The PJ Tatler

Gamblers' Dreams Turn to Nightmares

If you often play cards at the casino — Blackjack, Poker, or Baccarat — you’ve probably had a dream where you have a tremendous run of luck and walk home a big winner.

Just such a scenario happened at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City. The only problem for the gamblers is that decks of cards destined for the Baccarat tables, which were to have been pre-shuffled by the manufacturer, were not randomized. Once the players realized that, they made a killing.

Fourteen players walked away with $1.5 million. But the casino challenged the players’ winnings on the grounds that the games were illegally conducted. On Thursday, a judge agreed with the casino and said the players must return their winnings.

Associated Press:

At issue were games of mini-baccarat played in April 2012 using decks of cards the casino had paid a manufacturer to pre-shuffle but that hadn’t been shuffled. Once players realized the pattern in which the cards were emerging they drastically upped their bets from $10 a hand to $5,000 and won 41 straight hands.

In the ruling, issued Monday and publicized by the casino on Thursday, the judge determined the games were illegal under state law because they didn’t conform to gambling regulations specifying the way each game must be played.

“The dealer did not pre-shuffle the cards immediately prior to the commencement of play, and the cards were not pre-shuffled in accordance with any regulation,” the judge wrote. “Thus, a literal reading of the regulations … entails that the game violated the (Casino Control) Act, and consequently was not authorized.”

She ruled that the gamblers must return any cash paid to them by the casino and any outstanding chips in their possession. The casino in turn must refund the gamblers the money they first put up to play.

The Golden Nugget was pleased with the court’s ruling, casino general manager Tom Pohlman said.

“We believe it was the right decision,” he said.

A lawyer for the gamblers did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the decision. A lawyer for the casino’s partner, Landry’s Inc., said he expects the decision to be appealed.

The Golden Nugget bought what were supposed to be pre-shuffled cards from a Kansas City manufacturer, which acknowledged in court it failed to shuffle them. The casino said its litigation with the manufacturer has been resolved but a confidentiality agreement prevents it from revealing details.

The judge’s ruling was the latest in a long series of decisions that have seesawed between favoring the casino and favoring the gamblers. The owner of the casino, Texas billionaire Tillman Fertitta, originally decided to let the players keep their winnings, but that offer was contingent on them dropping other claims they made against the casino, which they declined to do.

The casino paid out about $500,000 in winnings for the disputed games. About $1 million in chips remains outstanding.

The issue to me is responsibility. It was not the players’ fault that the cards weren’t shuffled. As far as the regulation goes, the games may have been illegally conducted, but that’s the casino’s problem, not the players. If the casino failed to randomize the cards, why should the players be denied their winnings?

No mention was made of the “other claims” made by the players against the casino. But like most gamblers, they apparently got too greedy and refused their windfall in hopes of reaching into the deep pockets of the casino for more. Now they’re left with less than nothing, as they owe for the cash they took home with them, rather than getting up from the table and leaving with their winnings intact.

I’d say let this be a lesson to gamblers who read this story, but I know better. You can have a great time gambling as long as you leave your credit cards and check book at home, and take with you only as much cash as you can afford to lose. But most gamblers refuse that kind of common sense advice and end up losing everything.

It’s still a personal responsibility issue, so I’m not saying ban gambling in the US. But gambling in the United States destroys as many lives as drugs and alcohol and those who get into financial trouble because of their gambling addiction should be barred for life from casinos.