Golden Nugget and a group of 14 mini-baccarat gamblers aren’t done feuding despite indications last week that the battle was over.
The casino has taken steps to appeal a Superior Court ruling that ordered the Atlantic City casino to pay out nearly $1 million owed to gamblers who played with unshuffled cards.
On Tuesday, Judge James Isman signed a stay on the ruling requested by Louis Barbone, an attorney for the casino. Golden Nugget owner Tilman Fertitta said an appeal will follow because the players have not come forward to cash in their chips despite an offer from the casino to do so last week.
Benjamin Dash, an attorney for three of the 14 players, said his clients would not accept the offer because Golden Nugget only proposed to pay the gamblers as it should have following the game April 30.
“What they offered to do is what they were legally obligated to do. That offer came with strings. It was contingent upon my clients releasing all of their other claims,” Dash said, referring to a countersuit alleging discrimination and false imprisonment. “My clients didn’t accept that offer.”
The development marks a sharp turn in the case that now has the potential to drag on for some time. Hours after last week’s ruling, Fertitta defied his attorneys, who promised to appeal the decision. In a news conference, the Texas billionaire said the casino would pay the gamblers what they’re owed, provided they agreed to drop their countersuits and not file any additional claims.
“I am disappointed that our players and customers refused to accept our offer to cash in all unredeemed chips. I wanted to resolve this matter and put it behind us,” Fertitta said in a written statement. “This absurdity is beyond belief and forces us to continue on with the litigation and file a stay of Judge Isman’s earlier ruling so that his order may now be appealed.”
Alan Feldman, a Philadelphia-based attorney who represents six of the gamblers, said the casino’s decision to pursue an appeal is an irresponsible and improper move that calls into question the integrity of Golden Nugget’s operators.
“I have never seen a casino act like this,” Feldman said. “Mr. Fertitta said he had overruled his lawyers and was directing them to make sure everyone got paid. Then the next business day, they did the exact opposite. The court’s order didn’t have conditions. There is a law on the books that requires casinos to treat chips as cash.”
Fourteen gamblers won more than $1.5 million in the mini-baccarat game. They cashed out $558,900 in chips, but the rest have not been redeemed. The Golden Nugget has claimed the game was illegal because the cards were not shuffled and blamed its vendor for not preshuffling the cards.
Feldman said he hasn’t yet spoken to all of his clients but indicated there is potential for further litigation. His six clients have not filed any counterclaims to date.
“There is potential for prosecuting claims for violation of discrimination laws, false arrest and detention. That’s a part of this story that is still untold,” Feldman said.
Ping Lin, of Atlantic City, Sheng Xia, of Forest Hills, N.Y., and Hua Shi, of Brooklyn, N.Y. — all represented by Dash Farrow of Philadelphia — allege in a countersuit that the casino treated them like “cheaters, swindlers and schemers.” Shi was taken into custody for more than eight hours without explanation, and denied food, water and an interpreter, according to the claim, which states the gamblers played by the rules.
A press release issued by Golden Nugget on Wednesday states that the players unlawfully exceeded betting limits by passing chips under the table.
“The lawyers, it appears, are now demanding on behalf of their gambler clients, three times their unlawful winnings plus significant attorneys’ fees and damages against the Golden Nugget for unlawful detention by the State Police,” the release states. “The vast majority of the gamblers returned to gamble at the Golden Nugget shortly after the mini-baccarat incident with many gamblers returning on over 30 separate visits.”
Dash promised that an amended complaint will soon be filed on his clients’ behalf stemming from “slanderous and defamatory” statements made by Golden Nugget attorneys in the courtroom in the presence of the media after court ended last week.
In a letter dated Sept. 1, Dash’s firm said that the casino’s Houston, Texas-based general counsel Steven Scheinthal called the gamblers “cheaters” and “those $10 bettors.” The letter said that the characterizations were inappropriate and evidence of racial motivations.
“It remains my clients’ position that their race and ethnicity was the motivating factor in the Golden Nugget’s decisions to invalidate the gaming chips in the first instance, profile for the purpose of detaining and interrogating them, and falsely imprisoning them without basis,” the letter states. “My clients’ civil rights claims are now further bolstered by the slanderous comments made by Mr. Scheinthal.”
Reached late Wednesday, Scheinthal said nothing that was said was racially motivated.
“We’re not even going to address such a ridiculous claim,” Scheinthal said.
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