How good would it be if you sat down at a casino table and at the moment you placed your bet, you knew if it was going to be a winner or loser?
Over a period close to two years between August 2012 and July 2014, this is exactly how two craps players felt when settling down for some action at a table within The Bellagio in Las Vegas.
What’s more, the bets that were being paid out as winners by Bellagio dealers were not ever placed. They were phony.
The scam, reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal, is said to have cost The Bellagio an estimated $1.2 million, with the four individuals involved reportedly overcoming odds of 452 billion to 1 by landing their winning wagers.
The hop bet scam
Obviously, gamblers Anthony Grant Granito and Jeffrey Martin were not working alone. They had the help of Mark Branco and James Russell Cooper, who were both dealers at the time at The Bellagio.
For the scam to succeed, both dealers had to be working alongside each other at the same craps table.
It was Branco that was regarded as the mastermind behind the plan, which involved Granito and Martin mumbling hop bets under their breath as a game was in progress.
A hop bet is when a player correctly attempts to identify the exact values of the two dice rolled by a shooter.
However, although these are legitimate bets for craps players to place, there was no recognised spot at the Bellagio tables for such a wager.
Therefore, with no location for players to put down their chips, they are permitted to inform the dealer of the hop bet they wish to place before the shooter rolls the dice.
This is what happened in the scam, with Granito and Martin muttering their supposed bets during the final seconds of betting action, which Branco and Cooper would then pay out, regardless of what was rolled.
Critical, was that the verification of the payout came from the dealer, as the hops bet couldn’t be heard by the pit boss or other casino dealers nearby.
The attempted cover up
An easy hop in craps is paid out at 15/1 and gives players two chances of victory. For example, a hop bet of six with fives and ones would be a winner if the first dice was a five and the second a one, or vica versa.
A hard hop bet returns 30/1 and this is because there is only one opportunity for a player to win. An example would be a six again, but where both dices have to be a three.
With such substantial payouts, it is easy to see how the quartet could build up some hefty profits in a single gambling session. It is stated that they were in cahoots at the craps table 76 times.
As a means of trying to conceal some of their successful streaks and reduce any apprehension from the casino or other staff, valid losing bets were additionally placed, according to the publication.
The fall out
Casino authorities did eventually become suspicious and the case ended up in court, with all four men given prison sentences, convicted on theft and cheating charges.
During the case it was highlighted how one day’s action involved 230 rolls of the dice and the securing of marginally more than $85,000 in profit – with $150,000 won on the phantom bets and $64,000 lost on legitimate ones.
Granito, Cooper and Martin have since been placed on probation, while ringleader Branco remains incarcerated.
The former trio also have the dissatisfaction of having their names added into Nevada’s ‘black book’.
This is a list from the Gaming Control Board of all persons excluded from entering the state’s casinos. They are the 33rd, 34th and 35th entrants onto said list.
Other casino staff who failed with their scams
It is not overly uncommon throughout the years for staff to be involved in plots that attempt to scam a casino.
In 2009, there was the story of Wayne Wagner, who was jailed for 15 months after admitting to the theft of £69,000 when a roulette croupier.
Wagner had been caught stuffing chips into his socks during games and was believed to have made up to £1,000 a month carrying out his con.
Back in 2016 during a speech at the Global Gaming Expo, James Taylor, deputy chief of the Nevada Gaming Control Board enforcement division, stated that between 250 and 500 casino employees are arrested each year by the GCB.
Of this group, 27% were table game operators.