09/26/2002 11:00PM

Unexpected end to scam


Scandals here don't exactly stop the presses anymore. After all, the foundation of Las Vegas was linked to the mob and the city was nurtured by pioneers who were outcasts in mainstream America. Scammers and cheaters are a well-known part of the history of Las Vegas.

The latest Las Vegas scandal came crashing down last week when a former worker for GameTech International Inc., a Reno, Nev.-based designer of electronic bingo equipment, allegedly decided to use his high-tech wizardry as a personal ATM, a decision that apparently led to his death on Friday.

Among the gaming devices that GameTech International manufactures is an electronic card minder for the game of bingo. Known in the business as a TED (The Electronic Dauber), it allows bingo players to track and play numerous bingo cards per game. The computerized machine keeps track for the player of the numbers drawn in each game.

This machine is programmed by software. The software is designed by GameTech technicians. Are you getting the picture? Bingo!

GameTech International software engineer Brett Keeton is suspected by Nevada Gaming Control Board investigators of installing a flaw in the software code that runs 282 fixed-unit TED bingo consoles at 16 Las Vegas casinos. The flaw allegedly allowed Keeton, a 38-year-old father of two, to play an almost unlimited number of cards for each game, thus increasing his odds of winning.

The board, acting on a tip, dispatched an investigation team to monitor Keeton's play. Gaming agents observed the six-year GameTech employee on Sept. 19 in a local bingo hall. Investigators were waiting for Keeton at his job the following morning but he didn't show up while they were there. Later, it was learned that Keeton had been fired.

The board ordered all TEDs out of service while the investigation continued. After determining that only the city's 282 fixed-unit TED consoles could have been altered, officials allowed the 3,193 handheld TEDs back in service. Most of those machines are at the Station Casino bingo halls.

At approximately 8:25 p.m. Friday, Keeton jumped to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, according to the Marin County coroner. He called the case an apparent suicide, but said it is still under investigation.

Board chairman Dennis Neilander said agents have yet to determine how many of the GameTech fixed-unit card minders were altered or how much money was won by cheating through the devices. Neilander said Keeton probably acted alone.

Neilander said,"You're never going to prevent criminals from committing criminal acts, but in this case the system worked well."

In the most recently recorded 12-month period, Nevada's 43 casino bingo halls won $3.6 million from gamblers, which is less than 1/20 of 1 percent of the state's $9.3 billion in total gaming win during that time.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.