CLEVELAND: Suspected cheats charged in Ohio’s first criminal cases since casinos opened in the state this year were up against long odds: more than 1,000 surveillance cameras, undercover state agents and wary dealers.
“If you’re going to cheat, a casino is not a great place to try,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office helps enforce anti-cheating laws at new casinos in Cleveland and Toledo. “You’re not going to get away with it.”
Five suspects pleaded not guilty Wednesday, another was scheduled for arraignment and a seventh person pleaded not guilty earlier. The defendants were allowed to remain free on bond.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason, whose office is handling Ohio’s first casino cheating cases likes his odds, given the extensive video surveillance in the Horseshoe casino in Cleveland. Casino gambling was legalized in Ohio two years ago but casinos only opened this year.
“If we have to go to trial, we will play the video for the jury and they can watch the defendant move or stack extra chips once the cards have been played,” he said. “It’s not going to be difficult to figure out what they are doing.”
The seven suspects are all from Ohio — one from Akron; the others from the Cleveland area. Most have criminal records including burglary, drugs, theft and insurance fraud.
DeWine said seven defendants doesn’t seem like a lot given the nearly 500,000 people who visited the Horseshoe casino in its first five weeks of operation. The casino opened May 14. And Mason said that for now, he thinks the surveillance cameras and other security arrangements have deterred career cheats who work the casino circuit coast-to-coast.
“Maybe when some of those big-time gamblers came in, they saw how it’s being operated here and they kept going, that could be. (But) I don’t think we’ve missed them by any means,” he said.
Karen Huey, enforcement director for the Ohio Casino Control Commission, said itinerant would-be cheats have checked out Ohio’s casinos and security arrangements.
“I think we have had travelers come through, and we certainly have been able to identify those who have been there to look and observe: how good are the dealers? How good is the surveillance? Can they identify who the gaming agents are,” she said.
The current cases involve similar scenarios: a dealer, casino employee or security agent monitoring surveillance cameras spots the suspected cheating, often in the pre-dawn hours. One suspect was allowed to play blackjack for another hour before he was confronted. He was allowed to cash out his chips.
Prosecutors say another person pocketed $175 by placing bets after the outcome of a roulette game became known six times and another added chips to a bet after the cards were dealt in a Texas Hold’em game.
Another suspect allegedly distracted the blackjack dealer by talking loudly and pointing to another player while adding to his bet on three occasions. Two others argued with agents when confronted about the alleged gambling and another gave a false identity, prosecutors say.
DeWine said a top goal of casino enforcement is assuring honest gamblers a fair shake. “People need to know that there are rules, the rules are going to be enforced and it’s going to be a legitimate operation,” he said.
Casinos also are planned in Cincinnati and Columbus.