Romanian poker player jailed after fraud at Sunderland casino

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A POKER player who cheated casinos across the country by making almost invisible dents in cards was jailed for 18 months today.

Romanian Mihai Lacatos, 61, would sit for hours at a single table so that he could crease the aces in the deck and use the marks to identify opponents’ hands.

The defendant is a well-known casino cheat. He is known to mark cards at three card poker thereby causing loss to operators across the UK.

The Grovesnor Casino in Lambton Street, Sunderland, was among those he hit before eventually getting caught out at the Playboy Club in London.

He used the card marking technique to swindle the exclusive club in Mayfair out of £43,400 in just a week in January last year.

His conviction is the one of the first for ‘card marking’ - a technique which is thought to have made the skilled fraudster hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The gambler fooled security staff at casinos that had barred him entry by showing bogus identity cards and driving licenses printed from the internet and laminated.

After he was arrested Lacatos attempted to flee to Romania from Luton Airport but was caught in the departure lounge by detectives on 20 November 2014.

The casino cheat used slight of hand to subtly bend and dent cards at the poker table and was so skilled his cheating went unnoticed for years.

He admitted 14 fraud offences and four further charges of possessing false ID documents which date back to 2008.

After he was spotted at the Playboy Club, parent company Caesars Entertainment contacted the MPS Gaming Unit who circulated his image to casinos across the UK.

He was arrested on 31 March 2014 at the Rubicon Casino on Regent Street, Northampton after staff there recognised him and raised the alarm.

Officers seized £1,485 from him and but while on bail he committed two further offences.

Prosecutor Michelle Fawcett said: “The defendant is a well-known casino cheat.

“He is known to mark cards at three card poker thereby causing loss to operators across the UK.

“To facilitate his entry into the various casinos, knowing he had been previously banned from such establishments, the allegations behind the fraud in this case are that he used false names to register with the various casinos supporting his applications with counterfeit documentation on every occasion.’

She added: ‘Over the week of using the false identity at the Playboy Casino in London, it was discovered that the defendant had cheated at three card poker by bending or marking the cards.

“The cards were notably aces and this bending of the cards enabled him to know when the card were being dealt.

“The CCTV showed that the defendant noticeably increased his bets of £10 to £20 to £100 to £200 per game.

“CCTV also showed that the defendant always sat at the first box position which is nearest to the shuffle machine at the card table.

“This ensured he could clearly see the cards as they left the machine and fell into the dealing cradle,’ she said.

“He was able to take a sum of £43,400 from the casino in total.

“That figure includes winning his bets back and the profit made by cheating.

“As a result of these findings the matter was reported to the police, the packs of cards were handed over and were analysed and were found to have been marked.

“That caused further enquiries to be made and an investigation showed that the defendant had been involved in various other incidents around the UK and had gained access to various casinos by using further false identities.”

Lacatos’ placed bets worth £25,200 at the Playboy club and won them all back plus a profit of £18,200.

Ms Fawcett continued: ‘Between 29 March 2014 and 31 March 2014 he joined the Northampton Rubicon casino again with a false identity.

WHe was recognised in that casino however on the 31 March 2014 - the police were notified, they arrested the defendant in the casino.”

Lacatos was cautioned and later bailed to return to Charing Cross police station for a full interview with an interpreter.

“The defendant failed to attend when required to do so and as a result he was circulated as wanted and missing on the Police National Computer.

“Despite having been arrested and knowing of the bail to return date, the defendant carried on offending.

“On 10 May 2014, he joined the Genting Palm Beach casino in Birmingham,” said Ms Fawcett.

In November, the casino cheat also joined to Rank Golden Horseshoe casino in Bayswater, west London.

“The defendant was finally arrested on 20 November 2014 at Luton airport whilst about to leave the UK on a flight to Romania,” said Ms Fawcett.

Police seized £3,500 from Lacatos who was carrying his own passport and ID card at the time.

Stuart Stevens, for Lacatos, said the married cheat was from the ‘very, very poor’ region of southern Romania.

Lacatos has simply printed bogus Hungarian and Romanian identity cards from the internet and laminated them.

“He tells me there is not a big check at casinos - they want your money so they let you in,” said Mr Stevens.

“He realises his time of making this money is over, he wanted to get back to Romania, to his family.

“He appreciates just how serious this is and he throws himself on the mercy of the court.’

Sentencing Lacatos to 18 months imprisonment, Recorder Alexander Layton QC said the crook ‘deliberately planned’ his crimes and used a ‘large number’ of false names.

“After you had been arrested you attempted to flee the country, two of the offences were committed while you were on bail and you have previous convictions in Romania for offences relating to false identity documents,” he said.

“You have pleaded guilty to 18 counts – all of which were related to a campaign of cheating in casinos up and down the country over a period stretching back some six years.’

Lacatos hoaxed staff at the Rendezvous Casino in Southend-on-Sea, the Genting Palm Beach Casino in Mayfair and Maxim’s Casino also in London.

He also fleeced customers at the Rank Casinos in Leicester, Stockport, Salford, Swansea, Portsmouth, Nottingham, Birmingham, Walsall and London premises in Victoria and Bayswater.