CLEVELAND -- Suspected cheats charged in Ohio's first criminal cases since casinos opened in the state this year were up against long odds: more than 1,000 surveillance cameras, undercover state agents, and wary dealers.
"If you're going to cheat, a casino is not a great place to try," said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office helps enforce anti-cheating laws at new casinos in Cleveland and Toledo.
Five suspects pleaded not guilty Wednesday, another was scheduled for arraignment, and a seventh person pleaded not guilty earlier. The defendants were allowed to remain free on bond.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason, whose office is handling Ohio's first casino cheating cases, likes his odds, given the extensive video surveillance in the Horseshoe casino in Cleveland.
"If we have to go to trial, we will play the video for the jury and they can watch the defendant move or stack extra chips once the cards have been played," he said. "It's not going to be difficult to figure out what they are doing."
The seven suspects are all from Ohio. One is from Akron and the others are from the Cleveland area. Most have criminal records including burglary, drugs, theft, and insurance fraud.
Mr. DeWine said seven defendants doesn't seem like many given the nearly 500,000 people who visited the Horseshoe casino in its first five weeks of operation. The casino opened May 14. And Mr. Mason said that for now, he thinks the surveillance cameras and other security arrangements have deterred career cheats who work the casino circuit coast to coast.
"Maybe when some of those big-time gamblers came in, they saw how it's being operated here and they kept going, that could be. [But] I don't think we've missed them by any means," he said.
Karen Huey, enforcement director for the Ohio Casino Control Commission, said, "I think we have had travelers come through, and we certainly have been able to identify those who have been there to look and observe: How good are the dealers? How good is the surveillance? Can they identify who the gaming agents are?"
Although there have yet to be any indictments on charges of cheating at the Hollywood Casino Toledo, officials say they are looking into cheating there. "I anticipate that we will [have upcoming charges]," Ms. Huey said.
Dan Tierney, a spokesman in Mr. DeWine's office, said that because no indictments have been issued in connection with the Toledo casino, he could not comment on investigations there.
Ms. Huey said cheating cases are most likely to occur at table games such as blackjack, craps, and poker.
"Those are the areas where I think people feel they can create an unfair advantage for themselves," she said. "When you have an area with a lot of activity, I think people see that as a better place to try to cheat."
Any cheating cases that take place in Toledo are handled by a team of 13 or 14 agents put in place at the casino by the Bureau of Criminal Identification, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said.
The cases from Cleveland involve similar scenarios: A dealer, casino employee, or security agent monitoring surveillance cameras sees the suspected cheating, often in the predawn hours. One suspect was allowed to play blackjack for an hour before he was confronted. He was allowed to cash out his chips.
Prosecutors say another person pocketed $175 by placing bets after the outcomes of six roulette games became known, and another added chips to a bet after the cards were dealt in a Texas Hold 'Em game.
Another suspect allegedly distracted the blackjack dealer on three occasions by talking loudly and pointing to another player while adding to his bet. Two others argued with agents when confronted about the alleged gambling, and another gave a false identity, prosecutors say.
Mr. DeWine said a top goal of casino enforcement is assuring honest gamblers a fair shake. "People need to know that there are rules, the rules are going to be enforced, and it's going to be a legitimate operation," he said.