Casino Scams and Frauds

5 years ago
Scams and Frauds in Casinos
17 Mar

Last month saw a major bust at the Hialeah Park Casino in Florida, with allegations of mismanagement and downright cheating in their poker tournaments and cash games - leading to investigations, firings and resignations. However, this is just the latest in a long-list of casino-led scams and frauds, stretching from Florida to Macau and all places in-between.

The Poker Set-Up: Part 1

The scene of the most recent of these scandals – the Hialeah Park Racing and Casino in Miami-Dade County – is “set within 200 acres of lush landscape, verdant gardens, and 16th Century French Mediterranean architecture,” but the goings-on at their biggest-ever poker tournament, back in late August of last year, were far from attractive.

The $200,000 advertised prize-pool, from a $250 buy-in, brought in players from all over South Florida, including TJ Shulman, a poker pro from Boca Raton who has amassed almost $500,000 from playing tournaments all over the US. This time round, however, Shulman was shocked at what he saw taking place in the Hialeah Casino.

Local poker players chatting to managers, sitting where they pleased, and floor managers and dealers were pocketing cash without giving receipts. And the biggest warning sign for Shulman that something shady was going on came when he realized the payouts posted for the 1000-player events simply didn’t add up – there was a shortfall of close to $48,000.

Shulman related how he told a Hialeah supervisor, 'You're missing $48,000 from the prize pool,' only to be met with a stonewall response:

The guy told me, 'If you don't like the way we're playing here, go back to the Hard Rock.’“

Another story Shulman was told by a fellow player about the casino-run tournament increased his suspicions. Shulman said:

They were talking in Spanish, and the guy understood another player saying he was getting 20% of the winnings and giving the staff 80%."

Angered by this self-evident cheating scam, Shulman and three others complained to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, who launched an immediate investigation into the allegations, including interviewing employees at “a Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering's regional office in Fort Lauderdale”, according to Miami New Times.

The official investigation was thorough, though quickly-run and resulted in “a seven-page administrative complaint issued this past December 29." T he ‘verdict’ handed down by the gaming authorities was damning: Hialeah Park Casino ran a ‘dirty tournament’, with players not receiving receipts, no video surveillance of cash-holding areas, the manager Nelson Costa keeping cash in his office instead of the cashier’s vault, and various other violations of the accepted code for casino management extending beyond the single tournament in question.

With three employees being fired in the aftermath of the scandal, and Costa resigning, the casino is expected to be heavily fined for these breaches – although, perhaps surprisingly - no criminal charges have been filed.

There was nothing in the big tournament that I hadn't seen before, but nobody had ever said anything," said Hialeah casino semi-regular Sergio Morejon, but the unusual aspect of this particular tournament he says was that it, “drew players from outside, and they all spoke up." Shulman first and foremost.

With Costa and his associates now gone, the otherwise highly-rated Hialeah Park Racetrack and Casino is now attempting to rebuild the trust of its wider poker clientele.

The Poker Set-Up: Part 2

If dodgy-dealings at the Florida casino seem bad enough, you’ll struggle to believe the following tale from Macau, the gambling capital of the Far East...

As I wrote on PokerTubepreviously, the Triads and other criminal elements have a long and exceedingly-shady history of involvement in Macau, up-to-and-including the present day, but the scam which was bust open by authorities in 2013 takes some beating in the ‘incredible Macau stories’ stakes.

To set the scene, the Cotai Strip in Macau boasts a plethora of luxury hotels, all aimed at the high-rolling gamblers, most of whom fly in from mainland China to indulge their passion.

As an example of the lifestyle on offer here for gamblers, in 2014 the Hong Kong-based casino investor and developer Stephen Hung ordered 30 Rolls Royce Phantoms to transport high-rollers to and from Macau, a $20milllion order believed to be the largest by far that the manufacturer has even been asked to complete.

The fate which befell some of these high-rollers, unconnected to Hung’s Macau dealings, involves fake VIP suites, sedatives and other drugs, and stooge “dealers, security guards, public relations managers, and even other players.” The entire set-up was exactly that: a set-up designed to fleece extremely wealthy and extremely unsuspecting high-rollers – and it worked for an astonishing two years or more until the scam came to light.

As reported by Katie Barlowe for

Around $12.5 millionworth of betting chips were seized during the arrest last year by the local authorities, along with numerous gambling and non-gambling paraphernalia, such as collapsible baccarat gaming tables, small amounts of drugs and sedatives, and other gaming equipment used in the illegal operation.”

It was a royal scam, and led to 16 individuals being found guilty and sentenced by the Macau Court of First Instance to terms between 18 months and three years for their involvement.

The Macau Post reported that the syndicate duped individuals into playing in one of their VIP rooms, which were in fact presidential and VIP suites mocked-up to resemble high-class gambling rooms, and in no way connected to the luxury hotels which punters thought they were playing in. The addition of fake dealers, security guards, other players, and even public relations managers made the scam utterly believable – and highly successful for almost two full years.

Painting a seedier picture of the syndicate and its operations,” wrote Barlowe at the time of sentencing, were the “allegations that drinks were spiked with drugs, and fake shuffling occurred to ensure the unsuspecting players just didn’t stand a chance in the fake casino lounge.”

This remarkable story, straight from a movie script, goes to show the lengths and sophistication which the criminal elements in gambling will go to.

Meanwhile, Back in the USA…

Last October saw two former croupiers at the famous Bellagio Casino “indicted on charges of swindling their ex-employer for more than $1 million in a rigged craps game.”

The dice game, in which the players make wagers on the outcome of the roll, or a series of rolls, of a pair of dice is a very popular street game – and is also a casino favourite with players competing against the house much as they do in blackjack or roulette.

The two men indicted, James Russell Cooper Jr. and Mark William Branco, are alleged to have allowed friends to place fake bets on the crap tables during quiet times when there were few witnesses around and casino scrutiny was at a minimum.

The friends, Jeffrey D. Martin and Anthony Grant Granito, were also charged “on a 60-count indictment that includes cheating at gambling and theft,” again courtesy of our friend Katie Barlowe at news, who seems to get all the juicy stories.

Both employees were fired shortly after being found out, their scam being to allow their accomplices to place very late bets and make inaudible comments, which the dealers would then pay out on whether the men had won or not – the trick being that fellow players would not generally realize what was happening and fellow dealers not in in the scam were out of earshot or otherwise preoccupied.

As Barlowe reported last year, “Because the craps table is often crowded with base dealers, a boxman, a stickman, a floor person and other players, there had to be a very select set of circumstances that had to line up for them to pull it off,” according to prosecutor Jay P. Ramen.

Ramen alleges that this went on for almost two years, with Granito raking in $700,000 and Martin over $800,000, until a fellow dealer became suspicious, leading to an investigation and the four men being arrested. Cooper Jr. decided to co-operate with the authorities, outlining the scheme and testifying before a grand Jury against his fellow cheats. Martin, however, has pled not guilty.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Nevada State Gaming Control Board deputy chief James Taylor said:

Cheating is common. We arrest 350 to 500 people a year for cheating or theft from a casino,” but, he added, “to have it go this long and for this much money is unusual. Fortunately, someone noticed and came forward.”

If found guilty, the craps phrase "Baby needs a new pair of shoes!" may take on a whole new meaning, with huge jail sentences likely.

Not Only Craps Collusion

Poker might not seem to be the easiest game to indulge in a dealer/player collusion scheme, at least not identical to the craps one above, but if you have enough friends involved then it’s certainly possible, as Detroit’s Motor City Casino found out recently.

53-year old Darryl Green seems set to face a lengthy jail sentence for working with a group of six accomplices to steal thousands of dollars in poker chips, his dealer job affording him the opportunity to pay out on losing bets and pocketing chips which he later claimed were tips.

Casino bosses called in police after suspecting something untoward, and “after monitoring the situation”, according to, “the officers concluded that Green was in cahoots with six other players”, named and charged as Eugene Davis Jr., 32, Earl Leonard Railey, 65, Calvin Lawrence Pullom, 47, Roxanna Dee McKinney, 49, Leah Katrelle Smith, 42 and Hayword Milton Stampley, 57.

According to

Adding to the weight of evidence against them, police also discovered that Green conversed with the players outside of the casino before and after the alleged cheating.”

A preliminary examination was due to be held this week, but two of the defendants – McKinney and Railey, whom the Detroit Free Press have described as “habitual offenders” are not in custody and are still wanted by the police. According to Michigan NewsHerald reports:

Green, Davis, Pullom, Stampley, and Smith were arraigned in the 36th District Court, and bond was set for each defendant between $5,000 and $10,000.”

If convicted, the defendants face felony sentences from four years to 10 years for the various charges laid against them.

Instances of poker dealer cheating are not unusual, as I reported here in November. Robert D. Brown, a poker dealer from Cleveland was indicted on charges of ‘gambling’ after being accused of hiding a playing card up his sleeve at the Horseshoe Casino.

The indictment by a Cuyahoga County grand jury claimed that the dealer "knowingly or intentionally cheated while dealing at the casino on Sept. 6," after agents from the Ohio Casino Control Commission were alerted to a card missing from the automatic shuffler. also reported on a recent incident where a former poker dealer from Cleveland, Randall White, “was charged with theft after he took chips illegally and claimed they were tips.”

Also, this time in good old England, they reported that:

A dealer from London’s Genting Casino Cromwell Mint was sacked earlier this year after security staff found him with chips in his pocket. After investigating the incident, the casino’s security team found that the dealer was taking chips off the table and was filtering them into his shoe by passing them down a tube hidden in his trouser leg.”

Although cheating and scams cover all forms of casino gambling games, the poker world regularly sees such cases. I once reported on Christian Lusardi and described how the poker pro was jailed for five years after being found guilty of using counterfeit chips at the 2014 Borgata Winter Open in Atlantic City.

The 43-year old had introduced $800,000 of fake chips into the $2million guaranteed event, and attempted to hide the evidence by flushing them down the Harrah Hotel Casino’s toilets, damaging the pipes in the process.

The event had to be canceled in its later stages because of Lusardi’s handiwork, which later saw him plead guilty to charges of 2nd-degree trademark counterfeiting and 3rd-degree criminal mischief.

His five-year sentence was in addition to a $463,540 fine imposed as costs to the Borgata for the cancellation of the event plus $9455 damages to the pipe system. In a separate court case he received another five–year sentence for his part in an international DVD-counterfeiting operation.

All in all, we've seen a lot of scandals pop up in the world of professional gambling. I suppose that when there is that much money on the table,everyone with sticky fingers is going to try to grab a handful.

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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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