A court in the southern town of Grasse this week convicted an Italian stud poker player, who described himself as “a cheat of international renown,” for using infra-red contact lenses to count cards at a casino in the chic Côte d'Azur resort of Cannes.
The elaborate and daring strategy impressed even the presiding judge, who called it “the first of its kind in Europe,” and “a combination of old techniques and high-end technology,” according to French daily Direct Matin.
The court heard how Stefano Ampollini, 56, took to the “Les Princes” casino in the Mediterranean city of Cannes in August 2011, armed with some invisible ink, and a set of infra-red contact lenses purchased online from China for €2,000.
Standing across from him at a stud poker table was a secret accomplice, who sniffed or snorted or sneezed at opportune moments, allowing Ampollini to know which cards to mark with invisible ink.
Watching everything through his contacts, the hi-tech shark was then able to keep track of the game, while his opponents looked on in bemusement and frustration.
A still image shows cards visible to the naked eye (left), and cards marked with invisible ink, seen through infra-red contact lenses (right). Photo: Cheng Fan/Youtube
On that occasion, Ampollini and his partner in crime walked away with €70,000 between them, and when the Italian returned alone two months later, he won €21,000 for himself, but was then arrested by police as he left the casino.
It’s not clear how exactly casino management got wind of Ampollini’s scheme, although in a similar case in Las Vegas last week, a suspect was seen on CCTV, “dipping” his fingers under the poker table, and pressing them into certain cards – an action consistent with marking the cards with invisible ink.
Ampollini smiled as presiding judge Marc Joando marvelled at the ingenuity of his infra-red contacts racket, according to Direct Matin.
For all his cunning, however, the court didn’t hesitate on Wednesday to slap Ampollini with a two-year prison sentence, and €100,000 fine.