Card Counter Says State Trooper Roughed Him Up at Valley Forge Casino
Valley Forge Casino finds itself at the wrong end of a lawsuit filed by a Main Line man who claims that casino security, including one state trooper, physically assaulted him after he was caught counting cards at the blackjack table.
In addition to being a 2011 graduate of Villanova Law and the owner of Philadelphia Gold & Diamond Buyers on Cheltenham Avenue, Devon’s Robert Forlina is an avid blackjack player.
But Forlina doesn’t just play the game. He also employs the controversial blackjack strategy know as card counting, in which a player keeps track of which cards have been dealt — and, more importantly, which cards are still in the deck and might be dealt next — in order to increase the chances of beating the dealer.
Assuming you’re doing it all in your head, as opposed to using an electronic or mechanical device, card counting is perfectly legal. Although there’s no law against the practice, Pennsylvania casinos can eject and ban suspected card counters, but what they cannot do is give you the Guantanamo-lite treatment, which is what Forlina, 28, says happened to him at Valley Forge Casino.
Forlina paid a visit to the casino in the wee hours of January 18, 2015. As with his previous 10 or so trips to Valley Forge, he showed his driver’s license in order to walk through the door — the casino is only one of two in the state with this policy, which is unheard of in Atlantic City or Las Vegas — and then he waltzed over to the blackjack table and laid his money down.
After more than 10 hours of blackjack play, Forlina says that the casino became aware that he was counting cards, and that’s when the trouble began. According to Forlina’s lawsuit, a pit boss loudly asked him for his identification. Forlina asked why, and the pit boss told him he didn’t need a reason, claims the suit.
Forlina left the blackjack table and cashed in some of his chips. As he walked away from the cashier window, he says that two security guards began following him, so he decided to cash in the rest of his chips and get the hell out.
But according to Forlina, those two security guards and a state trooper intercepted him before he could get his money. He says that they demanded to see identification and that when he asked why, they told the cashier not to cash him out. Forlina says he asked the guards to call the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, but they refused.
Beginning to worry that he was never going to see his money — he says the value of the remaining chips was “well over $1,000” — Forlina tried to count the chips. The guards told the cashier to cover the chips up so that Forlina couldn’t count them, claims the suit. He says he unsuccessfully tried to get a receipt for the chips and alleges that when he asked to take a photo of his pile with his cell phone, the guards told him that they’d confiscate his phone if he did.
The situation continued to escalate.
Forlina called 911, because as far as he was concerned, the casino was stealing his money. According to the suit, the state trooper took the phone away and told the 911 dispatcher that he was handling the matter and that there was no point in sending a squad car. (Valley Forge Casino has its own dedicated State Police barracks, and the salaries of the troopers are covered by the casino, confirms a Pennsylvania State Police spokesperson, who adds that this is also the case at the state’s other casinos. State Police and the casino declined to comment for this article.)
Then things really got crazy.
According to the allegations spelled out in his lawsuit, the defendants dragged Forlina into a back room, slammed him against a concrete wall and searched him, taking a large but unspecified amount of cash. Forlina claims that he was then chained by both ankles to a seat and that he was refused a drink of water.
He says he was told that if he turned over all of his Valley Forge Casino winnings from that night, he could escape charges, and claims that a charge of defiant trespass was fabricated against him. (Philadelphia magazine was unable to locate any record of this charge, as is sometimes the case with a low-grade summary offense like defiant trespass, but Center City attorney Martin Stanshine, who is representing Forlina in the suit against the casino, says that a Montgomery County judge found Forlina not guilty in September.)
Eventually, after Forlina claims to have had a panic attack while in the back room, the security staffed cashed in his chips and gave him what he was owed. He says that they also returned the money they took during the search. Well, most of it. According to the suit, there was at least $600 that went unreturned.
Forlina accuses Valley Forge Casino, its security guards and the state trooper of false arrest, false imprisonment, illegal search, assault and battery, and malicious prosecution. He’s seeking in excess of $150,000 in damages.
Stanshine recently won a jury verdict and a $125,000 judgment on behalf of a former Philadelphia police officer who was found using a card counting device during blackjack play. According to that lawsuit, the security team, which included a state trooper, forced him to submit to a strip and cavity search in a bathroom while Parx employees looked on through an open door.
It turns out that Stanshine is representing Forlina in another case as well. According to court records, Forlina was arrested in April and charged with receiving stolen property. Police say that he refused to return a stolen bracelet that was sold to his shop earlier that month. The bracelet is valued at $45,000.
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