For 15 years Jubreal Chahine has lurked at the illicit edges of the gambling tables, a habitual casino cheat who made his living by an opportunistic sleight-of-hand that landed him top ranking on the Nevada Gaming Control Board's "most-wanted" list.
His system was designed to make him nearly invisible to the eye-in-the-sky casino surveillance systems ubiquitous at gambling houses nationwide: He never bet the house, avoiding the high-profile big score.
Instead, he duped dealers over time in relatively low amounts — switching, say, a $20 chip for a $500 replacement once he'd seen his hand or by surreptitiously laying down a late bet at the wheel or table. Across Nevada and the East Coast, gambling authorities say, he cheated at blackjack, craps, roulette and baccarat.
But this month the 40-year-old Chahine was arrested at a casino in Bethlehem, Pa., while pulling a stunt that would have made the boys in "Ocean's Eleven" wince in disbelief: After using aliases for years, he applied for a player's club card using his real name and birth date.
"For a cardsharp, he wasn't too sharp," said Las Vegas casino consultant George Joseph.
Chahine was arrested July 19 after officials at the Sands Casino Resort notified Pennsylvania state troopers, who took him into custody.
Nevada officials applaud the collar, and say they want to extradite Chahine back to Nevada for prosecution for 21 outstanding felony charges, most involved with cheating at casinos.
"Guys like Chahine are what I call low-level, repeat offenders, versus the ones who go in for the big haul," said Karl Bennison, chief of enforcement for the Nevada Gaming Control Board. "Who knows how many times he was successful, but if you can get away with it, cheating can be profitable."
Bennison said Chahine had been arrested 14 times since 1999. He was sentenced to 19 to 48 months in prison on a cheating conviction in 2003 and was convicted a half-dozen times over the next decade for scams at various casinos in Las Vegas and Reno, officials say.
He was one of seven people on the state control board's most-wanted list for perpetual cheating — a collection started about a decade ago. The agency also maintains its notorious "Black Book" — currently containing 33 names — that excludes felons from entering casinos in Nevada.
Chahine's most recent arrest in Nevada came last year at the New York-New York casino after a dealer noticed him switching out chips on a mini-baccarat table. Authorities say he came to their attention not so much for his winnings but his longevity.
"He's a career casino cheat, so snatching him up was satisfying, more so than getting some grandma who did it one time," Joseph said.
Chahine's crimes are part of an underbelly of casino towns like Las Vegas — a world populated by opportunists who strike quickly and disappear. Some will grab the most expensive chips — say $10,000 to $25,000 in value — only to discover the chips are difficult to redeem because they're rarely dispensed and closely monitored by the casinos.
There are other low-level scams. Thieves will grab valuables, such as purses and slot machine credit vouchers, from players and then vanish. Authorities say many cheats are drug addicts who steal for a quick fix. They did not know if Chahine supported a habit.
The odds of staying at large for the long run were against Chahine, Bennison said. "It's not a safe bet," he said. "The industry keeps tabs on cheaters."
Bennison said Chahine might be in for even more infamy: lifelong inclusion in the Black Book.
"No doubt," he said. "He's definitely in the realm of being a candidate."