The Ongoing Media SNAFU in Navy Commander Timothy Giardana / Counterfeit Chip Tale

SNAFU – Military slang, likely American or British and of WWII origin, meaning, “Situation Normal: All Fucked Up.”

The continuing tale of the US Navy commander accused of passing counterfeit casino chips at a western Iowa casino continues to be a case of poker-world and tabloid media working hard to not get the story right.  Rear Admiral Timothy Giardana was yanked by the Navy from his post as the #2 commander at Offutt Air Force Base, a part of StratCom, the United States’ nuclear command.  Giardana’s removal came after an incident involving the passing of three counterfeit $500 chips at the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, near Omaha, Nebraska.

The incident, which occurred in June of 2013, was discovered when casino security verified the fake chips, which had been doctored with purple spray paint to look somewhat like the casino’s real $500 chips.  Via surveillance recordings, the casino had been able to determine that Giardana passed the chips.  Yet how Giardana obtained them wasn’t quite clear, and the whole tale seemed off for a commander who visited the casino only as a relaxation and diversion from his regular duties.

The final outcome of the case came last week, when the Navy announced, as correctly reported by the Omaha World-Herald, that Giardana had been found guilty of two counts of “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” in a military-justice procedure called an admiral’s mast. 

Giardana was issued a reprimand and fined $4,000, and he chose not to contest the findings via a court martial, which would be the military’s version of a more formal court proceeding.  The reprimand likely ends Giardana’s military career.

What Really Happened

What happened at the casino that night?  Giardana apparently stumbled across the fake chips in the men’s restroom, along with what the Omaha World-Herald reported as “gambling vouchers, coupons, and an empty money clip,” and he scooped them, then told a casino supervisor that he’d found some valuables, and would return them if anyone could identify them.

As the night went on and no one claimed the items, he spent the fake chips at the poker tables.  Later, when the counterfeits were identified as fake and they were traced back to Giardana, he lied about where he’d gotten them, saying he’d purchased them from another casino customer in the restroom. 

That’s a wacky tale, for sure. I think back of all the dozens of times I’ve purchased things from people in restrooms, and… wait… nope, never did that.  And of course, security footage would have shown if another punter had been exiting or entering the same restroom at the same time, meaning it was a stupid lie, and a case of very poor judgment by Giardana, which is why he was yanked from his post at Offutt.

Instead, he just found the chips and tried to spend them, likely after the original counterfeiter panicked and tried not to pass them off himself. 

Giardana later admitted that he made up the story about buying the chips, but by that time, of course, military investigators had gotten involved, taking over from casino security and local authorities.  Giardana was first yanked from his supervisory role in connection with Offutt AFB’s weapons stash, his security clearance suspended.  A month later, after some office duty, he was reassigned to Washington D.C. and the Pentagon, and after several months more, the Navy finally reached its decision.


The odd thing is, despite Giardana’s lies and the very necessary step of his removal from the nuclear-weapons post, the story is incomplete.  Giardana is the one who attempted to pass the fake chips, likely not knowing they were fake, and there was definitely a lapse in judgment involved. 

However, the question of who actually doctored the chips and brought them to the casino remains unresolved.  It’s likely the casino already has assembled a short list of patrons who visited the restroom just prior to Giardana that night, even if who actually dumped the fakes might not have been caught on camera. 

The episode in general joins a growing list of fake-chip stories, including the controversial Borgata Winter Poker Open event canceled due to the alleged activities of Christian Lusardi, who awaits trial on that and related matters, and fake-chip episodes that occurred at two or more East Coast casinos, particularly Maryland Live!.  There, two separate thirty-something couples have been arrested in connection with the alteration of dollar chips from another casino, changed to look like high-value chips issued by the Maryland facility.

Giardana’s tale is one of the most interesting of the batch, misreported though it was.  And it brings up the old saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”  Giardana never seemed to have considered the possibility that the chips he found were fakes, and that ended up costing him dearly.

Haley Hintze

Veteran poker writer and editor Haley Hintze offers a uniquely independent and entertaining look at many of the most newsworthy topics in poker.  Noted for her lengthy series that helped expose the cheaters behind the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet scandals, she remains a champion of consumer interests and fair play.

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