Gamblers to Golden Nugget: Slow your roll

Posted: September 07, 2012

IT'S NOT TOO OFTEN a casino offers $1 million and not one person shows up to snatch it.

But in the most bizarre mini-baccarat game Atlantic City's ever seen, nothing's what it seems. A group of disgruntled gamblers holding on to $977,000 in uncashed chips have doubled down, because the Golden Nugget's offer came with stipulations. Now the casino's sticking with its original intention - to get the chips and paid-out cash back.

"I wanted to resolve this matter and put it behind us," Tilman Fertitta, the Texas billionaire who owns the Golden Nugget, said in a statement Wednesday. "Unfortunately, I cannot make people cash in their chips."

On Friday, the Golden Nugget took the gamblers to court and asked a judge to bar some of them from cashing in the chips they won in a mini-baccarat game in April that featured unshuffled cards that repeated patterns. The judge ordered the Golden Nugget to pay up, a decision that angry casino officials vowed to appeal.

But later that day, Fertitta appeared to have a change of heart, claiming he'd blow off the advice of his lawyers and pay the gamblers and fulfill their dreams, if they signed a release agreeing to drop all their other claims. None of the gamblers budged, and on Tuesday the Golden Nugget's lawyers filed for an order to stay the judge's directive to pay up while they try to appeal.

"The whole legal strategy they've adopted from the beginning has been incomprehensible," said Philadelphia lawyer Alan Feldman, who represents nine of the gamblers.

Feldman and attorneys who represent other defendants say Fertitta's offer was a slick bluff, intended to save face and get the casino out of serious allegations the gamblers have made.

"Those claims include ethnic discrimination, false imprisonment, and assault and battery," Moorestown lawyer Benjamin Dash said Wednesday.

The casino didn't realize the cards hadn't been shuffled by the manufacturer, Gemaco, during the game and instead figured it was being swindled by savvy gamblers, court records show. Since the casino couldn't figure out the supposed scheme, though, it let the game finish and lost approximately $1.5 million.

The following day, many of the players and some who hadn't played claimed that they had been rounded up by a security team, held against their will, and were refused water, food or interpreters. The casino says many of the same customers have been back, multiple times.

The casino filed a lawsuit against Gemaco and the gamblers, seeking the return of the $558,900 it already paid out and the uncashed chips.


Contact Jason Nark at narkj@phillynews.com or 215-854-5916. Follow him on Twitter @JasonNark.

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