A Skeleton With Flesh
“Never be Shocked by What a Skeleton with Flesh Does!”…Puggy Pearson
The Bicycle Casino Cheating Scandal
Another title could be “How Stupid Can I Be?”
In light of the current cheating scandals, I thought this would be timely.
In the spring of 1988, the action had been fast and furious at the Bicycle Casino since the previous summer. While playing a round of golf with swing shift manager Craig Kaufman, I was asked by him if I noticed any cheating by Rick Riolo? He told me that Freddie Deeb had claimed that the floorman Danny had send him over. Sending someone over is when a person sees another person’s hole cards and signals it to their opponent. I was there during that incident because Freddie had called me over and told me what he thought right after it happened as Rick was stacking a big pot from Freddie. Nothing further came from that incident but I knew Rick was a cheat. At the WSOP, he had come over to the game at the Horseshoe how he had just won $150k in one shoe at the Golden Nugget. He implied to me that it wasn’t luck or counting. He called himself “Fair Rick” which was ironic. He and his partner Larry Smith also booked sports fairly big and Doyle said they always paid. They both played tight but Rick was aggressive and Larry was a tight, weak.
I came in one afternoon to the Bike and my horse, “Laughing” Alan Schultz was playing Larry a $20k freezeout heads-up limit hold-em. I was surprised Larry would be playing Alan heads-up as that was not his game. I was even more surprised when Alan lost. I should have followed up with a review with Alan but I was usually too busy playing.
A short time later, Larry came and proposed a heads-up game with me. I was surprised but accepted. I should have gotten the message when Rick came in while we were playing and when he saw it was Larry, he blurted out, “What are you doing?” to Larry but immediately turned away. I thought he was admonishing Larry for playing me, when I should have figured out that he had realized what Larry was doing, causing him to immediately shut up. I lost about $25k to him, but I went to another game until I had gotten winner. The next time he offered to play was on a Saturday night. The deck ran all over me and I was up $14k. I thought if I can’t win today, I can never win. True thoughts but not for the reason, I was thinking. I slowly but surely lost back and I was losing $25k about 3 am. The place was empty so I thought there wasn’t another game for me to get even. Then Frank Mariani walked in. He was on European time and had just woken up. We let him in the game and by 5 am the game was full. Only Frank could fill up a game in the wee hours on a Sunday morning. Larry started to lose back about $10k and he made up an excuse that he had to go. Of course, I again got winner before I quit. I’m not sure when this happened but I had asked for a set-up. After we just started using it, another set-up was brought in and I asked why? I was just told the floorman told him and I thought it was just a communications mix-up.
The 3rd time we’re playing, it’s in the afternoon and Eric Drache walked in and sat at the table. I was losing $20k at the time. Eric left after about 15 minutes and as I went to the restroom, I received a call from Chip Reese telling me, I had to quit the game. By the time, I returned to the table, Larry had taken off. I got into another game and was winner before I quit.
Eric told me that he had seen white on white on the cards and Larry was so obvious that he had leaned over the table while I had turned to eat my soup to look at the marks. He also didn’t know who was involved including management so only confided in Chip initially. The casino manager was John Sutton and he told me he was mad that Eric hadn’t reported it right away to him.
I met with George Hardie a couple of days later and he offered me a check for $20k which I accepted and signed a non-disclosure. After I heard 4 high-limit players had $50k in markers torn up each, I felt naïve. I was cheated out of $70k in 3 sessions by Larry and $20k through my horse for a total of $90,000. I overcame it after Larry left and the game was on the square. I had forgotten about the heads-up with Alan but he should have realized it and come to at least talk to me about it.
Freddie Deeb was correct about Rick Riolo and Floorman Danny being involved in cheating but not the method. Danny was bringing in cards that were marked with white on white wrapped in cellophane just like a brand new deck. The marks can be seen by the trained eye only at an angle. Referred to as paper, when you’re playing against marked cards, you never get action when you have a hand, get raised when bluffing, and never see their hand. The feeling is getting totally outplayed.
The Sunset Hotel Game
This is a long story but this is a summary. There were 2 games about a month apart. The host at that time had an impeccable reputation. I was told I was a replacement for Jack Keller and like him, I had to give up a 25% freeroll in order to play in the game. I tried to negotiate but it was non-negotiable. I won $32k and was paid $24k.
I didn’t think about the game much until I received another call when I returned from my 2nd Annual Yosh Nakano Invitational Golf Tournament hosted by Caesar’s Tahoe. Again, I had to make the same deal but I decided I didn’t have much to lose as I had promised myself a $20k budget. By midnight, I was the last man standing on my initial $10k cash buy-in. When I lost that, I tried to leave but was lured into playing $20k 3 way freezeouts. I won one in between and thought I was being cheated but I knew without proof, I would have to pay my debt. By 9 am, I owed $250k. To make a long story short, I proved that there was an infrared camera in the ceiling and a person in the next room that was reading the marks and sending the info to the 2 players involved. Everyone in the 2nd game was returned their losses totaling $130k & I got my $10k cash back. They claimed there was no cheating in the 1st game pointing to the fact that I had won $32k. The fact is that I never played a hand with the 2 cheaters and doubled up twice in the last round when one of the players shoved all-in twice and I picked up AA & QQ which both held up.
Graveyard at the Commerce
I must have learned my lesson from a decade earlier because a tight weak player came to me at the Commerce and challenged me to a heads-up $400-$800 game. If the game was on the square, I didn’t think he had a chance but I turned him down as I felt something was up. I heard later that he had been caught as well as the chip runner bringing in the marked cards. Unfortunately, I also heard Ray and Johnny World had played him heads-up and had lost about $70k each.
It might sound unbelievable but several years later, he had promised the general manager of the Bike that he wouldn’t cheat if he could be reinstated. As the high limit host, I kept a wary eye on him but he turned out to be one of my livest player. In a $100-$200 mix game, he lost $20k and over the course of months, about $100k.
In the 6 games, I knew I was cheated, I ended up winning overall but I’m not naïve to think that there are other times when I didn’t know I was being cheated.