Small bets at poker games at the Hooters casino in Spokane Valley have led to felony charges against two North Idaho men accused of the rarely prosecuted crime of cheating while gambling.
“Part of our mission is to keep gambling legal and honest so when the public goes in there to play, they know we have done everything in our power to make sure the game is fair on both sides,” said Gary Drumheller, spokesman for the Washington State Gambling Association in Spokane. “That the house is doing their part but also that the players aren’t in there doing things they shouldn’t.”
Travis Ray Smith, 37, of Dalton Gardens, and Todd Richard Jost, 33, of Hayden, were at the Owl Club Casino on Dec. 23 when prosecutors allege they worked together to distract dealers and covertly switch cards. They have pleaded not guilty to third-degree theft and first-degree cheating in Spokane County Superior Court. Trials are scheduled to begin next month but may be delayed.
Jost’s lawyer, Mark Vovos, described his client and Smith as “ordinary working stiffs” with no serious criminal records.
Carl Oreskovich, who is representing Smith, said his client maintains his innocence.
“This is based in large part on someone’s interpretation of a video,” Oreskovich said. Smith is “prepared to go to court and have the jury conclude that he did not engage in any conduct that would be inappropriate.”
In 2003, two gamblers at Northern Quest Casino were charged with cheating and theft for using counterfeit tickets, but Oreskovich and Vovos, who have been lawyers for decades, said they can’t recall other cheating cases in Spokane County.
Drumheller said his office usually is investigating several instances, but not all lead to charges.
“It’s really hit and miss sometimes,” Drumheller said. “It really depends on if we have witnesses or we have good surveillance footage.”
Drumheller said gambling investigators look to see if the card player misbehaved only once or if it was part of an ongoing pattern.
Casino employees reviewed surveillance video of Smith and Jost after a card dealer noticed Smith with six cards in his hand during a game of four-card poker, according to court documents. Smith then tried to slip an extra $15 on an already placed bet but was rebuffed. He and Jost were kicked out of the casino shortly after.
Other card dealers described the two as being belligerent and defiant. One dealer said Jost tried to play a coupon that wasn’t eligible, so she told him so. That dealer said she didn’t realize Smith had used that moment to switch his cards until she reviewed the video. She believes Jost intentionally distracted her.
Smith won $90 on a $15 bet that investigators believe was a result of the switched cards. He later won $140 on a $35 bet and $120 on a $15 bet.
Smith told an investigator with the Washington State Gambling Association that he doesn’t remember much of the night because he was drunk, but that he didn’t intentionally cheat, according to court documents.