Friday, October 16, 2009

Interesting Glitch in $500,000 Slot Cheat Case--Is it a Crime or isn´t It?

Attorneys for two of three men accused of rigging a poker machine in The Meadows Racetrack & Casino said Thursday that taking advantage of a glitch in a machine isn't a crime. "If someone is smart enough to outwit a machine, is that a crime?" defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said. "I don't think it is. It might be cheating, but is it a crime?"

Thomassey's clients, Kerry Laverde, 49, and Andre Nestor, 37, both of Swissvale waived their rights to preliminary hearings before District Judge Jay Weller in North Strabane. Both entered pleas of not guilty. A preliminary hearing for Patrick Loushil, 42, of Brookline was postponed. The men are charged with manipulating a poker machine at the casino to collect $429,945 in fraudulent payouts. Authorities said the men started the scam in June and were arrested last week.

Nestor's attorney, Washington County Public Defender Glenn Alterio, said he agreed with Thomassey. "We're going to see if, in fact, a crime was committed," Alterio said. "It boils down to manipulating a machine."

Casino officials began to suspect the men when Nestor, posing as a "high roller," began frequenting the casino in late June, officials said. Laverde, a former Swissvale police officer, acted as Nestor's bodyguard, officials said.

District Attorney Steven Toprani disagreed with Thomassey's assessment. "There was money made out to the three defendants that they weren't entitled to," Toprani said. "It sounds like good, old-fashioned theft to me."

From late June through August, Nestor, Laverde and Loushil visited the casino 15 times, authorities said. The investigation showed Nestor repeatedly used "a complex series of button presses and screen changes to cause the slot machine to have an error in its programming. This resulted in the machine displaying a false jackpot," according to the grand jury presentment. Nestor always manipulated the poker machine alone, but all three men cashed the winning checks, authorities said.

Toprani denied that gambling safeguards were too easily bypassed by the three men.
"In my opinion, the safeguards did work. The Gaming Control Board alerted the state police," Toprani said.

Weller lowered bail for the two men to $100,000, at 10 percent, meaning Laverde and Nestor must post $10,000 apiece to get out of jail.

My Take: Of course it's cheating and of course it's a crime, but how 'bout a slap on the wrist and let the accused slot cheats keep the money!