Lawyers suggest possible defenses at cheating trial

The operators of Mohegan Sun are so confident the house has a comfortable edge in the game of mini-baccarat that they pass out preprinted scorecards so players can keep track of the cards that come out.

"The casino has no objection, because it never has been shown to help them," casino shift and pit manager Robert Gallagher testified this week during the cheating trial of two New York City men. He suggested that the purpose of the score cards is "superstition."

But card counting is among several defenses that attorneys Jeremiah Donovan and Conrad Seifert have been floating to a jury that will decide whether Leonard Hu and Hung Lit Leung conspired with casino dealers to gain an advantage using marked cards.

The state is expected to rest its case today, and it is unclear whether the defense will call witnesses, but Donovan and Seifert have attempted to seed the jury with reasonable doubt through their cross-examination of witnesses.

"With an eight-deck shoe, no sir," was the response from surveillance investigator manager Mark Smith when Donovan suggested, during a lengthy cross-examination, that the defendants were counting cards. Card counting is not illegal, but casinos use multiple decks of cards and shuffling machines to thwart the efforts of so-called advantage players.

The state alleges Hu and Leung conspired with two dealers who marked the 7, 8 and 9 cards by pressing them with their thumbs so that they could bet big when they knew the favorable cards were coming out. The dealers, who also face criminal charges, entered into cooperation agreements with the state with the hope of leniency and admitted to "pressing" or "touching" the cards from the witness stand.

The defense has suggested Mohegan Sun is pursuing the cheating case so that it can claim the money the two men won - including more than $150,000 in one day - as an insurance loss.

"It's true, is it not, that if the casino can persuade the insurance company there's cheating it can get money back?" Donovan asked of several Mohegan Sun employees. Donovan was able to establish there is an insurance claim, but all of the employees responded they were not involved with the case.

Using surveillance video and a detailed analysis of the men's play provided by the casino, the defense attorneys contended the men did not always bet big when the favorable cards were played. They also questioned the casino witnesses about "streaks" of numbers coming out, a phenomenon that everyone agreed does occur.

Seifert showed the jury a series of numbers written on the back of shirt boxes in magic markers to introduce a strategy called the Martingale betting system in which gamblers double their standard bet each time they lose in an attempt to make up their losses. Smith, the surveillance manager, said surveillance staff are not concerned when they see bettors using that strategy.

Seifert also suggested during one cross-examination that the six-figure amount the two men won at the table one day in February 2011 "far less" compared to what the casino brings in for a day. He cited Mohegan Sun's $50.5 million slot machine win for the month of June.

Jurors viewed some of the allegedly marked cards Thursday during the testimony of Donald R. Bowen, the casino's director of table games. The dealers who admitted to marking the cards said they could not discern the marked cards themselves, and witnesses have testified that the markings have faded over time, perhaps as a result of humidity.

Bowen, who examined the cards, testified that the markings were more visible in certain light and that the marks could be seen better on the back of the cards.

Though the dealers said they pressed the center of the card faces, the backs would have been exposed to the player before coming out of the card shoe.

k.florin@theday.com

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