Some gamblers are demanding an apology from the Golden Nugget Atlantic City and payment of what they argue are legitimate winning bets from a game of mini-baccarat.

The Golden Nugget, however, has responded with a lawsuit that claims it unfairly lost more than $1.5 million because the mini-baccarat cards were not shuffled. The casino wants the court to declare the game illegal and order 14 gamblers to return their “purported winnings.”

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, the state agency that regulates Atlantic City’s casino industry, confirmed it is looking into the disputed game.

“The matter is under investigation, and we are aware that several patrons have not been paid in connection with the mini-baccarat incident,” division spokeswoman Lisa Spengler said in a statement.

The Golden Nugget dispute follows an unrelated incident Dec. 10 involving unshuffled cards in a mini-baccarat game at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort. The casino lost $400,000 during the game and was fined $91,236 for failing to detect that the cards were unshuffled. Taj Mahal fired nine employees involved, including the shift manager, three assistant managers and four dealers.

The Golden Nugget legal battle is over a mini-baccarat game played for about 2½ hours on the night of April 30. According to the Golden Nugget, the game resulted in “illegal play” because the cards were not shuffled. The Golden Nugget blamed a vendor that supplied the cards for not preshuffling them before they were put into play.

“As a result, the cards dealt in this game repeated a pattern that allowed the gamblers to win at the expense of the casino,” Tom Pohlman, the Golden Nugget’s general manager, said in a statement. “The gamblers unlawfully took advantage of the Golden Nugget when they caught onto the pattern and increased their bets from table minimums to table maximums and by placing bets for others.”

The Golden Nugget says it lost a total of $1,536,700. Gamblers cashed out $558,900 in chips immediately after the game had ended. About $977,800 worth of chips has yet to be redeemed, the Golden Nugget’s lawsuit states.

“The Golden Nugget seeks return of the money paid out that evening as well as all remaining chips in the possession of the gamblers,” Pohlman said.

Diann Chan, founder and executive director of Immigrants Helpline, a New York organization that helps non-English-speaking citizens, is assisting the Golden Nugget gamblers. She was an interpreter for three of them, all Asian-Americans, in interviews with The Press of Atlantic City.

Chan accused the Golden Nugget of racial discrimination because all of the gamblers are Asian-American. She said some of the gamblers were handcuffed, taken into custody and falsely accused of cheating after they tried to cash in their gambling chips the day after the game.

“Most of them cannot speak English,” Chan said. “They didn’t have the ability to call an attorney or an interpreter. They were not allowed to talk to each other, either. Eventually, they were let go. The bottom line is, there was no cheating involved.”

The Golden Nugget’s dealers, supervisors and security staff closely watched the mini-baccarat game, believing that a sophisticated swindle was under way. However, the casino did not halt play because management could not figure out how the gamblers allegedly were cheating, the suit states.

The three gamblers interviewed by The Press estimated that the entire group of mini-baccarat players is owed about $785,000 in winnings. They said the Golden Nugget refuses to allow them to redeem their remaining chips. They want an apology, as well as their money. They are threatening their own lawsuit against the Golden Nugget.

“This is very, very unfair,” Zhihui Lin, 60, of Atlantic City, said through Chan. “We had trusted the casino. Now, this huge casino has denied paying the chips. The Golden Nugget has violated the public trust. The casino is looking for loopholes to avoid paying the money.”

Lin is among the 14 gamblers named by the Golden Nugget in the suit, which was filed Tuesday in state Superior Court in Atlantic City. The Golden Nugget has also sued Gemaco Inc., a company that supplied the cards used in the disputed game.

The lawsuit states that Gemaco admitted that the pack of cards was defective because it had not been preshuffled at the company’s Kansas City, Mo., plant before it was delivered to the Golden Nugget. Gemaco workers failed to activate a mechanical preshuffling device and did not discover the mistake, the suit contends.

“The Golden Nugget put cards into play that were certified by Gemaco to be preshuffled, when in fact it was later determined that they were not shuffled at all,” Pohlman said.

The mini-baccarat game started at 7:42 p.m. April 30 and continued until 10:18 p.m. As the game went on, the cards repeatedly came out in the same pattern, allowing the gamblers to win 41 consecutive hands, the suit states.

“This was a lifetime chance to make some money. It was like Christmas,” Michael Cho, one of the mini-baccarat players, told The Press.

Cho, 51, of Ellicott City, Md., insisted that the players were not cheating and did nothing wrong.

“If something was wrong with the game, then they should have stopped it. But they didn’t stop it,” Cho said of the Golden Nugget.

Cho estimates that the Golden Nugget owes him $130,000 but won’t allow him to cash his chips. Lin said she is owed about $29,500. Sinh Voong, 55, of New York City, said the Golden Nugget refuses to let him redeem about $110,000 worth of chips.

“These chips are legal in the eyes of the law,” Voong said.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258