One-time Maryland baccarat dealer Ming Zhang, 32, of Alexandria, Virginia, was sentenced in federal court to 18 months in prison for his role in a million-dollar baccarat cheating scheme, federal prosecutors announced on Thursday.
Upon leaving incarceration, Zhang will be placed in supervised release for three years. Under an agreement, he plead guilty in September 2018 to a single count of conspiracy to transport stolen funds.
Maryland U.S. District Court Judge Paul W. Grimm on Wednesday also ordered Zhang to pay back the casino for the total amount of the loss. Zhang and his co-conspirators’ actions led the venue to lose $1,046,560, prosecutors claim.
Zhang could have faced up to five years in prison, according to the Associated Press. The name of the involved casino was not released in a statement from prosecutors. But the AP reported Zhang worked at MGM National Harbor near Washington, D.C.
Under the scheme, Zhang allegedly alerted an unnamed co-conspirator when Zhang was scheduled to deal at the baccarat table, prosecutors said. In the card game, if a player knows the order in which cards appear, “they can predict the outcome of any given baccarat hand with near-perfect accuracy and place their bets accordingly,” said a statement from Maryland US Attorney Robert K. Hur.
Under the rules of baccarat, players compare the value of two hands of cards: a player hand and a dealer hand. Each card has a point value, and before any cards are dealt, players place bets on which hand will be closest to nine, Hur’s statement explained. The dealer distributes cards between the player and dealer hands.
Details on Baccarat Cheating Scheme
On Sept. 27, 2017, a player who was allegedly tipped off by Zhang that he would be dealing that day was able to see an exposed portion of the baccarat deck, prosecutors said. The co-conspirator allegedly photographed the deck.
Zhang then allegedly placed the once-exposed portion of cards, unshuffled, into the plastic box that keeps the cards in order until they are dealt to players. It is known as a “shoe.”
The co-conspirator and other players placed large bets when the unshuffled portion of the deck came into play, the statement adds.
The next day, Zhang allegedly lied to investigators about his knowledge and participation in the cheating scheme, the statement said.
Between July and September 2017, Zhang allegedly was present with co-conspirators when they took part in the scheme at another Maryland casino, prosecutors claim. In fact, Zhang even met with an alleged co-conspirator at a hotel near the second casino to learn how to take part in the scheme, prosecutors said.
While meeting with the co-conspirator at the hotel, Zhang took $1,000 as his cut. He later asked for more money, prosecutors claim.
Cheating Is Reportedly Widespread at Maryland Casino
Of all the cheating that goes on in MGM properties across the US, some 63 percent of it occurs in just one casino, the MGM National Harbor, Casino.org reported in February. That probably makes the Prince George’s County, Maryland property the most-cheated casino in America.
MGM is trying to crack down on cheaters and wants to see tougher laws in place. In fact, the casino’s director of security said his team caught 172 cheaters in 2017.
Elsewhere in Maryland, a Live! Casino and Hotel worker was charged for allegedly printing five fake casino vouchers and cashing them in at the Hanover, Maryland venue for $14,500, according to news reports in October.
As of October, under Senate Bill 842, Maryland decriminalized wagering and gambling, and it is now a civil offense, according to the MarylandReporter.com. Earlier, those convicted on illegal betting faced sentences of up to one year in prison or up to a $1,000 fine.