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October 25, 2014

US land-based casinos who refuse to pay winnings


Gulf Stream Park logoIt's a common occurrence for casino patrons to win jackpots. Sometimes it's a $5 jackpot. Sometimes it's a $500,000 jackpot. Sometimes the jackpot isn't cash at all, but a coveted prize like a shiny new automobile. Recent news finds several U.S. casinos denying their patrons the jackpots/prizes they claim they are owed. This summer, a southern Florida woman claimed she won a new car at Hallandale Beach's Gulfstream Park Casino. The gambling facility, however, is refusing to award the prize.

Vicki Wersching received a promotional “key” through the mail from Gulfstream Park, which she took to the Florida casino/racino. Key-holders were instructed to try fitting their key into a display car. According to Wersching, her promotional key “fit” the lock of the car, a Range Rover SUV, opening it and setting off a series of sirens and whistles. Wersching assumed that she had won the vehicle.

Gulfstream Parks officials, however, are refusing to give her the car. Because she “didn't open (the door) smoothly,” according Wersching, the casino manager wouldn't let her have the prize. In Wersching's words, she worked the key in “a little further, little further, 'till I felt it go all the way in.” Casino officials didn't agree with Wersching's method of finagling the key into the Range Rover door.

Casino Accepts Blame for Contest Flaw

In a subsequent email, Gulfstream Park informed Wersching that the casino had sent 150,000 keys through the mail to patrons, five of which were winning keys that “easily and smoothly opened the door upon every test.” The email insinuated that Wersching performed a “rough handling” of the key which the casino had not anticipated, calling it an “obvious flaw” in the set-up of the contest.

According to casino spokesman Michael Nyman, Wersching didn't turn the key the way a person trying to open a car door normally does. Rather, she shook the key roughly in a way that forced the door open. A standby representative corroborated that story, which is further back up by surveillance footage, according to Nyman. This method of opening the Range Rover door was a violation of the contest rules, according to Nyman, because winning contestants were supposed to unlock the lock the door with everyday ease.

Consolation Prize Offered

As a consolation prize, Gulfstream Park extended an offer of $500 in casino gambling money to Wersching. Wersching declined the offer and has hired an attorney, David Kubiliun, to help her press for the car. According to Kubiliun, the gambling facility is obligated to give his client the Range Rover because it is not her fault that the contest “may have been defective." Furthermore, the sirens and whistles that went off when she unlocked the door clearly, and understandably, made her think she had won.

The Gulfstream Park Casino offers other financial incentives to draw customers in. On its August calendar, it advertises a $400,000 scratch-off giveaway and a $5,000 VIP drawing, among other things. The casino, which is also a race track, advertises live horse racing four days per week, Thursdays through Sundays. The facility has renovation plans in the works that will make it more family-friendly, including the addition of a bowling alley and a water park for children.

Gulfstream Park Casino incentives
Gulfstream Park Casino incentives from its August calendar

Eastern Connecticut Casino Sued for Refusing to Pay Out

The outcome of Wersching's legal battle is still unknown, and as a plaintiff, she may have a long road ahead of her. In Connecticut, three gamblers are now in the midst of a similar legal battle in which they are suing Foxwoods Resort Casino for cash they say they won but never received.

The incident in question happened in 2011. The plaintiffs are Los Angeles residents Zong Yang Li and Long Mei Fang and Las Vegas resident Cheng Yin Sun. All three are Chinese nationals who claim they won approximately $1 million playing mini-baccarat at Foxwoods. The plaintiffs admit they used a technique called edge sorting to help them win, but maintain that the technique is legal in the state of Connecticut. They seek $3 million in damages in a lawsuit that was filed with a federal Connecticut court on July 31.

A year after the edge-sorting incident, in 2012, the Foxwoods tribal gaming commission determined that the gamblers had violated casino rules by using the edge sorting technique. The gamblers' 2014 lawsuit counters the commission's finding, however, stating that “some players are gifted with eyesight keen enough” to spot minor differences in the appearance of baccarat cards.

One of the three Chinese nationals, Cheng Yin Sun, has partnered with high stakes gambler Phil Ivey in previous edge sorting incidents. The pair has openly admitted to using the technique at the Crockfords Casino in Britain and the Borgata in New Jersey (read the article) while playing both mini baccarat and Punto Banco. The Borgata is now suing both men for the $9.6 million they won in 2012 using the controversial technique.

Ivey: “I'm No Cheat”

Poker's pro Phil Ivey
High stake gambler and poker's pro Phil Ivey

Ivey is open about his ability to spot flaws on the backs of cards, but insists that this ability does not make him a cheater. In the Crockfords incident, the cards used by the casino were “full bleed” cards, meaning that the design on the back of them is particularly prone to flaws that an edge sorter can use to his or her advantage. Ivey claims that he won, but has not received, a payout of £7.8 million from Crockfords that stemmed from the 2012 edge sorting incident.

A common thread runs between the cases of Wersching, Ivey, Sun, Li, and Fang. In each case, the gambler maintains that he/she was abiding by house rules at the time of a jackpot win. The house, however, refuses to pay out the jackpots or, in the case of the Borgata, has filed a suit to get the jackpot back. A tough judgment call will need to be made in each case, and it looks as though the courts will have their own lengthy process to go through before any final decisions are made.


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