Gamblers embroiled in a $1.5 million dispute over unshuffled cards in a mini-baccarat game at Golden Nugget Atlantic City have rejected the casino’s latest settlement offer, the casino and attorneys said Monday.
Golden Nugget had given the gamblers until Saturday to accept payment for their winnings in return for dropping all litigation against the casino. The casino warned in a Sept. 7 letter obtained by The Press of Atlantic City that it would “vigorously contest the players’ right to receive any money at all” if they continued with their lawsuits.
One attorney who represents six of the mini-baccarat gamblers characterized the letter as an attempt to bully his clients into submission. He vowed to continue the legal battle against the casino with even more suits.
“They’re trying to intimidate the players,” Philadelphia attorney Alan Feldman said. “Golden Nugget is saying, ‘We’re going to make the same offer, but if you don’t accept it, we’re going to take it off the table.’’’
Tilman Fertitta, the Texas billionaire who owns Golden Nugget, made a similar settlement offer on Aug. 31, just hours after the casino lost a court ruling in the case.
Fertitta said then that Golden Nugget would pay the gamblers everything they are owed in exchange for them dropping all claims against the casino. Golden Nugget renewed the offer in the Sept. 7 letter.
“Unfortunately, no patrons have taken us up on the offer,” said Tom Pohlman, Golden Nugget’s general manager. “Frankly, now it’s a matter of greedy attorneys who have been telling their clients they can get three times damages for stuff that doesn’t warrant three times damages.”
Mark Pfeffer, an Atlantic City attorney who represents one of the gamblers, said it was impossible for lawyers to recommend a settlement to their clients because Golden Nugget has withheld information about the unshuffled cards, the witnesses and other key details in the case.
“They’re saying that they want us to dismiss the claims, but they’re not giving us the information, so that raises a red flag,” Pfeffer said. “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.”
Feldman also accused Golden Nugget of blocking the release of information, but Pohlman said the casino has cooperated fully. Pohlman said certain elements of the case are under the control of the State Police and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, so it would be up to them to release information to attorneys.
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 gamblers, saying they illegally 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.
A state Superior Court judge ruled Aug. 31 that Golden Nugget must allow the gamblers to cash in the rest of the chips. However, the judge has held up the actual payment of the chips until an appeals court rules in the case.
Golden Nugget has indicated it would appeal the Superior Court ruling if the gamblers rejected the settlement offer. Golden Nugget has until Sept. 24 to file the appeal. Pohlman said the casino was hopeful the gamblers would settle instead of battling it out in a legal fight that he believes could drag on for years.
“We have a rock-solid case,” he said. “We are prepared to litigate this case for a long time if need be.”
Golden Nugget claims the gamblers took advantage of the unshuffled cards, increasing their bets from $10 to $5,000. Gamblers, though, denied doing anything wrong.
As the mini-baccarat 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 gamblers did not cheat.
Superior Court Judge James Isman ruled in the gamblers’ favor last month, rejecting Golden Nugget’s argument that the game was somehow fatally flawed or that gamblers illegally took advantage of the unshuffled cards.
Isman also denied Golden Nugget’s request for a preliminary injunction to seize all gambling chips that have not yet been cashed in.
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. Some of the gamblers have alleged they were illegally detained at the casino after an investigation of the mini-baccarat game began.
Pohlman denied the allegations, labeling them “absurd claims.”