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When Casinos do not pay winnings!

Published on October 25, 2014, 4:32 pm

by Jeff Grant Twitter account Jeff Grant LinkedIn account

Gulf Stream Park logo
Gulf Stream Park casino

It'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.

Gamblers forced to pay back winnings (The case of the Golden Nugget)

Roughly three years ago, 14 gamblers in Atlantic City managed to do what all gamblers can only dream of and win $1.5million in a single night. The dream quickly turned sour when the casino accused them of cheating and detained them – something which the gamblers maintain was an illegal detention.

The issue arose in the Golden Nugget casino in April of 2012 when the gamblers in question noticed that the card in the game of Baccarat they were playing in, happened to be coming out in a very predictable order - this due to the casino ordering pre shuffled cards off a manufacturer in Kansas. The only problem on this occasion was that the cards where not shuffled and the casino where just using them as is.

Casino employee giving cards at a baccarat table
Casino employee giving cards at a baccarat table

As soon as the gamblers realised the predictability of the cards appearing, they instantly upped their bets from the small amount of $10 a hand to in excess of $5,000 a hand. They ended the night accumulatively up $1.5million between the 14 of them.

A court case has been raging for the last 3 years where the casino wants the gamblers to give back all the money that they won. The casino claiming that as the cards where unshuffled, it was not a legal game and therefore the winnings are voided and should be paid back. The players claiming that winning the money came about from a mistake by the casino, not from any wrong doing on their part.

Last month, the judge finally ruled that the players should be ordered to repay all of their winnings as the game was not legal by the laws of the state, and didn’t conform to the way that games should be played according to the state gambling regulations.

The gamblers in question have challenging this decision by doing appeal. They have been quoted as saying that:

By making the players give back what they won three years after the incident, sends an incredibly chilling message to the public: A win isn’t always a win, casinos will try to get back the money from winning players, even those without fault.

Of course the casino representatives think differently and think that the ruling made by the judge last month, was the correct one in the eyes of the law, bringing about a fair outcome to the case.

The point the gamblers are trying to make, is that they did not break any rules; they did not cheat in any way. They just happened to notice a mistake made by the casino and they then leveraged that mistake in their own favour to win some money. If they are ordered to pay the money back does that mean that the casino will always win? Even when they lose a lot of money they will go after you and get the money back.

It does not bode well for gamblers in the future. What if someone wins a huge jackpot and the casino wants the money back? Will they go after that too and with the precedent set by this court battle will they then win? This puts the casino is such privileged position where they know they can win, even when they lose.

Texan billionaire, Tilman Fertitta
Golden Nugget owner and Texan billionaire, Tilman Fertitta

When the original incident occurred, the casino owner – Billionaire Texan, Tillman Fertitta – made a decision that the gamblers could keep the money they had won with one caveat. The caveat being that they had to drop all the other accusations they had towards the casino such as illegal detention. The gamblers where not happy with these terms and chose to take the case to court.

After all, if the mistake was made by one of the casino employees or by a contracted entity such as the provider of the cards – who in a separate case, have admitted that they failed to shuffle the cards – why should the innocent gamblers that benefited from the negligence be made to suffer.

A separate litigation between the card manufacturer and the casino was settled but the details cannot be released as they are covered by a confidentiality agreement.

The dispute ended with the judge's verdict: The players were forced to repay the casino for all the money they won ($1.5million), and the casino had to repay the players for all the bets made with their money (around $ 500,000). A ruling that has caused a stir in the worldwide gambling industry.


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