The Tran Organization: Notorious Cheats in the Gambling World

Lucas Costa
June 4, 2022
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Cheating is prevalent in various domains, including the world of gambling, and casinos are no exception. Individuals often attempt to deceive casinos, sometimes with considerable success, at least until they’re apprehended. Such was the case with the Tran Organization, which managed to amass over seven million dollars over the years by cheating in casinos across the United States. The Tran family devised a relatively simple yet remarkably effective method for this, embarking on their illicit activities at the turn of the century.

The Tran Organization

This criminal enterprise was founded by Vietnamese individuals Van Thu Tran and Phuong Quoc Truong. The couple initially worked in a casino in San Diego and concocted a scheme to outsmart casinos in the United States and profit from their operations. In 2002, the plan took shape when a casino employee was dismissed for card-dealing fraud. This incident provided Tran with the inspiration to develop a cheating method, and he began working on a plan to execute it successfully.

Collaboration with Numerous Family Members Proved Lucrative

While the casino employee was still part of the establishment, the Tran couple closely observed her card-dealing techniques. The casino management considered the incident an isolated occurrence and believed it was resolved following the employee’s dismissal. However, the reality was quite different, as the scam persisted, costing the casino a significant sum.

What made their cheating operation so successful? They enlisted multiple family members, initially trustworthy, to cooperate and execute the fraud on a large scale, resulting in substantial winnings.

How Did They Cheat?

So, how did their scheme operate? It commenced with the game of Pai Gow, where they manipulated card shuffling to predetermine the cards to be dealt. This method was an immediate success, prompting the Trans to involve more family members to enhance their chances of winning.

The crux of their cheating revolved around card shuffling. The dealer ensured that a specific portion of the cards remained concealed from the rest and retained their original order. This devious technique allowed the Tran Organization to gain a considerable advantage.

Why Was the Cheating Hard to Detect?

The Tran Organization’s method of cheating involved dealing the same cards in succession, enabling players to predict the outcome of each hand. You might wonder why this wasn’t glaringly obvious. Well, if you’re dealing with a skilled croupier, it won’t be apparent, as they had mastered the technique to the point where their actions went unnoticed. It’s akin to magic – you’re being deceived, but you can’t discern how it’s happening.

Testing Their Luck in Multiple Casinos

After the first dealer who used this trick was dismissed, the Tran Organization extended their operations to other casinos, employing various casino games to make their activities less conspicuous. When they ventured to Sacramento, their group consisted of the couple and fifteen family members. To ensure their success there, they needed the cooperation of croupiers, whom they bribed to aid in their cheating.

Where and How Did They Operate?

They started playing at baccarat tables, taking turns to be as inconspicuous as possible. Since there was always someone from their group at the table, their scheme brought in over $150,000. The group then expanded its operations to casinos in the western and central United States, and even Canada. When they arrived at a new casino, the first step was to recruit croupiers willing to assist them. Then, a group of family members could start gambling without raising suspicions.

Simple Yet Highly Effective Cheating

The core idea behind their scam was deceptively simple, making it imperceptible to casino security and surveillance cameras. It often took several weeks for casinos to realize they had been deceived and suffered significant losses. As a result, the Tran Organization managed to avoid getting caught during their cheating spree.

Using Different Games to Avoid Detection

To minimize the likelihood of drawing attention, the Tran Organization frequently changed both the players involved and the casino games they played. They also engaged in blackjack, with one member taking a seat at the table to count cards and manipulate the shuffling process. This card counter would signal which cards were reintroduced into play after shuffling, allowing them to predict which cards would be dealt.

Through subtle hand gestures, they indicated the size and placement of their wagers, rapidly increasing their profits. This strategy led to a prosperous year for the organization in 2005, but it also marked the end of their cheating endeavors.

Employees Turned to the FBI

The fraudulent activities of the Tran Organization eventually caught the attention of the FBI. However, the agents initially struggled to pinpoint the source of the misconduct and couldn’t fathom why so much money was being won. The full extent of the cheating remained concealed until Phuong Quoc Truong’s greed led to a rift within the group. He was responsible for compensating the croupiers they had enlisted for their illicit activities, but he began paying them less and less.

Naturally, the croupiers were displeased, as they were taking considerable risks by collaborating with the Tran Organization. They were, after all, participating in fraudulent activities, and when they ceased to receive adequate compensation, they decided to cooperate with the FBI in order to safeguard their own interests.

The Group’s Leader is Caught

Once the FBI obtained information from these informants, the case rapidly unraveled. Although the key figures in the organization continued their activities, they were under heightened surveillance. This allowed the authorities to not only make the operation less conspicuous but also accumulate the evidence they needed to dismantle the group. In 2006, the FBI arranged a meeting with Phuong Quoc Truong. He believed he was dealing with potential new croupiers for the organization, but the entire conversation was recorded and used as evidence to implicate the group.

The Cheating Is Captured on Film

In 2007, the FBI had an opportunity to film the actual cheating at the Sycuan Casino. The video footage showed Willy Tran during his cheating scheme, amassing $20,000 in just twenty minutes. It was at this point that the FBI decided to take action. They arrested forty-seven members of the organization, charging them with casino fraud, theft, and money laundering. Over the seven years of their operation, the group had managed to accumulate over seven million dollars – a substantial sum.

The Costly Belief in Immunity

While the Tran Organization enjoyed a period of financial success, their biggest mistake was their unfounded belief that they were immune to being caught. They grew increasingly greedy, which inevitably led to their downfall. As the group’s leader hoarded more of the earnings for himself and failed to share with the others, dissension arose, eventually leading some members to cooperate with the FBI. Consequently, every member of the organization was eventually arrested, effectively dismantling the group.

All Members Plead Guilty and Face Punishment

Following their arrests, the group’s members faced charges of conspiracy to commit extortion, embezzlement, and money laundering. Forty-two members promptly pleaded guilty, receiving penalties for their activities across twenty-nine casinos nationwide. Three other members faced additional charges, such as tax evasion and other casino-related fraud, and they too admitted their guilt. Only one croupier attempted to contest the charges, but this proved unsuccessful and resulted in a penalty.

Leaders Face Consequences

Van Thu Tran pleaded guilty during the trial, receiving a three-year prison sentence and an order to repay nearly $5 million. Her husband, who also pleaded guilty, was sentenced to almost six years in prison and three years of probation. He was similarly ordered to repay a substantial sum of money and forfeit assets like houses, a Porsche, and a Rolex. In conclusion, despite the belief that they could outsmart the casino, crime didn’t pay off, and justice eventually caught up with them.

Author Lucas Costa