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Former Bellagio dealer gets 2 to 5 years for craps scheme

A former craps dealer was sentenced Thursday to two to five years in prison for his role in a long-running, $1 million scam against the Bellagio.

James R. Cooper Jr., 44, pleaded guilty to one count of theft in connection with orchestrating phony bets at the dice game.

Three other men — former dealer Mark Branco, Jeffrey Martin and Anthony Granito — also have been sent to prison in the case. Branco, who prosecutors said led the scheme, received the harshest sentence: four to 10 years. Martin, a former professional baseball player, and Granito, a friend of Branco, were ordered to serve three to 8.3 years.

Cooper cooperated with authorities and laid out the scheme’s details.

In 2014, casino authorities noticed a series of winning wagers they said defied 452-billion-to-1 odds.

From August 2012 to July 2014, the group scammed the Bellagio through one-time, high-risk oral propositions in which a player wagered that a specific number would be rolled next.

Cooper and Branco would have to be working the same table, according to Cooper’s grand jury testimony. As a shooter tossed the dice, Granito or Martin would mumble something that sounded like a hop bet and one of the dealers would pay out as if they had correctly wagered on whatever fell.

At the time, the felt on the craps table at Bellagio had no designated spot for such bets.

Odds are that over two years the crew would have lost $712,029, but it won $1,086,400, according to an MGM statistician. Granito had racked up more than $33,000 in comps and Martin had more than $12,000 that could have been used on shows, dinners, free rooms or spa visits. But they cashed in on very little.

Defense lawyers disputed the high-dollar figure was stolen money, saying the group sometimes won legitimate bets.

Cooper’s attorney, Amy Chelini, had asked District Judge Valerie Adair to give Cooper probation.

Cooper apologized for his actions and told the judge he “got caught up in greed” and “I am actually a good citizen.”

MGM fraud examiner Sharon Tibbits said casino executives examined every roll of the dice available on surveillance while Branco and Cooper worked the tables.

Granito and Martin lost thousands of dollars on fair wagers they placed to distract attention, but always walked away with a profit because of the phantom bets.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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