Unshuffled mini-baccarat game ruled legal

ATLANTIC CITY — Games of mini-baccarat played at the Golden Nugget two years ago with unshuffled cards in which gamblers won $1.5 million did not violate any rules or laws, New Jersey casino regulators ruled.

The regulators’ decision is likely to influence a protracted court battle being fought between the 14 gamblers and the casino over whether the money should be paid out.

In a Sept. 23 letter obtained by The Associated Press, the Division of Gaming Enforcement said its extensive investigation into the April 30, 2012, incident found no wrongdoing by the casino or players who won $1.5 million after realizing the cards were coming out of the dealer’s chute in a specific pattern.

“The Division has determined that the game offered by Golden Nugget on April 30, 2012 at table MB-802 was a legal and valid game under the New Jersey Casino Control Act,” the division wrote in its letter to lawyers for some of the plaintiffs. “There is absolutely no evidence that the players or casino personnel involved in the game were involved in any sort of collusion, cheating or manipulation to affect the results of the game.”

After reviewing surveillance tapes of the games, the division determined that the only error committed by the casino involved a dealer who did not discard the proper amount of cards at the start of the game. But it determined that error was minor and did not affect the pattern in the way the cards were dealt.

“Golden Nugget management was actively watching the game, either through reports from personnel or surveillance, and was not able to discover any obvious issues regarding the integrity of game play,” the division wrote. “On this issue, Golden Nugget had the authority to cease play at any time, and could have introduced a new deck of cards at any time, but elected to let play continue.”

Ben Dash, a lawyer for some of the gamblers, hailed the ruling, saying it greatly bolsters the plaintiffs’ case, including a consumer fraud claim.

“They were invited and enticed into the casino to gamble, and when they won, the casino refused to pay them,” he said.

The casino’s parent company, Landry’s Inc., called the letter “perplexing.”

“We disagree with the DGE,” said Louis Barbone, an attorney for the company. “We think it’s an opinion that has no binding authority. This is a legal conclusion that needs to be made by a court, and I think that’s where this needs to go.”

The Golden Nugget at first paid out $500,000 of the winnings, but refused to release the rest of the money. It sued the gamblers for the return of money paid out and sought to be absolved of having to redeem the outstanding chips. The players countersued, alleging, among other things, that the casino illegally detained them.

A preliminary court ruling two years ago went against the casino, which said it would appeal. But hours later, owner Tilman Fertitta overrode his lawyers and said the casino would pay the remainder of the disputed winnings. That deal fell apart days later when some of the gamblers refused to dismiss their claims against the Golden Nugget.

The division also investigated Gemaco, the Kansas City playing cards manufacturer that provided what were supposed to be pre-shuffled cards to the Golden Nugget. It reviewed factory video provided by the company that proved the cards were not pre-shuffled before being packed and shipped to the casino.

The cards were not in sequential 1-2-3 order, but were arranged in a pre-set pattern that repeated itself every 16 hands.

The players soon realized this, and increased their bets from $10 a hand to $5,000. After 37 hands were dealt, the players all placed the same bet, and won every hand until the cards ran out.

The casino sued Gemaco, and said a confidentiality agreement prevents it from revealing the outcome of the litigation. Gemaco has acknowledged in court it did not shuffle the cards.

The division revealed its findings after it was subpoenaed by lawyers for the gamblers to provide a deposition that had been scheduled for Wednesday.

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