Vernon Ogrodnek

Seven patrons amassed nearly $400,000 in winnings at mini-Baccarat after a dealer placed eight decks of cards into an automatic shuffling device at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort but failed to activate the machine, the state Division of Gaming Enforcement said.

The lapse in gambling and surveillance procedures led to the firing of nine casino employees and a fine of $91,236 against the Taj Mahal, according to the division, which issued its ruling Monday.

On Dec. 10, 2011, a dealer failed to shuffle eight decks of cards before placing them into play, the division said. Then, the casino permitted the gambling to continue with the unshuffled cards for about 3½ hours during which time the dealer, supervisor and surveillance personnel failed to notice what had happened, according to the division.

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A spokesman for the Taj Mahal could not be reached for comment.

Gambling experts said the incident was reminiscent of cheating scandals in which there is collusion between players and dealers.

However, in this case, the New Jersey State Police were brought in to investigate, and they concluded “no criminal conduct occurred,” according to the division’s complaint.

That is surprising, gambling experts said, because casino employees are trained to detect the presence of unshuffled cards.

“My immediate conclusion was that there was collusion between the dealer and the player,” said David Schwartz, the director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Mini-baccarat is played with only two hands, one for the player and the other for the banker, said John Grochowski, who writes the Gaming Guru column for The Press of Atlantic City. The dealer plays both hands, and the object is to guess which hand is going to come closer to the sum of 9.

Because the game is based on guesses with no optional moves, knowing what order the cards are being dealt places the players at a huge advantage, experts said. In this case, the eight decks were unshuffled and were being drawn in the same suit and number order, according to the gaming-enforcement division.

What also strikes gambling experts unusual with the incident was the pace of play.

Typically, the game of mini-baccarat moves at a relatively fast pace, Grochowski said. But in this case, play moved along at a crawl, according to the complaint. One player was at the table when the decks were placed in the dealing shoe and play began at 1:22 p.m. The dealing shoe wasn’t emptied until 4:43 p.m.

“It doesn’t add up,” Grochowski said.

The division’s complaint shows that Taj personnel did detect something was amiss at the table, particularly after one patron won $100,000. As a result of those winnings, a casino shift manager contacted the surveillance department at 3:25 p.m. and asked that he be allowed to view the camera footage, according to the division.

For about 25 minutes, the shift manager reviewed the surveillance but failed to detect the unshuffled cards, the division said. About 20 minutes later, at the urging of the Taj Mahal’s casino operations vice president, the shift manager and the surveillance shift manager again reviewed the video but were still unable to spot the unshuffled cards, the division said.

As a result of what happened, the casino shift manager, three dealers, a floorperson, a dual-rated floorperson/dealer and three dual-rated floorperson/assistant shift managers were fired, according to the division.

The Taj Mahal also installed a $2.2 million digital-recording system to improve game surveillance and added eight more people to its department, the division said.

Taj Mahal was ordered to pay a fine of $55,000 to the New Jersey Casino Revenue Fund and reimburse the fund $36,236 in tax revenue lost as a result of the regulatory violation, officials said. This is the first time within the past three years the casino has been cited for these violations, according to the division.

The Trump fines were part of a list of regulatory actions made public Monday by the division.

Bally’s Atlantic City also was fined $70,000 for combining and failing to adequately staff its security operations, according to the division. Its security director was suspended without pay as a result of the violation.

In addition, Bally’s incurred fines of $30,000 for allowing two individuals, both of whom are on a list of people who ask to be excluded from gambling, to play poker on April 17, 2011, and blackjack on May 23, 2011, according to the division. Another fine of $5,000 also was imposed on Bally’s for allowing two underage individuals to play on slot machines. This is the second fine within the past three years that Bally’s has received a fine for allowing underage gambling.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which had confiscated $5,050 in game winnings from three people who gambled in the casino even though they were on the list of self-excluded individuals, also was ordered to turn $4,350 in forfeited winnings to the gaming-enforcement division.

The division also gave Resorts Casino Hotel until Aug. 24 to designate a chief executive officer to replace the late Dennis Gomes, saying the casino was in the midst of negotiating a casino-management agreement with a third-party company.

Additionally, AC Nightlife, doing business as Dusk, was given permission to serve alcohol on the Boardwalk in front of its premise. Bally’s also will be allowed to serve alcohol in front of its retail outlet, Gold Tooth Gerties.

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