Attorneys for some mini-baccarat players who are fighting Golden Nugget Atlantic City over $1.5 million in disputed winnings accused the casino of trying to trick their clients into a settlement.

Golden Nugget, the attorneys charged, sent letters directly to the players in hopes they would unwittingly surrender their rights to sue the casino. The letters were sent without the attorneys’ consent or knowledge, they said.

“I think it was absolutely inappropriate,” said Mary Chatten , a Moorestown attorney who represents three of the gamblers.

Golden Nugget’s corporate counsel Lauren Ware fired back by claiming the players’ attorneys were blocking attempts to settle the lawsuits. In a statement, Ware said the attorneys are “taking advantage of their clients in refusing to accept the settlement proposal.”

“A significant number of the players continue to gamble at the Golden Nugget and have reached out to the Golden Nugget expressing their desire to settle the case per the terms of the proposal,” Ware said. “However, it appears that their lawyers are in possession of the casino chips and are refusing to give the chips to their clients in order to settle the lawsuit.”

The dispute was discussed Friday during a closed-door management conference with state Superior Court Judge James Isman, who is overseeing the litigation. Afterward, attorneys said Isman ordered Golden Nugget to stop communicating directly with the players.

“The judge made it clear that it was over the line, inappropriate and intolerable,” said Alan Feldman, a Philadelphia lawyer who represents six of the gamblers.

Feldman said Golden Nugget violated the rules of professional conduct by engaging in a form of “subterfuge.” He said Golden Nugget sent letters and placed calls to the gamblers, urging them to sign release forms to drop their lawsuits against the casino. Golden Nugget did so without the approval of the players’ lawyers, Feldman added.

The dispute stems from a mini-baccarat game played for about 21/2 hours on the night of April 30. According to the Golden Nugget, the game was illegal because the cards were not shuffled. The casino has blamed the vendor that supplied the cards for not preshuffling them before they were put into play.

Golden Nugget has sued 14 mini-baccarat players, saying they ilegally won a total of $1,536,700. The players cashed out $558,900 in chips immediately after the game had ended. About $977,800 in chips have yet to be redeemed.

The gamblers, all of whom are of Asian descent, responded to Golden Nugget’s litigation by filing countersuits claiming they were victims of racial discrimination. Golden Nugget has denied the allegation.

Golden Nugget claims the gamblers took advantage of the unshuffled cards, increasing their bets from $10 to $5,000. As the mini-baccarat game went on, the unshuffled cards repeatedly came out in the same pattern, allowing gamblers to win 41 consecutive hands. Gamblers, though, denied any wrongdoing.

Isman ruled in the gamblers’ favor Aug. 31, ordering Golden Nugget to allow them to cash in their remaining chips. However, Isman has held up the actual payment of the chips until an appeals court rules in the case.

Golden Nugget had until Monday to seek an appeal, but decided on a different strategy on Friday — one that will delay the case for at least two months, attorneys said. The casino has filed a new motion asking Isman to reconsider his ruling. He isn’t expected to consider the motion until November, attorneys said.

The new motion will give Golden Nugget more time to seek an appeal, delaying the case even further, the attorneys said.

“I view it as a delaying tactic,” said Mark Pfeffer , an Atlantic City lawyer who represents one of the gamblers.

Pfeffer said he intends to file a new motion asking Isman to dissolve his previous order holding up payment of the remaining gambling chips until an appeals court rules in the case. Pfeffer wants the players to be paid immediately, although they would still be able to continue their suits against the casino.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

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