Chips in focus as Maryland Live Casino’s million-dollar poker series kicks off


The Maryland Live poker room, as seen through a surveillance camera. Facial images blurred to protect player identities.

On Tuesday, the second day of the $1 Million Live! Poker Classic at Maryland Live Casino, Card Player magazine posted a story about chip security at poker tournaments.

The impetus: A series of recent incidents, beginning in January at Borgata in Atlantic City, where officials canceled a major tournament upon discovering that a player had introduced 160 forged chips into play. Last month, the winner of a World Series of Poker Circuit event in Florida was disqualified for pocketing a chip near the end of the tournament.

And, Card Player added:

Just weeks ago, a couple of poker players were arrested after trying to introduce counterfeit chips at the Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover.

That sentence was only partially true: Two people were charged last month after allegedly putting doctored chips into circulation at Maryland Live. But the fake $100 chips were used at roulette, blackjack and mini-baccarat tables, not in Maryland Live’s bustling poker room.

Card Player subsequently removed the reference to Maryland Live from the story (you can see a cached version of the original story here), though the poker publication’s earlier piece about fake chips at Maryland Live remained on the site, as of Friday morning, with the following headline:  Police Arrest Two For Allegedly Using Fake Poker Chips At Maryland Casino.

The lingering confusion about whether there’s a chip problem in the casino’s cardroom stems from court documents and a Maryland State Police press release, all of which contain multiple references to “poker chips.” 

Mike Smith, the casino’s director of poker operations, reiterated in an interview this week that the fakes were never used in Maryland Live’s 52-table poker room. The notion that there’s a chip scandal in his poker room was upsetting, Smith said, “because it’s not true.”

This is a big month for Maryland Live’s poker operation, which on many nights is the second-busiest in the country, behind the massive Commerce Casino in Southern California.

The $1 Million Live! Poker Classic, which began Monday, is the Arundel Mills casino’s most ambitious tournament offering yet – a series of nine events spread out over 14 days, with a guaranteed total prize pool of at least $1 million and some as-seen-on-TV opportunities: A crew from the new show “Poker Night in America” will descend on Maryland Live near the end of the series, to film the main event final table and a special invite-only cash game featuring the likes of 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event champ Greg Merson and 2009 Main Event runner-up Darvin Moon.

Not a good time, then, to have people wondering about fake chips — though Smith said he hasn’t heard any questions about it recently, other than from reporters. (Ahem.)

“The concern as it relates to poker chips is really minimized, because of the procedures within our tournaments,” said Rob Norton, Maryland Live’s president and general manager. “We’ll know if there are chips introduced.”

And if there are, he said, “players who are trying to take advantage of the situation” will probably find themselves banned. “Maryland Live takes a very strong stance on players who are looking to game the system. … I’m not going to tolerate that sort of behavior.”

Smith said he banned players in Florida for tournament-chip funny business when he was running the poker operation at Isle Casino in Pompano Beach, Fla., but that “it has not happened” at Maryland Live.

The casino reviewed its procedures following the Borgata incident and has changed the way it tracks tournament players whenever they are forced to move from one table to another (it’s done electronically now, using player-rewards cards). The casino also added a new layer of scrutiny when players count and bag their tournament chips at the end of the night in a multi-day event.

Norton was stingy with details (he usually is), saying simply: “In light of recent events, we’ve added additional security procedures to our tournament practice — to raise the level of security around chips to an even greater standard. We’re using multiple verification methods that didn’t exist previously.”

The poker room at Maryland Live uses multiple chip sets for tournaments. Casino officials wouldn’t divulge how many (“Multiple sets,” Norton said; “multiple is a good answer,” Smith said), but it’s clear from scanning Twitter that there are at least four.

 

 

 

Norton said it’s easy to introduce more chip sets, too, “as an anti-counterfeiting measure. We can add more sets — and for big tournaments, you may find more places doing that in the future, coming out with a brand-new set that’s never been used before.”

The first event of the Classic — a $550 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament — wrapped up Thursday night, with Richie Smith of Edgewater, Md., topping the 499-entrant field to win just over $60,000.

Another no-limit hold’em event begins Friday morning, with a buy-in of $1,100 and $100,000 in guaranteed prize money. (The full series schedule is available here.)

J. Freedom du Lac is the editor of The Post's general assignment news desk. He was previously a Local enterprise reporter and, before that, the paper’s pop music critic.
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