I-Team Exclusive: Poker Cheating Scheme

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(Jul. 18) — It sounds like the plot of one of those flashy casino heist movies — a team of thieves, armed with high tech equipment concocts a scheme to steal vast sums of money from big shot gamblers.

It really did happen, although law enforcement officials are still unwilling to talk about it. Gaming agents in New Jersey arrested four suspects, including a Las Vegas man known internationally as an expert in how to thwart casino thieves.

In late June, the elegant Borgata in Atlantic City launched the largest poker event in the town’s history, a $5,000 per-person buy in tournament with 337 players vied for $1.7 million. But someone else was after the money as well; a team of high tech cheats with a scheme worthy of Oceans 11.

Well-placed sources told the I-Team that New Jersey gaming agents staged a quiet raid on the Borgata and arrested four people. By one account, they stormed a hotel room and found it packed with electronic equipment. According to one source, gaming control initially believed the suspects had tapped into a live video feed generated by the hole card cameras that allow TV audiences to see a player’s down cards in games of Texas Hold ’em, information that presumably could be relayed to a confederate playing in the tournament.

However, a spokesman for Boyd Gaming, which is a partner in Borgata with MGM, told the I-Team “the scheme did target high-end poker players, but off the floor,” adding that “the security systems of the Borgata were never compromised, nor was the tournament. Customers were targeted but not the games.”

The biggest surprise for gaming agents might have been who was involved. Among those arrested as part of the scheme was Las Vegas gaming consultant Steve Forte, regarded as a world class expert in countering cheaters. Forte’s web site says he’s been a consultant to MGM, Caesars, Station Casinos, as well as to the U.S. Attorney, FBI, Metro Police and the Clark County district attorney. His books and videos on how to counter gambling cheats are best sellers.

New Jersey authorities would not acknowledge that arrests were been made. However, Nevada Gaming Control told the I-Team they had been informed by New Jersey about the arrests, that four persons had been taken into custody including Steve Forte, and that a sensitive investigation was ongoing.

Back in Las Vegas, Forte has told friends that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, intimating that he was in the room with the alleged cheaters because he wanted to observe their methods and was not part of the scheme. Forte declined the I-Team’s interview request but confirmed in an e-mail that he had been arrested. He says he maintains his innocence and will fight the charges at all costs.

The obvious question is could it happen at the much more lucrative World Series of Poker? Tournament commissioner Jeffrey Pollack says he’s heard nothing about the New Jersey scandal but that he is confident that cheaters wouldn’t stand a chance there.

WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said, “I can’t reveal our specific security measures, otherwise they wouldn’t be very secure. But needless to say, Harrah’s has the ultimate commitment to both responsible gaming and security, and we have a state of the art surveillance system in place at all times here.”

Casino sources say they believe the FBI is now involved in the investigation, possibly to find out if the same high tech scheme has been used before.

The I-Team contacted several of the poker players involved in the tournament. None of them saw anything unusual, nor did they see any arrests. That fits with other information the I-Team has about how the scheme was intended to steal from the poker players when they were away from the tables. No one is saying how the plot was supposed to work. Even the arrest information is being kept confidential.

The Channel 8 I-Team will have more information as it becomes available.

E-mail your comments to Investigative Reporter George Knapp.

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