Thursday, September 01, 2005

Do Casinos Abuse Patrons' Rights?

A recent story in the Las Vegas Tribune says yes, and the incidents are not isolated occurrences.

1 comment:

dawizofodds said...

MGM, Other Casinos Abuse Patrons' Rights
Marcus K. Dalton
Las Vegas Tribune

Aug. 12, 2005

In a recent open letter to the Review Journal, Las Vegas attorney Robert Nersesian wrote: "Nevada's casino industry continues to act as if it is above the law. Time and again, patrons legally playing ... suffer imprisonment and even beatings at the hands of casino security personnel. It's well past time that something be done to stop these incidents."

Abuse of casino patrons' rights in Southern Nevada is actually more widespread than is commonly acknowledged.

Consider the case of Richard Chen. On March 9, 2000, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled 3-1 that the Monte Carlo Casino had to give Richard Chen the $40,400 he won by counting cards at blackjack. From the objective view of the law, if there is such a thing, card counters are merely players who have enough skill to beat casinos at their own game.

A close look at the Chen decision shows how precarious the legal rights of casino patrons actually are. Chen initially obtained $44,000 in chips as he was losing during the course of his initial days of play. Then the pendulum swung the other way and be gan to win. By the time he had accumulated a total of $84,400, it was discovered that he was a known card counter. So, the Monte Carlo refused to pay. Chen, having won money legitimately nevertheless had to go to the State's highest court to collect.

Not isolated events

Think that Chen's case is a remote or isolated occurrence in the Southern Nevada casinos, including those owned by the MGM consortium? Think again.

Last Month a player won $8,600 at blackjack at the MGM Grand but when he attempted to redeem his chips he was denied his winnings and even his initial buy-in. The player, who wishes to remain nameless, holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University and works at an ivy league university on the east coast.

"After playing at the MGM Grand without being rated, and winning a large amount, the cage then refused to cash my chips, and gave me a receipt for them instead, on the grounds that because I was not known to them, having played without a comp rating, they have no record of my play. From what the shift manager said to me when he told me the decision, it is obvious that they know who I am, know I am a skilled blackjack player, and are acting on the premise that strong players are fair game for being cheated and harassed by their casino," said the Stanford Ph.D.

The Tribune spoke with gaming legal experts Al Rogers and Bob Nersesian, and both told us that they know of several other cases in which the MGM Grand did this to exceptionally strong blackjack players. In previous cases, after filing complaints with the Gaming Control Board, the victims eventually got their money, but the MGM Grand was not penalized in any way which obviously gives the MGM Grand no incentive to discontinue this abuse.

Several Las Vegas lawyers say there is an emerging pattern of intimidation and excessive force, with casino security, state gaming officers and the Metropolitan Police Department often working in concert to trample constitutional rights, civil liberties and gaming regulations to deter advantage gamblers from playing at local properties.

The problem has been emerging from the backrooms of casinos into wider

public view through a bevy of legal cases in Las Vegas in which advantage gamblers have sued casino-hotels, Gaming Control Board agents, and even Metro officers after they have had their winnings confiscated or been detained and roughed up by security and police officers and even charged with unrelated minor offenses.

One who understands this is Las Vegas attorney Bob Nersesian, who represents several advantage players who charge that their civil rights have been violated in casinos in recent years.

In a November 2004 article entitled "Bringing Down The House, Las Vegas Mercury author Bob Shemeligian quotes Nersesian and reviews some of the attorney's cases against casino abuse:

"The casino is at war with everybody - every single player," Nersesian says. "Every day, the casino wins the war against the average casino patron. They do this by winning from the patron. But when it comes to their war against advantage players, I would suggest the casino uses tactics not approved by the Geneva Convention."

And don't think that the smaller "local" establishments and regular "non-advantaged" patrons are immune to this obnoxious and illegal behavior. Recently the Tribune learned of allegations of several violations involving the Tuscany Suites Casino on Flamingo Road.

Last month Mary Miller checked into the Tuscany Hotel and then proceeded to the bar where she played video poker. According to Miller, she began to pile up winnings in the machine, "several hundred dollars, very lucky," she said. "As my winnings accumulated the security guard became increasingly interested and then finally told me I had to leave."

Miller claims she was not drunk or belligerent, but she was incredulous towards the Tuscany security guard, not understanding why she would be asked to leave when winning.

Ultimately, Miller was handcuffed and detained, her winnings were confiscated without a receipt, and then she was packed out and ejected from the property without even a refund of the hotel fare she had paid only two hours earlier. When her attorney requested a copy of the security report and the video surveillance, none was forthcoming.

The Tribune has learned that Miller's Tuscany experience is not uncommon to that property. According to Tribune sources earlier this year a craps player who was ahead several thousand dollars had an almost identical experience to Miller's. Further Tribune has witnessed, first hand, illegal table-game sidebets being blatantly promoted at Tuscany.

Gaming Control enabled?

In a July 22nd Tribune commentary, noted gaming expert L.V. Bear wrote: "What should be frightening and infuriating to Nevadans is that the outrageous activity by casinos is tolerated by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. If there was to be a vote for least effective public agency, the Gaming Control Board would win easily. It appears to be corrupt from top to bottom, operating as a de facto arm of the casino industry, instead of protecting the public from casino wrongdoing. The Gaming Control Board is little more than a training ground for future casino employees. The current Board is a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil trio of two undistinguished career bureaucrats and a casino-industry attorney who cater to every whim of the casino bosses, and do little or nothing to protect the public."

Publicized cases of casino cheating underscore an apparent mentality of the Nevada Gaming Control Board itself. When the Venetian was caught rigging promotional drawings for the benefit of certain Asian high-rollers, Gaming Control fined it a million dollars, which is a petty slap on the wrist for the Venetian. The crooked employees should have been referred to the District Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution. Not only was that not done, the Gaming Control didn't even see fit to revoke the gaming licenses of the perpetrators.

In a more recent case, the Golden Nugget refused to pay $48,600 on a winning sports bet. The Golden Nugget said it simply would not pay the winner, though it would refund the $2700 bet. The Gaming Control Board ordered the Golden Nugget to pay the victim, but assessed an absurdly small monetary penalty of less than $30,000. Again, no casino employee was prosecuted for trying to cheat a patron, and the fine, actually imposed for failure to notify the Board of a "patron dispute," was so small as to be ridiculous. And, the outright attempt to cheat a patron of his winnings was labeled a "patron dispute."

L.V. Bear lays the blame thoroughly at the feet of Gaming Control, noting the case of a computerized tracking device that the Eldorado Casino was utilizing to illicitly improve their profits (i.e., cheat) at blackjack: "The Board had to be sued before it agreed to take action to stop [the Eldorado's] cheating at blackjack, through a computerized table that uses marked cards. Incredibly, the Board has permitted the continued use of the marked cards, but has made it less easy, though not impossible, for casinos to use the device to cheat patrons. The Board refuses to publicly disclose a copy of the anti-cheating orders it claims to have issued. Without the embarrassment of being sued for refusing to do its job, the Board would likely have continued to do nothing while the cheating went on unabated."

Unfortunately, Gaming Control has the ability to operate largely in secret. A few ill-conceived statutes allow it more secrecy than a regular police department. Most of its files are not considered public records, and are not available for public inspection. Most of its business is conducted via secret deals with casino bosses. Of course, the secret sweetheart-deal making works to the advantage of the Board, its employees and the casino bosses, and to the detriment of the public.

"The present Gaming Control Board is an out-of-control, corrupt government agency operating in virtual secrecy. Legislation is needed to force it to open its files and records to the sunshine of public scrutiny. If after public examination of its practices, it is determined to unsalvageable, it should be disbanded, its employees fired from the public payroll, and a new agency created," says Bear.

"Nevada does not need another cheating scandal or another abuse-of-patrons scandal in its casinos. There have been far too many already, with no meaningful action ever taken against the wrongdoers. Nevada is competing with many other gaming and vacation destinations. The other states take casino cheating and other wrongdoing seriously. Nevada needs to start doing the same, before it is too late. Once we get a national or worldwide reputation for not having legitimate, effective government oversight of casinos, many of the tourists -- the lifeblood of our economy -- will stop taking the risk of visiting Nevada," concludes Bear.