Card shark jailed over poker fraud
A card shark who cheated casinos including London's Playboy Club out of tens of thousands of pounds at the poker table has been jailed for 18 months, police said.
Jobless Romanian national Mihai Lacatos, 62, was held in the departure lounge at Luton Airport as he tried to flee the country in November.
He had been arrested after using false documents to enter the Playboy Club in London's upmarket Mayfair the previous January and use "card marking" to take £43,400 playing three-card poker, Scotland Yard said.
He later skipped bail and used the trick at two more casinos in London before being caught again at the airport. Further investigations by the Metropolitan Police's Gaming Unit revealed he had struck at a string of venues across England.
He was sentenced today at London's Southwark Crown Court having pleaded guilty last month to 14 counts of fraud and four counts of possessing false identity documents with intent, Scotland Yard said.
It said his prosecution was the Metropolitan Police's first conviction for "card marking".
A spokesman for its Gaming Unit said: "This involved him using sleight-of-hand to bend specific cards at the poker table, so that he would later be able to tell what the dealer and other players had been dealt, giving him a significant advantage.
"He spent hours playing at one table so that he could dent the centre of as many cards as he wanted.
"He was so swift, and the dents so subtle, that his cheating initially went unnoticed."
Lacatos' targets included gaming spots in London, Leicester, Swansea, Portsmouth, Manchester, Nottingham, Southend, Sunderland, Birmingham, Walsall, Northampton and Bournemouth, Scotland Yard said, spanning a period between 2008 and 2014.
In several he used false documents, having already been banned from their premises.
Scotland Yard said the Playboy Club's owner, Caesar's Entertainment, raised the alarm in January last year. His picture was circulated to casinos around the UK and he was arrested on March 31 at Northampton's Rubicon Casino after being recognised by staff.
After being bailed he disappeared and targeted more casinos, including the Genting Palm Beach Casino in Mayfair and the Rank Golden Horseshoe Casino in Bayswater, west London, Scotland Yard said.
Detectives have since managed to recover almost £4,500 under proceeds of crime laws, a Met spokesman said.
Detective Sergeant Claire Hutcheon, of the Met's Gaming Unit, said: "Lacatos spent hours marking cards because he thought he could get away with it, but the gamble didn't pay off in the long run.
"We work closely with the casino industry to stop even the most dedicated cheats, like Lacatos."