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Attempt cheating scam, altars card dealing has uncovers in Pala Casino

9 November 2001

Some card-dealing practices have been changed as a result of what was believed to be an attempted card-cheating scam uncovered at Pala Casino last month in Pala Indian reservation Surveillance. "Casino war," in which the player and dealer vie for high cards an alleged tag-team operation targeted the game of, said Jerry Turk, Pala Casino managing partner. One or two members of the team, which may have included as many as four or five collaborators would put fingernail marks on the backs of high cards while playing the game. Later, an accomplice would sit down and be able to discern certain cards and bet accordingly, Turk said. In Oct. 20 two men were caught on casino surveillance, detained by security and turned over to sheriff''s deputies. Markings had been found on war game cards about two weeks earlier after casino personnel noticed bets being made in a highly unusual manner. That discovery prompted a detailed inspection of the decks. Turk said Surveillance was heightened on the game, eventually leading to the arrests. "When they came back a second time, we were able to spot these people right away," he said. "The whole idea . . . is to wait until you think a high card''s going to come up. Then you increase your bet. That''s exactly what they were doing." Arrested on suspicion of conspiracy and burglary to commit a theft were Chanhthy Phoummany, 38, and Vatsana Thenbouapha, 27, both of Fresno. The two were later released with no charges filed. San Diego district attorney''s spokeswoman, Liz Pursell yesterday said the case has not been dismissed, but prosecutors need more information before deciding whether to proceed. Sheriff’s Lt. Maury Freitas, commander of the department''s Valley Center substation, said the suspects told officers how the scam was intended to work but would not name any accomplices. Freitas said, "They went into great detail how it''s done, but being able to prove that is a different thing," Turk said previous to finding the marked cards, the casino had been using one six-deck "shoe," or dealing apparatus, all day. The decks are now changed at least three times a day. Pala alerted other tribal casinos to the attempted scam. No similar incidents have been reported.

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