Canada. The first thing they did when they went to another casino was to find the necessary croupiers who were willing to cooperate in the scam for them. Then a group of the family could start gambling and this was not even seen.

Simple but exceptionally efficient cheating

The whole idea behind the scam is actually very simple but it is not noticed by security or by the cameras because you simply don’t see it. At most casinos it only became clear a few weeks after the group members had left that they had been conned and that they had lost quite a bit of money to them. So they certainly didn’t get caught during the scam.

Different games to attract less attention

To make it less conspicuous, they not only worked with different players all the time, but they also chose different games all the time. Blackjack was also played, with someone taking a seat at the table to count the cards and fiddling with the shuffling. The person counting would indicate which cards came back into play after shuffling so that they could determine which ones would be drawn.

By means of hand gestures it was made clear how and how much could be wagered so that within a short period of time the profits increased significantly. This meant a good year for the organization in 2005 but it was also the year in which everything came to an end.

Employees turned to the FBI

The fraud was of course noticed by the FBI at some point but they still did not know where to put their finger and could not figure out why so much was being won. The cheating itself was not well seen until Phuong Quoc Truong decided that he wanted to keep most of the earnings for himself. He was charged with the task of paying the croupiers they had hired to participate in the cheating, but his greed meant he paid them less and less.

They obviously disagreed, as they were taking a risk themselves by working for the Tran organization. In fact, they committed fraud and when they were no longer compensated for it, they decided to save their own skin and cooperate with the FBI.

The leader of the group is framed

Once the FBI got inside information from the sharers, the case quickly became clear. The big men and women within the group were watched extra closely from then on but they still let them do their thing. This way the action was not only less noticeable but they also managed to collect the necessary evidence against the group. In 2006 they had an appointment with Phuong Quoc Truong. The latter was under the impression that he was dealing with new croupiers who might want to work for the organization, but the entire conversation was recorded and later served as evidence to frame the group and roll it up completely.

Deception was filmed as evidence

In 2007, the FBI had the opportunity to film the actual cheating at the Sycuan Casino. Willy Tran was filmed during his scam and when he managed to bring in a sum of $20,000 ($17,000) within just twenty minutes, the FBI struck. They arrested forty-seven members of the organization and managed to charge them with casino fraud, theft and also money laundering. They had managed to collect over seven million dollars in the seven years that they were active as an organization so that’s not exactly small.

Convinced they would not be caught proved to be the biggest mistake

Crime doesn’t pay, as the saying goes, but that was different for the Tran Organization in the first few years. Their biggest mistake, however, was believing they would never get caught. They had an unshakeable belief that they could not be caught and, above all, as they became increasingly greedy, things naturally went wrong at some point. As the leader of the gang kept more and more for himself and did not grant anything to the others, they decided to cooperate with the FBI. Thus, eventually every member of the group was arrested so that the organization was brought to an end.

All members pleaded guilty and received punishment

After the members of the group were arrested, they were charged with three crimes: conspiracy to commit extortion, stealing money, and money laundering. Forty-two members already pleaded guilty and were punished for all offenses committed in twenty-nine casinos across the country. Three other members were charged with other offenses such as failure to pay taxes and other casino fraud. They too admitted to having done so. Only one croupier tried to turn the lawsuit in his favor but this got him nothing but a penalty.

Both leaders did not fare too well either

Van Thu Tran pleaded guilty at the trial and received a three-year prison sentence and was ordered to repay $5.8 million (almost $5 million). Her husband (who also pleaded guilty) was given a prison sentence of seventy months (almost six years). Both were given three years probation. He too was ordered to pay back a considerable sum of money but was also obliged to hand over possessions such as houses, a Porsche and a Rolex. Conclusion: even if you think you can beat the casino, crime doesn’t pay and in most cases it works out anyway. You will draw the short straw anyway.

Author Lucas Costa