Poker expert arrested in bust

Jul 31, 2007 12:10 AM

Most poker players know to watch out for card counters, bottom dealers and deck stacking.

But a recent bust of a private poker game at the Borgota Hotel in Atlantic City shows the cardsharps have upped the ante: Hidden video cameras to pick up opponents’ hands and read marked cards; laptop computers used to determine strategy; and microscopic earpieces to relay the play to the inside guy.

All were employed by a group of men — including renowned Las Vegas gaming expert Steve Forte, who authored two books on how to avoid gaming scams — that authorities charged last month with rigging a high-stakes card game, officials said last week. At least one of his alleged accomplices, Joseph T. Ingargiola, 50, of California, is a professional poker player.

"They utilized the spying equip ment to target high-stakes private poker games," state New Jersey Attorney General’s Office spokesman Peter Asel tine said. "They also used computer programs so they could enter information on the hands and determine what course of action to take so as to increase their odds of winning."

Forte, Ingargiola, Stephen Phillips, 52, of Las Vegas, and James C. Harrison, 41, of Duluth, Minnesota, all face charges of conspiracy, attempted theft by deception, use of cheating devices and computer-assisted theft.

But it’s the arrest of Forte that has sent ripples through the poker community.

Forte, 51, a former professional blackjack and poker player, has done security consulting with a number of casinos, including Resorts in Atlantic City, and law enforcement agencies, as well as for TV shows and movies, according to his Web site.

He did not return a message left at the telephone number listed on his Web site.

Aseltine said the group set up a high-stakes game in a room at the Borgota Hotel to coincide with a poker tournament at the casino.

"These people were targeting private games, they were not targeting casinos," Aseltine said. "They hold these private games around casino Meccas because that’s where you get your high stakes play."

The group used marked playing cards and strategically positioned video cameras throughout the hotel room so members could watch the game from a video monitor in another room, Aseltine said. One of the cameras allowed them to see the back of the "hole" cards, which are kept face-down on the table in stud poker until the end of the game.

"It’s the face-down cards that are unknown to the other players," said Aseltine. But because the cards were marked, the ring would know the suit and value of the hole card and be able to enter the scenario into the computer to determine the best play. "The members of this ring would then relay instructions on how to play the game using a small transmitter in the ear," he said.

Aseltine declined to say how the State Police’s casino unit came upon the ring because the investigation is ongoing. He said more details would become available if a state grand jury decides to indict the four, who remain free on bail.