Taylor and other unsung Nevada gaming investigators are something to be thankful for By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports November 19, 2018 at 8:00 pm Nevada’s casino history is noisy with notorious scammers. Some concoct clever and complex ways to cheat the games. Others keep it simple and just steal. In the last couple decades, their names wind up on James Taylor’s desk at the State Gaming Control Board. That is precisely where the green-felt outlaws do not want to be.Taylor is a deputy chief of special investigations and support services at the board. That’s an official way of saying he is a jack-of-all-trades, working with local and federal law enforcement and their task forces on sophisticated cheating, drug trafficking and money laundering. Throw in illegal bookmaking and major credit card fraud cases, organized crime investigations and terrorism inquiries, and Taylor’s essential role begins to come into focus. Taylor supervised the board’s organized crime efforts, which in Nevada have often overlapped into multimillion-dollar casino cheating rings. It’s an end of law enforcement where the ability to develop reliable intelligence is essential to making cases. He’s pretty much seen it all and has had a hand in placing a generation of notorious characters onto Nevada’s List of Excluded Persons, better known as the “black book.” The fact he’s managed to do all that without getting sunburned by the limelight of his accomplishments is in keeping with a tradition at gaming control’s Enforcement Division. With Chief Karl Bennison, fellow deputy chiefs David Salas and Russel Niel, and a team of agents in the field, Taylor has worked largely behind the scenes to keep pace with an ever-expanding and increasingly complex gaming industry. It’s something the industry should be thankful for. Not that Anthony Granito and James Cooper will be sending Taylor’s office any holiday cards this year. The craps table scammers are the black book’s latest inductees for their roles in a $1.5 million cheating ring at the Bellagio on the Las Vegas Strip. Along with Mark Branco and Jeffrey Martin, Granito and Cooper turned mumbled “hop bets” into big wins beginning in 2012. Some were so astronomically improbable – 452-billion-to-1 seems like long odds to most folks – that casino surveillance became more than a little intrigued. With the control board’s help, Bellagio fraud specialists pored over hours of security video and conducted a variety of interviews and their own surveillance. Branco and Cooper accepted phantom wagers from Martin and Granito after the rollout and paid off whether or not the call was correct. Win or lose, they collected. Branco was a leader of the crew. A background check found that Granito, when he wasn’t rolling dice at the Bellagio, worked as a craps dealer at the Golden Nugget. The scam unraveled in 2014, the four men were charged in 2015 and convicted of multiple felonies in 2016. Cooper caught a break when he agreed to cooperate, but his black book status means he won’t be returning to work in the industry. Although never thick with names, the book has evolved dramatically over the years since the first 11 characters were included in 1960. They were notorious gangsters and mob associates. Some were suspected of holding hidden interests in the casinos. Others were known to be pursuing a piece of the action. In the corporate era, many of the names added to the exclusion list belong to cheaters. Some are career thieves. Others, like the members of the Bellagio crew, appear to have been newer to the game. As Taylor told the Los Angeles Times back in 2000, “The universe of casino threats is changing, and so is the makeup of the book. We’ve recently seen a wider range of cheats. But the old standbys – the would-be wise guys – are still around.” As long as Taylor and the crew from gaming control’s enforcement division are around, the cheats and cons will have something to worry about. Contact John L. Smith at email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.