A blackjack dealer at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino is accused of paying thousands of dollars in fraudulent winnings to a group of card players last month in a cheating conspiracy authorities say amounted to more than $32,000.
State Police are searching for the dealer, Breana Lewis, 24, of New Orleans, who has been at large for three weeks. Investigators also took out arrest warrants for the four players, who forfeited thousands of dollars in cash and chips to the casino after security personnel confronted them.
Lewis, who worked for the casino for about a year, had been expected to meet with investigators but failed to show up, and authorities “haven’t been able to locate her in the New Orleans metro area,” said Melissa Matey, a State Police spokeswoman.
The dealer’s whereabouts remained unknown late Monday, and efforts to reach her for comment were unsuccessful.
The scheme unfolded during two late-night sessions — on May 17 and May 22 — when four players “who appear to personally know each other and personally know Lewis” played at the casino, according to court documents. The allegedly rogue dealer awarded the players “bets that were not winners” under blackjack guidelines, according to felony arrest warrants, which allege that Lewis was observed “cheating and swindling” by her supervisor.
“Their actions appeared to be preplanned, and these four patrons were wagering on just the blackjack table Lewis was dealing on over these two days,” Master Trooper Jeffery Argrave, of the State Police’s Gaming Enforcement Division, wrote in an affidavit.
Lewis’ actions, Argrave added, “caused an integrity issue with the table game outcome and cost Harrah’s Casino a total of $32,022.50 in gaming revenue.” The scam cost the casino $4,325 during one sitting and $27,697.50 during the other, according to the warrants.
Casino security questioned the four players after their second session and got at least some of the money back. “During this interview, the four voluntarily returned a sum of $12,855 in cash and chips back to Harrah’s Casino,” Argrave wrote. “The four then left the property after the interview.”
The four players, wanted for cheating and swindling, were identified as Cornelius Wells, 34, of 2817 Gen. Ogden St., New Orleans; Jeffery Sheridan Jr., 25, of 63464 H Morris Road, Angie; Clifford E. Carter, 31, of 8711 Dinkins St., New Orleans; and Annette Davis, 43, of 556 Behrman Highway, Gretna.
It wasn’t clear why the players were allowed to leave the casino after returning the money, and attempts to reach casino officials for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Bill Zender, a former Nevada Gaming Control agent and well-known casino consultant, said Harrah’s officials were likely focused on recovering as much of their money as possible up front.
“For the casino, your primary responsibility is protecting your bank roll,” Zender said in a telephone interview. “They probably approached them and said, ‘We want our money back, and we won’t arrest you right now if you give it back.’ ”
But Zender, who is the author of several books on gaming management and gambling, said the amount of money taken — and the allegation that multiple sessions were involved — raised questions about the surveillance measures at a casino that requires floor supervisors to monitor more games at a time than the industry standard. Harrah’s “basically set themselves up because their oversight’s not there,” he added.
The investigation marks at least the second major case of alleged cheating at a Louisiana casino in the past year. In September, an East Baton Rouge Parish judge issued an arrest warrant for a convicted con artist caught marking cards at L’Auberge Casino with luminous ink and using infrared contact lenses to cheat the house at Mississippi Stud poker.
Bruce Koloshi, 55, of New Jersey, who has been caught cheating at casinos around the country, was allowed to leave L’Auberge after turning over more than $3,000 in winnings to the casino. It was only later that State Police built a case against him and obtained the arrest warrant. Within days, he was taken into custody after allegedly trying the same card-marking ploy at a casino in eastern Connecticut.
Authorities ask anyone with information about the whereabouts of the suspects in the Harrah’s cheating probe to telephone State Police at (504) 533-6919 or (504) 471-2775.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.