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Caught Red Handed: Real Life Poker Cheaters and Their Fates

Just as there has always been more than one way to skin a cat, there are any number of methods that cheaters will apply when in it comes to gambling, especially with regard to card games – and more specifically when it comes to poker. While the pit bosses who guard the blackjack tables are looking for card counters, the poker tables are fraught with their own kind of risk, and the dealers can be just as suspect as the players and the gamblers. The passive con-artists may try to get away with marking cards, palming chips or rat-holing their bets to hedge against losses, but the anglers who are looking for the big fish have only slightly higher ethics than their Wall Street counterparts – or maybe it’s vice-versa; either way, here’s what happened to some of the most notorious cheats ever grace the poker tables:

Ed Bailey. An otherwise-unknown gambler amongst so many in the Old West, Bailey’s notoriety is attached to that of a true American legend, Doc Holliday (who was mixed up in Tombstone’s Shootout at the OK Corral). Bailey was a brazen cheater, sifting through his discards in hopes of bolstering his losing hands. When Bailey took offense to Doc’s presumptive raking-in of the pot, and tried to draw on the dentist-cum-gunfighter, Holliday stabbed him to death before a shot could be fired.

George DeVol. A riverboat gambler of widely-held repute, DeVol was one of the earliest card sharps to grace the early Southern casinos. Through various techniques, such as second-dealing and recovering cuts, DeVol started a cheating career at the age of 14, amassing over $2 million in winnings in his “career”. He was in the process of publishing his deceptive memoirs when he died in 1903.

Sefula Seji. The otherwise-obscure Seji made East Coast headlines when he was busted in a card-marking scam at the poker tables of the Sands casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His professional winnings (according to Bluff magazine) amount to mere chicken scratch, but he gained notoriety for using sandpaper on his fingertips to mark the value of cards, information he hoped to use to his advantage. He was imprisoned for 39 counts of engaging in prohibited acts.

The Italian Job. Late last year, a casino in Cannes (the home of the annual French film festival) was beset by a trio of as-yet unnamed Italian men, all of whom wound up having alleged Mafia ties. They used marked cards that were only visible to those wearing special infrared glasses. The three were arrested, along with an employee at the Les Princes de Cannes casino, after hauling in over $87,000 in two trips.

Richard Marcus. Some people work with their hands for a living, and other people work with the hands they are dealt at the casino gaming tables. Atlantic City legend Richard Marcus has been so eerily successful at poker (along with roulette and other games of chance) that he may have achieved greater success as a consultant and gambling expert than he ever was as a gambler – legally or otherwise – and in his case, it depends on who you ask.

Josh Fields. Better known by his online gambling persona (JJProdigy), this teenage ripoff-artist made his betting bones in cyberspace. Until his case turned up, cheating in online poker hadn’t received much attention. His multi-account schemes brought in over $140,000 in a Party Poker tournament – and revealed the seamy underside of online poker. When the investigators busted him, Fields tried to blame the concurrent household play on his grandmother, not that the flimsy excuse kept him from being banned from Party Poker (and from Poker Stars as well).

Steve Forte. It should come as no surprise that the author of a book titled Casino Game Protection would know all the ins and outs of cheating at table games. That he would be brave enough to try to actually use the tactics he warned his clients about in pursuit of personal gain is a new twist on the fox guarding the henhouse. But Steve Forte was, in fact, arrested at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City for using hidden surveillance cameras to spy on the hands of other poker players. Charges were eventually dismissed, and Forte’s reputation as a gaming experts remains (more or less) intact.