|Lady in Pink Switching Cards|
A woman accused of cheating at the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland went on trial Thursday, providing a rare glimpse of an eagle-eyed surveillance system capable of catching a gambler's every move.
Jessica Encarnacion of Akron was the first casino-cheating suspect to go to trial in Cuyahoga County -- others have pleaded guilty -- and also the first to be cleared. Hearing the case without a jury, Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Friedland ruled that the prosecution failed to prove Encarnacion knowingly or intentionally cheated at a game of four-card poker in August.
But the sparsely attended two-hour trial showed what state agents and casino security officers see while monitoring more than 1,000 cameras spread throughout three gaming floors.
A video screen split into four quadrants spied on the game from key angles: straight down on the dealer, a frontal view of the players, behind and slightly over the gamblers and a close-up of the participants' hands -- the flesh-and-bone kind.
An undercover agent, one of thirteen agents assigned full time to the Horseshoe casino, testified that they keep an eye on the system up to 23 hours a day and that casino security officers monitor continuously. Some cameras are fixed, while others pan, tilt and zoom.
Surveillance clearly shows Encarnacion, 23, swapping cards with Qing Zheng, a 41-year-old Cleveland man who faces a separate trial.
As the casino dealer gazes down, Zheng twice moves to offer a card to Encarnacion before she accepts; she then holds out a card that Zheng snatches. Encarnacion gave up a 10 of spades and got a queen of diamonds, leaving her with a pair of queens. The dealer won with a flush.
According to the agent, Zheng's boisterous behavior had already attracted the casino's attention. Security officers were preparing to escort Zheng from the property when the agents intervened.
Encarnacion was taken to a holding room, where more surveillance video, shot from overhead, shows her answering questions in a slightly annoyed tone. She said it was her first trip to a casino, and Zheng, whom she had just met, was coaching her. She said she didn't know how to play poker and had no idea that what she was doing was wrong.
"I'm not a cheat," Encarnacion says on the video. A few moments later, she adds: "I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know anything."
Testifying Thursday, a poised Encarnacion said she was with a friend named Mike but met Zheng at a poker table, and he accompanied her as they broke for roulette and then sat down for the four-card game. She said she went through $600 at the casino, but Zheng was buying her beer -- eight Budweisers, she estimated -- and supplied her with more than $100 in betting chips.
"That was the only reason I stuck around," said Encarnacion, who plans to seek return of $100 the casino confiscated from her. "He had a bunch of chips, and he knew how to play the game."
Encarnacion's attorney, Leif Christman, said the fact that Encarnacion and Zheng exchanged cards in the open, with plenty of witnesses, is evidence they were not cheating.
Assistant Prosecutor John Toth said that ignorance is no defense and questioned how Encarnacion could not be aware that she was involved in a crime.
"It's common sense," he said in closing. "You do not take cards from another player while you're playing for money at a casino."
The Horseshoe opened May 14, making it the first of four casinos allowed in Ohio under a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2009. The fourth is scheduled for launch March 4 in Cincinnati
Cheating a casino -- and possibly reducing the tax revenue collected by the state -- is a fifth degree felony punishable by maximum penalties of six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. Guidelines generally provide for lighter sentences.
According to the Ohio Casino Control Commission, 28 cheating cases have been filed in Cuyahoga County, with 14 convictions obtained so far.
My take: Heck, maybe I should re-take-up casino cheating in Ohio! If they get clear video evidence of switching cards on a poker game and the judge throws out the case, who knows what would be possible for me!!! LOL...And what about Zheng? They gotta let him go too, don't they???