Two instances of Atlantic City casinos using unshuffled cards in mini-baccarat games do not necessarily make a trend - but they do focus attention on the state's ongoing deregulation of the casino industry.

Recent legislation ended the requirement for state gaming inspectors to be on the casino floors on a 24-hour basis. As a result, most inspectors lost their jobs.

Would having more casino inspectors on the floor have prevented these two worrisome events April 30 at the Golden Nugget and Dec. 10 at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort? Would the problem at least have been detected sooner?

Minimum staffing requirements for table-game supervisors were also abolished. Would more eyes on the games have prevented these serious mistakes? Did cutbacks in casino surveillance departments play a role?

Certainly, one rule change played a direct, undeniable role: In November, the Division of Gaming Enforcement relaxed shuffling regulations, allowing casinos to use preshuffled cards purchased from an approved vendor. The DGE also made optional a previously required final "wash and riffle" of cards before they are placed in a shoe.

In the Golden Nugget incident, the casino lost more than $1.5 million when a mini-baccarat game using unshuffled cards went on for more than two hours.

The Golden Nugget is now blaming a vendor for supplying unshuffled decks that were supposed to be shuffled and is suing the players and the vendor in an attempt to recoup its losses. Good luck with that.

At the Taj, a dealer placed eight decks of cards in a shoe believing they were preshuffled. However, they were not shuffled, and as the cards were put into play over three hours, they came out in the same suit and number order as they would with a new deck. Such patterns give baccarat players a decided advantage in a game that otherwise hinges on sheer luck.

The Taj fired nine people over the incident, which led to approximately $400,000 in losses for the casino. The DGE has also fined the casino $91,000.

The integrity of the games in Atlantic City's casinos is, of course, crucial - for players, for the casinos and for taxpayers, who get a cut of the winnings.

Lawmakers and the governor have insisted that the easing of casino regulations would not undermine the integrity of the games. But we're willing to bet that neither of these tainted games would have occurred or gone on so long under the old system.


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