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Mississippi illusionist added to Nevada’s ‘black book’

Updated December 21, 2023 - 5:49 pm

The list of people banned from Nevada casinos grew to 36 Thursday after the Nevada Gaming Commission unanimously voted to add a Mississippi resident who describes himself as a magician and illusionist.

Commissioners voted to include Shaun Joseph Benward to Nevada’s List of Excluded Persons, the so-called “black book” listing of people who are banned from entering the state’s major casinos.

Benward was convicted of cheating at roulette in several states, was kicked out of 17 Nevada casinos and nominated for inclusion to the list by the Nevada Gaming Control Board in September.

Benward was notified of potentially being added to the list, but he did not attend Thursday’s commission meeting.

According to Senior Deputy Attorney General Michael Somps, who summarized accusations for the commission, Benward would take a position away from the roulette wheel, gain the confidence of the dealer through conversation, then move closer to the wheel to try to place a bet late in a game and convince the dealers that they had placed his chips on the wrong number. An accomplice would back up the story, and flustered dealers would allow the bet to be played.

Benward tried the scheme over and over, traveling from state to state and casino to casino. Companies alleged Benward cheated them out of thousands of dollars.

He executed the scheme and was arrested and convicted in multiple states, but he was often freed and released from incarceration.

Benward was placed on exclusion lists in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Michigan and Missouri. He was convicted or arrested by authorities in New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, Iowa, Indiana and Rhode Island as well as Nevada.

Somps said Benward was kicked out of nine Las Vegas casinos in July and August 2020. He was booted from a Lake Tahoe casino as recently as this year, and he was removed from a total of 17 Nevada casinos over the years.

Somps explained earlier in his presentation that it would only take one instance of being convicted of crimes related to the violation of gaming laws or crimes involving moral turpitude, or having a notorious or unsavory reputation or one instance in which he violated a court order to stay out of casinos, but he satisfied all four criteria for possible exclusion.

“Mr. Benward has been very industrious around the country and on Las Vegas Boulevard,” Commissioner Brian Krolicki said before the unanimous vote.

Commissioners said they understood the frustration resorts have by trespassing people from their properties only to see them return the next day and try again to cheat the casinos.

Commissioners were told persons listed on the exclusion list could face gross misdemeanor charges if caught, with a penalty of up to a year in county jail.

Creation of largest slot route operator in the country

Earlier in the meeting, the commission approved the sale and licensing of an Illinois company to take over the distributive gaming assets of Golden Entertainment Inc. that would make it the largest slot route operator in the country.

In a unanimous vote, commissioners approved licensing for Oak Tree Capital Management, the parent company of J&J Ventures Gaming, Effingham, Illinois, which will oversee 25,000 slot machines at 3,500 locations in five states.

Distributed gaming involves slot machine routes on which workers install, maintain and operate slot machines at bars, taverns, restaurants, grocery stores and convenience markets.

In March, Golden Entertainment, operators of the PT’s Pubs chain of taverns in Nevada, announced plans to sell its slot routes in Nevada and Montana to J&J for $213.5 million plus an estimated $34 million of purchased cash for the Nevada route and $109 million plus an estimated $5 million of purchased cash in Montana. The purchased cash is the amount inside the machines on the route.

At the time of the announcement, Golden also said it had entered a five-year agreement with J&J to support the gaming operations of Golden’s branded tavern locations in Nevada at financial terms consistent with the company’s past practice.

J&J Ventures Inc., the predecessor company, began route operations in 1929. Today, J&J Gaming is one of the largest terminal operators in Illinois and Pennsylvania. J&J Amusements is a leading operator of non-gaming devices like dart machines, pool tables, jukeboxes, ATMs, and other amusement devices.

Matthew Wilson, an officer with parent company Oak Tree, said Golden would become J&J’s biggest customer when the transaction closes in mid-January.

Blake Sartini II, executive vice president of operations for Golden and son of Golden Entertainment Chairman and CEO Blake Sartini, told the Nevada Gaming Control Board this month the transaction was bittersweet because he grew the slot route to a multimillion-dollar enterprise over two decades. He said PT’s expects to have around 70 locations in Nevada when a recent expansion is completed next year.

Golden plans to use proceeds of the sale to enhance its other commercial gaming operations, including The Strat, Arizona Charlie’s and properties in Pahrump and Laughlin.

Commissioners also unanimously approved the licensing of two downtown Henderson casino properties to new owner ECL Hospitality Management, LLC, owned by businessmen Ron Winchell and Marc Falcone.

Winchell and Boulder Highway Gaming, LLC, and Water Street Gaming, LLC jointly announced the sale of the Emerald Island Casino and Rainbow Club Casino on Water Street in Henderson to Winchell and Falcone for an undisclosed price last month.

At the time of the announcement, Winchell said he would retain current owner Tim Brooks to continue to oversee the property when the deal closes in January.

When the deal closes Jan. 5, ECL will have 45 properties in three states.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X.

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