LAS VEGAS » An ex-Bellagio craps dealer and two friends were each sentenced today to at least four years in Nevada state prison for using phantom “hop” bets to cheat the Las Vegas Strip resort out of more than $1 million.
The dealer, Mark William Branco, and accomplices Jeffrey D. Martin and Anthony Grant Granito each apologized and asked for probation before a Clark County District Court judge who also ordered each man to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to make it right,” Branco sobbed.
“Family should always be the priority. I let money be the priority,” Martin said.
“I’ve disgraced my family. I’ve disgraced myself,” said Granito, who had a heart attack and bypass surgery after being charged in the case.
Judge Valerie Adair responded that over the two years of the scheme, during which a casino official testified the men gathered at the craps table 76 times, they must’ve assumed they’d go to prison if they got caught.
Adair sentenced Branco, 43, to four to 10 years in prison. Martin, 39, and Granito, 49, each got four years to eight years and four months. Together, they’re responsible for $1.05 million in restitution.
Each man pleaded guilty last year to two felonies — theft and cheating at gambling — in a plea deal that avoided trial and had other charges in a 60-count indictment dismissed.
Branco and Bellagio co-worker James Russell Cooper Jr., were arrested in July 2014 and fired by the Bellagio after the scheme came to light.
Cooper, 44, pleaded guilty to a lesser theft charge and testified before a grand jury, providing what prosecutor Jay P. Raman called a crucial insider’s account. Cooper is expected to face one to five years in prison at sentencing later this year.
Raman said the four men hatched the scheme at a local pizza restaurant before they began the fraud in August 2012.
When Cooper or Branco or both were dealing at a craps table, Martin and Granito would step up and mutter confusing bets amid last-second activity before the roll of the dice. They’d win no matter what the outcome.
“When the circumstances were just right, they would make high-stakes ‘hop’ bets,” Raman said. “No money. No chips.”
For a time, the results made Martin and Granito the top craps winners at the posh Bellagio resort, Raman said.
“They stole a ton of money,” the prosecutor said, “the kind of money that the word ‘jackpot’ usually follows.”
They bought new vehicles and padded their bank accounts, Raman said, but Martin also lost a lot in slot machines.
Sharon Tibbits, a fraud-control executive at Bellagio owner MGM Resorts International, told the judge today that it took thousands of hours for investigators to piece together the defendants’ bets, losses and winnings.
In one day in July 2014, Granato won $13,200 on the first roll of the dice and stayed for 229 more rolls. Tibbits said he lost $64,000 on valid bets, but won almost $150,000 on fraudulent bets. His net win was more than $85,000.
“It was not need. It was 100 percent greed,” the casino official said, urging the judge to impose stiff sentences.
“Please don’t let crime pay,” Tibbits said.