Poker Open

World Poker Tour Borgata Winter Open culminates with the championship event after two weeks of heavy poker play in the casino.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is facing a class-action lawsuit alleging improper supervision of a poker tournament canceled last month after $800,000 in forged tournament chips were found in play.

The lawsuit, led by Egg Harbor Township resident Jacob Musterel, is filed on behalf of more than 4,000 people who entered Event 1 in the Borgata Winter Poker Open at a $560 buy-in for a chance to win a portion of a “$2 million guarantee.”

Christian Lusardi, of Fayetteville, N.C., was arrested in January and charged with rigging the tournament. Police said they found him in an Atlantic City motel after he’d allegedly attempted to flush chips totaling $2.7 million in tournament currency down a toilet at Harrah’s and caused plumbing issues in the casino.

The investigation has remained open. The prize money has been frozen since the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement ordered the tournament suspended Jan. 16.

That’s left people such as Musterel, and others who likely traveled farther to Atlantic City, with their money in uncertainty, said Musterel’s Raritan-based attorney, Bruce LiCausi. The lawsuit filed in Atlantic County Superior Court alleges fraud and negligence on the part of Borgata and accuses the casino of failing to properly supervise the event.

The claim seeks refunds of the players’ buy-in money and entry fees as well as reimbursement for incidental damages, such as travel costs.

“In my 31 years in practice, I have to say this is one of the cleanest claims we’ve had,” LiCausi said. “Borgata holds itself as a respected provider of poker tournaments. They might say this is a learning experience for them, and while that’s laudable, it’s at the expense of the thousands who traveled to Atlantic City and entered this tournament under the expectation that it would be run properly.”

Borgata spokesman Brian Brennan said the casino does not comment on litigation and directed questions on the investigation to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Kerry Langan, a spokeswoman for the division, said the criminal investigation remains ongoing. A regulatory investigation is expected to be finished soon, she said. The suspension order issued by the division remains in place.

That order calls for all prize money to be held in escrow by the Borgata under further notice from the state. It also called for the casino to keep a record of all money paid out prior to the time the event was suspended. The tournament began Jan. 14. At the time play was stopped, 27 people remained.

The lawsuit alleges that Borgata had insufficient security and supervision. It claims that players noticed counterfeit chips and compromised play and informed staff, yet the event was not immediately shut down. The document also claims Borgata failed to count the chips on an ongoing basis and “acted negligently in permitting an utterly rigged gaming event to occur at their casino.”

“People went expecting a carefully supervised event. It’s time that Borgata work to resolve this,” LiCausi said.

Police have not said if anyone other than Lusardi may have been involved in the scheme. Documents filed in another federal case state that Lusardi made the fake chips with spray paint and shipped them to Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City where he was staying.

Lusardi, 42, also had received packages from Hong Kong that were described as “plastic chips.” He allegedly hid the counterfeit chips in Borgata bathrooms. Once he discovered the casino found out about the chips, he panicked and flushed those that remained, he told authorities.

In a separate case, Lusardi was charged with copyright infringement after more than 37,500 illegal DVDs were found in his North Carolina home.

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