The game was Texas Hold ’Em, but it might as well have been Take the Money and Run.
A motley crew of seven card sharks plus their can’t-lose dealer allegedly went all in on a cheating scheme to win and never lose or draw whenever they played poker at Detroit’s Motor City Casino, authorities claim.
Five of the players have already folded and are expected to testify against the dealer and one lone card shark come trial time.
The so-called ringleader in the poker pilfering scam is 65-year-old retiree Earl Railey who told The Daily Beast he took a plea deal and accepts being labeled a cheat.
Railey’s deal includes admission to charges of conspiracy, larceny, and gambling activities. He says while others have been able to plead down from felonies to misdemeanors, he’s facing 18 months probation and some time in jail because he’s a “habitual offender.”
“I was young and stupid,” he said of his prior convictions including armed robbery and cocaine trafficking.
It is Railey, authorities say, who was the mastermind of the slow-motion scheme where 53-year-old card dealer pal Darryl Green kept letting the house get taken for “hundreds of dollars” in 2014 by divvying out winnings. Green is accused of letting Railey and the other six accused gamblers rack up cash despite turning over losing hands, or even just turning a blind eye and let them keep their chips if they lost.
Railey and his card cronies kept returning to Darryl’s table and won not because of any collusion, but because the dealer was just a hapless drunk.
“He drank a whole half gallon of Jack Daniels which was a Christmas present from my nurse,” Railey said. “I knew he had a drinking problem.”
And that was the extent of it: a tipsy, sloppy dealer who may have lapsed on many a losing hand.
“I think he was paying out when he shouldn’t have been,” Railey said. “I can’t say he was doing it deliberately.”
Railey remembers the very moment he went from VIP of the casino castle (he’d once had a $22,000 Royal Flush) to first in line in the mugshot lineup.
“Darryl had texted me on his break and said, ‘They watching me,’” Railey said. “I thought that meant there was a couple ladies he had me holler at earlier that night.
“See, I’m a ladies man and if I see somebody might like a girl I’m going to have to go speak to them on they behalf.”
But it wasn’t a couple potential beauties that were sweet on Darryl. It was Michigan State Police and the state’s gaming control board.The crew was led upstairs and to this day Railey says he hasn’t seen a penny of his $1,922.50 purse.
“I caught like two diamonds that night: a Jack of Diamonds and a Queen of Diamonds,” Railey said, adding before he could make a move security came and upstairs they went.
“They just took it,” the gambler said. “I talked to one of the gaming officers and he said ‘You’re money is in good hands. We got it.’
It was Railey along with Eugene Davis, 32, Calvin Pullom, 47, Roxanna McKinney, 49, Leah Smith, 42, and Haward Stampley, 57, who were directed to separate rooms “upstairs.”
Only Leah Smith and Green maintain their innocence and taking their chances at trial.
Railey says the authorities kept him in a room for an hour before he was eventually booked.
“They’re asking me about Darryl and if I seen him outside the casino,” he said.
Railey didn’t deny that he and Darryl Green were pals.
“I told them ‘Yeah, because he’s a hell of a bowler; he got game.”
When Green wasn’t serving up straights and flushes, the dealer apparently made a killing knocking down the pins at the local alley. “I would give him money to bet on his bowling,” Railey admitted.
Railey would empty a pint of liquor at the car wash when he happened to bump into Green and had him over for barbecues to watch NFL football games that Railey had waged bets on.
Apparently the dealer’s no deviant.
“I heard he was lucky,” Railey said. “He was one of the good dealers. It proved that I had been lucky with him. I let people know that.”
But while Green’s rep as a lucky gambler grew, Railey says he paled in comparison to other dealers he knew by their first names like Virginia and Donna who he “had more luckier days with.”
“I never had any of those big ass days with Darryl,” he said. “I never left with 4, 5, $6,000. I had a days like that but he wasn’t at the table. It was another dealer at the table.”
There were other heartbreaking nights at Motor City where Railey said he lost bundles.
“I lost one night maybe $10,000.”
Like Green, Railey liked to drink, too.
Grey Goose and cranberry juice with Bud Lite chasers was how he rolled at Motor City Casino or Greektown or Vegas.
“I been sitting at the table buzzed,” he said, explaining why his moral compass may have been a tad askew “And at night now I’d really be buzzed.”
Playing and winning, even when you’re losing just seemed to make the good times a bit peculiar but purely unintentional.
“When you get down there and you be buzzing and when he takes your trips [ante] and pays you the rest, that must have mean you won the bet,” Railey said. “That’s where the questions came up: Did I win that hand?”
And in the end he tried to chalk it up to a operator error.
“OK, well I must have because Darryl took my top and I knew why he took the top because I didn’t have better than trips,” he said. “Still, there’s been times when it’s like ‘Man did I win that hand?’ like scratching my head.”
Railey says the so-called collusion was more of a consistent slight by a weak dealer at small-time table.
And if there was a problem that’s what pit bosses and big brother watching above are there for in the first place.
“I’ve seen it happened with other dealers, not just Darryl,” he said. “They would pay and we would get paid and I would look at other players.”
He talks of Darryl’s mistakes as casually as if standing at a checkout line and collecting wad of cash, knowing you’re on the hook for hundreds.
In this case, Railey seems to be a lucky customer blaming a glitchy register or the clerk and instead of returning the excessive bills, he wheels away and pretends nobody’s the wiser.
“Well I say it’s on them,” he said. “You got pit bosses watching the tables and if they’re not doing their job then it’s not our fault.”
Still, he doesn’t have much of an answer how each player who had lost would all of a sudden go into the next hand as christened winners. “There were many times when I see the whole table get paid and I would question it,” Railey said.
He may not have made a fuss at the table but he approached Green outside the casino. “I asked him at the Six Mile getting our car washed and I said ‘Darryl, it seemed like you paid me on a couple of hands that I lost.’
“And he says ‘Man, I be drunk. I ain’t be knowing what I did,’”
The only fault Railey says he and six other poker players can be guilty of beyond gravitating to a weak dealer’s table was for making side bets of sometimes $50 or more a hand during a game that would start at 6 p.m. and end before noon the next morning.
“We knew what we owed one another,” Railey said of the bets they made on the hush on top of the “legitimate” bets they made at the table. “We never exchanged at the table; we do it after we cash out and say ‘I have this coming from you and this coming from you and we give it to them.’”
Railey acknowledged that the side betting was not condoned but also they “never had a side deal with Darryl.”
On a good night he tipped him handsomely like he would any other dealer. “I would chip him at the table.”
But that was where any kind of money changing hands started and ended.
“When they brought us upstairs I thought it was because we were betting on eachother’s hands,” he said, adding that he knew it was wrong.
“Betting on other player’s hands—we did that,” he said.
Their backdoor enterprise would involve the same players who pled guilty to the cheating scam. “Depends on what player is there that day, but if I played with for years we bet $10 or $25 or $50 maybe more on each hand.”
He claims that’s as far as anything underhanded went.
“Me betting on somebody’s hand—I’m not passing money across the table to them,” he said. “And with chips you can do what you want with the chips. You just can’t pass cash money across the table so there is no crime.”
Questions sent to Motor City Casino’s officials were not immediately returned. Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office are proceeding with the criminal case against the dealer and the lone holdout player Leah Smith. They’re both due back in Wayne County 3rd Circuit Court on Friday.
Even at Railey’s age, he says he can do the time.
“Eighteen months probation I can do that standing on my head,” he said. “I can handle it.”
Twenty days in jail?
“Even the jail time I can do—but I might not have to go to jail.”
Railey says he’s managed to keep his nose clean and went legit to run a marketing company that at one point before it shuttered called AT&T and Sprint customers.
Nowadays Railey hopes to be a beacon to his two granddaughters whom he drops off and picks up from school and donates time to a local church.
I’m a mentor for children at church and I’m doing positive things in my life. All the negativity that’s come into my life is some bullshit. Straight up.”
He also admitted he still placing Texas Hold’em bets.
“I’m not supposed to be but I have been playing.”
Blackballed from his favorite Motor City Casino Railey says has been trying to find Lady Luck elsewhere.
“I was a VIP there,” he said as a badge of honor. “You couldn’t say anything bad about me.
“If I go down there to eat at the restaurant, I’d talk to the girls at the back I give them $30 or $40 dollar tips and the management put me on the 15th floor suite.”
Since he went down for the poker grift, Railey has tried and failed to be permitted re entry.
I called the vice president of operations and asked if I could be reinstated. ‘No it will have to be another 90 days,’ she told me.”
Ninety days later Railey received another ‘No.’
“Shortly after that I get a letter from her saying ‘We’re never letting you back in here.’”
Come trial if prosecutors try to put him on the stand Railey says he’s a hopeless witness. “They have a weakness because I’m not going to testify to anything that would be beneficial to their case. I don’t have anything to roll on them on.
“I don’t recall.”