By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
February 13, 2014

The leading suspect in a scheme to rig a poker tournament, at the Borgata last month, has gotten into more hot water with the law, this week. Christian Lusardi of Fayetteville, North Carolina was arrested January 24th in connection with the introduction of counterfeit chips in the opening event at the Borgata Winter Open. Unable to make the $300,000 cash payment for bail, Lusardi has been sitting in a jail cell since.

This week, prosecutors have upped the ante for Lusardi with new charges against him – wholly unrelated to the allegations of meddling with the publicly exhibited Borgata contest. While Lusardi was holed up in Atlantic City, federal agents apparently acted on a search warrant. They’d found  more than 37,500 illegal DVD disks in his home. Lusardi is now charged with a DVD bootlegging operation, as part of his rap sheet.

The picture is still not clear, however, as to whether the current status of the investigation into Lusardi’s activities will soon prompt the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) to come forward with a final resolution concerning the tainted poker tournament.

Investigation of Borgata Chip Caper is Ongoing According to DGE.

On January 18th, before the beginning of the third scheduled day of the competition for 27 in-the-money finalists, the DGE canceled Event 1 of the tournament. The regulator froze the unpaid prize monies pending an investigation. After the new charges against Lusardi, were announced this week, the DGE reiterated that the  investigation of the tainted tournament is ongoing. Borgata management personnel have expressed empathy for the plight of the unpaid finalists, while emphasizing full support for DGE’s commitment to a thorough investigation.

Joe Lupo, senior vice president of Borgata operations has said repeatedly in discussions with the finalists, “Integrity is everything for the Borgata.” He and his poker management team believe the most insightful enhancements to the security of future events will come from as complete an understanding as possible of the many details surrounding the compromised event.

Lusardi: Frantic Clumsy Lone Wolf Gone Mad?

Lusardi made postings about the fake chips caper at a cyberspace poker forum, in advance of his arrest, according to investigators who who did not wish to be named. Some of the statements Lusardi  made, under the screen name “Justbecauseican,” have been called “hogwash” by sources close to the investigation. But, he obviously wasn’t kidding when he claimed that the story was “complicated.” A huge huge haul of illegal DVD’s turned up at Lusardi’s home. And, law enforcement officers also grabbed more chips and additional evidence, suggesting grand plans that may have included targeting additional tournaments in America and Europe. Investigators are said to be checking out the breadth of Lusardi’s activities with a fine tooth comb.

Lusardi has been on the radar screens of various law enforcement authorities for quite some time according to documents made public in connection with the new DVD bootlegging charges. Moreover, sources close to DGE indicate there are other criminal matters that have drawn attention to him.

The DGE and New Jersey state police are holding close to the vest the exact sequence of events that led to Lusardi’s arrest. Sources close to the New Jersey-based investigation say Lusardi may have been more worried that police were about to close in on him on another criminal matter when he flushed down the toilet of his hotel room 2.7 million Borgata-labeled tournament chips.

Meanwhile the clay counterfeit chips (referenced as plastic chips in some reports) used in the ill-fated Borgata tournament and a truckload of other evidence including the illegal DVD’s found in Lusardi’s home are keeping police plenty busy in trying to get to the bottom of this intertwined and far flung story. The chips and the disks, now under the control of authorities, were reportedly imported by Lusardi from China.

Poker Management Comes Out Front

Borgata poker room management led by Vincent Alonge agreed to an interview last week to discuss plans to meet the challenges created by the counterfeit chip caper. He brought Tab Duchateau, the Borgata’s tournament director, and Mabel Louie, poker room executive host to join the conversation. They talked about their reactions upon learning  that the tournament might have been the victim of foul play and their sentiments when suspicions turned into proof. In different words they shared the view that the incident made them feel like the casino and the tournament players had been hit by lightning. They look upon cheaters and angle shooters as the terrorists of the poker industry. They also empathize with the finalists who are waiting for news from DGE on the unpaid prize monies.

As to the rest of the 4000+ pool of players who busted out before reaching the money, complaints were predictable and complainers have been vocal. But, Alonge and Duchateau say most of the players who have spoken with them have not expressed a sense of entitlement to a partial or full refund of their tournament buy-in monies.

Alonge declined to address any questions about possible refunds or any other issues that may be under consideration by the DGE. He says, “I appreciate all of the questions from players and wish as much as anyone for a resolution at the soonest possible time.” He added, “It could be harmful for our personnel to get involved in commenting or discussing their own opinions while the investigation is in progress, so they have been asked to avoid such conversation.” To say it has not been fun for the Borgata poker team to sit on the sidelines, silently, these past three weeks is an understatement. While the incident has resulted in pointed questions and second guessing from some players, the triumvirate of Alonge, Duchateau, and Louie see their responsibilities as staying the course. They say they will continue to mind the business as they always have – with integrity of the games and customer service their highest priorities.

Moving Forward

Alonge is a highly experienced poker room executive with more than 20 years in the business. Duchateau and Louie have been with the Borgata in their respective positions of tournament director and executive host since the beginning. They acknowledge the culprit(s) actions made the poker team mad, sad, and frustrated, but above all, determined to use the “intelligence” gained from the unique incident and investigation of it to impede repetition.

Duchateau, is setting the example for his staff; firm in the resolve to use lessons learned to produce the most secure tournament environment, anywhere. He has turned his attention to the development of constructive changes, and toward this end already has a prioritized list of potential security–minded enhancements for further prompt consideration with his bosses.

Louie is keeping her eye on the ball; doing her job the same way she has for years—very successfully. She is intently focused on customer service. Louie makes it her business to know her regulars. She caters to high-stakes customers, while minding the whole store. She chats with players at lower stakes cash games, makes reservations for players at her corner desk, and listens to tournament customers’ feedback at the podium during major tournaments. Players recognize her as the consummate professional and the undisputed Queen Bee of the Borgata poker room.

The hour long interview with senior poker management closed with two central points made by Alonge. He stated that  the collaborative investigation has has not only included Borgata management and poker room personnel but also help from  Harrahs,  industry colleagues, players, and social media. He thanks all who have contributed to the effort and asserts that the extensive cooperation will will be valuable as new administrative procedures and security initiatives are evaluated. His goal is clear: Discourage thieves and cheaters from looking upon the Borgata card room as a viable target for any future shenanigans.

Alonge also urges players who see something to say something, noting, “Players as well as personnel need to be alert, and outspoken – reporting to poker room management any concrete indications of stealing, cheating, or angle shooting at any poker table.” He says, “Players are a necessary and integral part of a strong line of defense against  misconduct in poker rooms”  He mentioned that two players took notice of suspicious chips in the compromised tournament and thanks all who brought valuable information to the attention of tournament personnel.

It is now clear, that it was a combination of factors that led police to focus on Christian Lusardi, most notably a call from Harrahs. That call was critical to understanding the breadth of the investigation that would be required to establish. In addition casino surveillance tapes have proven immensely in understanding facts and the timeline of various events — all needed to build a case against the perpetrator(s).

Men (“The Master”) Surfaces With a Grin

Until Christian Lusardi was identified as a worthy suspect and nabbed by police, Men Nguyen, a successful but controversial tournament competitor became a convenient target for suspicion around the Borgata poker room and at the cyberspace poker news group of Nguyen’s reputation as an angle shooter at the tables had been firmly established by his detractors. His critics include highly respected poker pros and poker forum pundits who have publicized alleged incidents. The most famous accusations go back to 1996. Foxwoods evicted Nguyen from the property, and issued a lifetime ban. Allegations that he had been caught cheating and rumors of tournament chips found in his hotel suite flew fast. Complaints and rumors have dogged him ever since.

Last week Lusardi, himself, in one of his now infamous Internet postings assured his readers “Men had nothing to do with this,” referring to the counterfeit chip caper at the Borgata. More credibly, Mike Sexton, an internationally popular poker personality and the longtime commentator on the World Poker Tour spoke out about the 1996 Foxwoods incident, calling the rumors of Nguyen as a cheat, there, irresponsible and unfair. Sexton explained to this reporter that he was present in the lobby of the hotel when Foxwoods security handcuffed, questioned, and ultimately released Nguyen, after a fire in his room was discovered.

According to Sexton, security never uttered a word about cheating or tournament chips in his room or any other impropriety in his poker activities. He was “86’d” for endangering guests with his “makeshift faulty stove, according to Foxwoods security.” Nguyen was readmitted to the Foxwoods poker room some four years later.

When news came that Lusardi was picked and there was no mention of Nguyen, The Master grinned from ear to ear and laughed at mouthy critics who suspected him of foul play during his deep run in the event—as they have, endlessly, over the course of his poker career. “I am glad they found the bad guys,” he said, referring to the police report that named Lusardi. Nguyen left the Borgata with his head held high.

“The Show Never Ends”

Meanwhile with its Company slogan in mind, “The Show Never Ends,” the Borgata poker team put Chipgate to the side for investigators to ponder, further, in favor of totally concentrating on the rest of the winter series schedule and upcoming tournaments in the weeks ahead.

The Borgata Winter Open WPT championship event counted 1229 contestants; it was the second largest field in the history of the WPT. And the latest announcement from the Borgata makes clear that its commitment as a premiere poker tournament site is absolute. The WPT World Poker Championship will be hosted by the Borgata for the first time as part of the Borgata Spring Poker Open April 8th-26th.