ATLANTIC CITY — Casino employees tackling plumbing problems at Harrah’s Resort last week discovered something more than a little unusual clogging the sewer pipes: $2.7 million in counterfeit Borgata poker chips that had been flushed down a toilet.
The red flag that began with hotel guests complaining of leaking pipes in their rooms set off a chain of events that ultimately shut down Event 1 in the Borgata Winter Poker Open on Jan. 16. Spurred by the discovery at Harrah’s, Borgata employees later found an additional 160 forged chips — totaling $800,000 — had been introduced into play, and regulators canceled the tournament.
Partial results of an ongoing investigation revealed Christian Lusardi, 42, of Fayetteville, N.C., was staying in the room at Harrah’s where the pipes were clogged.
New Jersey State Police said they arrested Lusardi on Friday and charged him with rigging a publicly exhibited contest, among other charges.
Lusardi never returned to the scene of the clogged pipes at Harrah’s, but apparently did not go far. Police said he was found just before noon Friday at the Super 8 Motel on Tennessee Avenue in Atlantic City. State Police Sgt. Brian Polite would not reveal what led authorities to Lusardi.
Friday marked the first time State Police and the New Jersey Division of Gaming En-forcement re-leased the details behind the decision to cancel the tournament. Whether others might have been involved in the scheme isn’t yet clear.
Borgata Senior Vice President Joe Lupo said the situation was by far one of the strangest he’s encountered.
“This is the first time we’ve had anything like this happen in our 10 years in business, and it’s the first time I’ve seen this in my 27 years in gaming,” Lupo said.
Police said Lusardi introduced the counterfeit chips into the tournament on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, he won $6,814 during the tournament.
Lusardi was an early standout in play, according to reports on PokerNewsReport.com. The website reported that Lusardi was the substantial chip leader with 519,000 chips going into day two of tournament play. The distinction brought him a $2,000 bonus, the site reported.
According to published reports, this is not the first time Lusardi has encountered trouble with gambling and the law. In 2008, he was among dozens charged in a gambling house operation in Fayetteville, N.C. Cards, chips and $12,000 in cash were found at his home, according a report on WRAL.com
Ryan Messick, of Bear, Del, was among the thousands who started out in the tournament. He had been eliminated by the time play was suspended, but said the unusual development left players speculating about what happened.
“The fact that this guy flushed the chips down the toilet, that just has to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Messick said. “There was no way he wasn’t going to be found out.”
Those within the poker community said rumors about flushed chips have circulated for days. In poker forum TwoPlusTwo.com, a poster under the screen name, justbecauseican, claimed to be responsible for the counterfeit chips in postings early Friday morning. The commenter claimed chips has been accidentally introduced into play and he flushed the rest down the toilet.
Exactly what will become of the buy-in money players’ paid and the prize pool isn’t yet clear. The prize money remains frozen, officials said.
“The investigation by the DGE and the State Police is ongoing and Borgata remains under the order the DGE issued last week,” Lupo said in a statement. “Borgata will continue to work with the DGE and the State Police until this matter is concluded and a final order is issued by the DGE concerning the resolution of Event I.”
The tournament in question began Jan. 14 with a $560 buy-in for $20,000 in chips. At the time play was stopped, 27 people remained.
“The division is committed to ensuring confidence and integrity in all gaming operations and will continue to work with Borgata and the New Jersey State Police until this case is closed,” DGE spokeswoman Lisa Spengler said in a written statement
Lusardi has been taken to the Atlantic County Justice Facility in lieu of $300,000 bail.
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