Golden Nugget has folded.

Less than three hours after it lost in court, the Atlantic City casino said it would pay gamblers everything they are owed from a disputed mini-baccarat game involving unshuffled cards.

Golden Nugget owner Tilman Fertitta made the announcement during a hastily arranged press conference Friday evening. Fertitta overruled his attorneys, who had vowed Friday afternoon to appeal a court ruling that allowed the gamblers to cash in nearly $1 million in remaining chips.

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“It was 100 percent my decision,” said Fertitta, the Texas billionaire who owns the three Golden Nugget casinos in Atlantic City and Nevada.

Fertitta said he wanted to avoid litigation that could have possibly dragged on for years. His offer includes paying the gamblers if they agree to drop their countersuits against Golden Nugget.

“Even though we can appeal the court’s ruling and take full advantage of the appellate process and legal system and tie the matter up in litigation for a number of years, the Golden Nugget is a people business, and is prepared to allow the gamblers — most of whom continue to gamble at Golden Nugget — to realize the gambler’s dream of beating the house,” he said.

Benjamin Dash , a New Jersey attorney representing three of the gamblers, declined to comment after learning of Fertitta’s offer. Other lawyers representing the gamblers could not be reached.

Golden Nugget said 14 gamblers won a total of $1,536,700. They cashed out $558,900 in chips immediately after the game ended. About $977,800 in chips have yet to be redeemed. Fertitta said all of the gamblers will be paid the full value of their remaining chips.

Fertitta called it quits after a Superior Court judge denied Golden Nugget’s request for a preliminary injunction to seize all gambling chips that have not yet been cashed in.

Judge James Isman ordered Golden Nugget to pay the gamblers what they are still owed. The ruling brought an angry reaction from Golden Nugget’s general counsel, Steve Scheinthal , who claimed the casino had been a victim of a “total ambush.”

The legal battle stemmed 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.

“The game wasn’t fair to the casino. It wasn’t fair to the players. In fact, it was unlawful,” Golden Nugget attorney Louis Barbone argued before Isman.

As the game went on, the unshuffled cards repeatedly came out in the same pattern, allowing gamblers to win 41 consecutive hands. Golden Nugget first suspected an elaborate scam was under way, but later acknowledged that the gambers did not cheat.

Golden Nugget claimed the gamblers took advantage of the unshuffled cards, increasing their bets from $10 to $5,000. Gamblers, though, denied doing anything wrong.

“I wasn’t cheating,” one gambler, Michael Cho , 51, of Ellicott City, Md., said after the judge’s ruling. "I didn’t do anything illegal.”

Another gambler, Sinh Voong , 55, of New York City, expressed disappointment with Golden Nugget over how much the dispute had hurt him. He said he was unsure of the ultimate outcome of the legal battle.

However, Isman ruled in the gamblers’ favor. He rejected Golden Nugget’s argument that the game was somehow fatally flawed or that the gamblers illegally took advantage of the unshuffled cards.

“I don’t consider this to be a rigged game,” Isman said while making his ruling.

Golden Nugget originally sued the gamblers in an attempt to recover the casino’s losses. The gamblers, all of whom are of Asian descent, responded with countersuits claiming they were victims of racial discrimination.

“We did not racially profile anybody,” Scheinthal said.

Fertitta strongly denied that bad publicity or allegations of racial discrimination had anything to do with his decision to pay the gamblers. Fertitta said Golden Nugget has built up its Asian business by adding an Asian-themed casino area and restaurant. He also said the casino has hired Asian-American employees to help the casino cater to Asian customers.

In the meantime, Golden Nugget intends to continue with its litigation against Gemaco Inc., the company that supplied the cards that were not shuffled. Jeffrey Mazzola , a Gemaco attorney, acknowledged in court that the company had failed to shuffle the cards before giving them to Golden Nugget.

“There was a mistake made at the Gemaco facility, which we freely admitted,” Mazzola told Isman over a speaker phone. “This was a one-time, isolated mistake, but it occurred. It’s supposed to be a game of chance. It changed from a game of chance to a windfall for the individual players.”

Contact Donald Wittkowski:


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