Atlantic City Casino Loses Lawsuit Against Players

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Back in April, a group of 14 gamblers had the day of their lives: they took the Golden Nugget Atlantic City for more than $1.5 million. Fairly, without cheating. To their horror, though, they found themselves sued by the casino and were still without $1 million of their winnings. Fast forward four months and a judge has sided with the players: the money is theirs.

April 30th appeared to be like any other day at the Golden Nugget. Some people won money, some people lost money, chips chattered, slot machines dinged and whistled. At one mini baccarat table, though, something strange began to happen. The players noticed a pattern in the cards that were being dealt. And this was no delusion; the players’ brains were not seeing patterns simply because they wanted to see them. There were real patterns making themselves evident. As such, the gamblers who had been putting down $10 a hand increased the stakes all the way to $5,000 a hand. Hand after hand, the players kept winning. Finally, after 41 consecutive hands during which time the players won over $1.5 million, the game was halted.

The casino was certain that it was being scammed. Floor managers, supervisors, and security officers watched, convinced that the players were cheating, but no evidence of any sort of scheme or cheating act could be found. Even so, according to Hua Shi, who was one of the lucky players, Golden Nugget employees woke him up while he was sleeping in his hotel room, pinned him against the wall, and searched his room. He claims he was detained in his room for eight hours without food, water, or an interpreter.

The card patterns were the result of unshuffled decks of cards. The Golden Nugget purchases its cards from Kansas City-based Gemaco, which, in its contract with the casino, agrees to pre-shuffle the cards so that they can be put into play without shuffling by the casino dealer. The decks of cards used at the mini baccarat table were not shuffled as promised.

Though the Golden Nugget staff failed to stop the game before the players won $1.5 and the casino admitted it could not find any cheating, it sued the players, anyway, as well as Gemaco. In April, nine players did cashout $558,900 from the game, but the other players did not immediately cash out the remaining $977,800. The Golden Nugget wanted the money it paid out returned and did not feel it had to pay the million that had yet to be redeemed, citing gambling regulations which require that games have fair odds to both the player and the house.

Benjamin Dash, the gamblers’ attorney, begged to differ, saying, “The Golden Nugget appealed to gamblers to come in and play games licensed and sanctioned by the state of New Jersey. My clients did exactly that, and then were denied their winnings. There is absolutely no law in New Jersey that would permit the Golden Nugget to declare the game illegal because it failed to provide shuffled cards.”

Three of the players counter-sued the casino, saying they were being discriminated against because of their Asian ethnicity.

On September 1st, Judge James Isman agreed with the players. “There is no clear and convincing, real evidence that there were unlawful actions,” he said in the courtroom. “I don’t consider this to be a rigged game. There is no proof that the players obtained those chips unlawfully.”

He added that while the players took advantage of a noticeable pattern, they did not know that the pattern would continue, so they were still gambling. If the pattern ended, they would have lost.

Despite the ruling, the Golden Nugget’s lawyers were going to appeal. Casino owner Tilman Fertitta, however, said enough is enough. “Even though we can appeal the court’s ruling and take full advantage of the appellate process and legal system, and tie the matter up in litigation for a number of years, the Golden Nugget is a people business, and is prepared to allow the gamblers — most of whom continue to gamble at Golden Nugget — to realize the gambler’s dream of beating the house.”

There is a catch, though. Fertitta will only release the funds if both sides agree to drop all lawsuits against the other. It is unknown at this time if the players will agree to this condition.

In the meantime, the Golden Nugget will continue to go after Gemaco. “We have a company we can go back against that has admitted fault,” Fertitta said. “But that’s our problem.”

Interestingly, the decks of cards were not completely unshuffled. That is, the cards didn’t come out in a blatantly obvious order like A-2-3-4-5 suited, but rather a “predetermined pattern” that is known only to Gemaco.

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