A poker player who cheated casinos across the country, including one in Northampton, by making almost invisible dents in cards has been jailed for 18 months.
Mihai Lacatos, aged 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.Prosecutor Michelle Fawcett
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.
He was arrested after he was caught trying his card marking technique at Gala Casino in Northampton on March 31, 2014.
Officers seized £1,485 from him, but while on bail he committed two further offences.
The gambler had fooled security staff at casinos across the country 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 November 20, 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 exclusive Playboy Club in Mayfair, parent company Caesars Entertainment contacted the MPS Gaming Unit who circulated his image to casinos across the UK.
Prosecutor Michelle Fawcett at Southwark Crown Court 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.”
Ms Fawcett said CCTV showed 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.
Lacatos, a Romananian national, placed bets worth £25,200 at the Playboy club and won them all back plus a profit of £18,200.
Ms Fawcett said: “Between March 29, 2014 and March 31, 2014 he joined the Northampton Gala casino again with a false identity.
“He was recognised in that casino however on the March 31, 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 but failed to attend.
Stuart Stevens, for Lacatos, said he 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.
He said: “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.
“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 defrauded customers at the Rank Casinos in Leicester, Stockport, Salford, Swansea, Portsmouth, Nottingham, Sunderland, Birmingham, Walsall and London premises in Victoria and Bayswater.