Blackjack Player Detained in Black Hawk for Allegedly Counting Cards Seeks $3M

Posted on: August 10, 2023, 03:55h. 

Last updated on: August 10, 2023, 12:17h.

A blackjack player accused of counting cards at the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Black Hawk, Colo., is seeking compensation. The incident in 2021 spurred what he believes was an illegal detention carried out by local police and state gaming enforcement agents.

blackjack player Ameristar Black Hawk Colorado
An aerial view of the Ameristar Black Hawk Casino Hotel. The Colorado casino is accused of wrongfully detaining a blackjack player in 2021 on suspicions of counting cards. The man has since filed a lawsuit against the property’s owner. (Image: Flickr)

In a complaint first filed last October in Colorado’s federal district court, attorneys representing plaintiff Joseph Shiraef allege that their client was unlawfully detained after visiting the Ameristar on Oct. 19, 2021. Shiraef, a resident of Lookout Mountain, Ga., claims to have had a lengthy layover at Denver International Airport. He decided to spend that free time by making the roughly hour-long drive west to the historic mining settlement that is home to 11 casinos and gaming halls.

Shiraef claims in his litigation that after playing blackjack for a few hours and losing $4,000, an Ameristar pit manager asked him to supply his identification. After presenting his Georgia driver’s license, the floor supervisor said they need to run his identification to “check something.”

That’s when Shiraef says he refused to hand over his license. He claims he was then told that he wouldn’t be allowed to cash out his remaining chips valued at $1,800.

Situation Escalates

Shiraef says he was accused of counting cards, a practice that involves a gambler keeping a mental tally of the cards that have been dealt in an effort to better predict what will come next.

In Colorado, there is no specific law banning card counting. But casinos retain the right to ban or limit gamblers who are believed to be counting cards.

Shiraef says he personally called the Colorado Division of Gaming in an effort to clear up the situation. But because he needed to get back to the airport, he decided to depart the Ameristar.

Shiraef alleges that when he tried to leave the casino resort’s parking garage, a black SUV with flashing blue and red lights blocked his exit. The gaming agent identified himself as Joseph Nguyen.

Nguyen told Shiraef he was suspected of committing fraudulent acts.

I’m going to review the video and if the video shows that you are committing a crime by cheating or counting cards you will have a warrant for your arrest. In the state of Colorado, that’s not allowed,” Nguyen allegedly told Shiraef.

Nguyen said gamblers are required to play the games fairly. After Shiraef correctly told the gaming agent and a local police officer on the scene that there’s no law in Colorado prohibiting the counting of cards, Nguyen allegedly countered, “You gave us reasons to believe that you were committing a crime.”

Shiraef was eventually let go and returned to the airport. He planned to remedy the redeeming of his Ameristar gaming chips at a later date.

Shiraef was never charged in the incident, which led to his lawsuit that names Ameristar, the casino’s owner Gaming and Leisure Properties, Inc., Nguyen, the City of Black Hawk, and Black Hawk Police Sgt. Stephanie Whitman as defendants. The lawsuit oddly does not name Penn Entertainment, which operates the Ameristar Casino, as a defendant.

Compensation Sought

After defense attorneys unsuccessfully sought to have the lawsuit dismissed on grounds that law enforcement possesses qualified immunity from such legal challenges, Shiraef’s lawsuit is only now proceeding. The Colorado district court has set a Sept. 20, 2023 deadline for the involved parties to inform the court about the witnesses and experts they plan to include in the matter.

U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Kato Crews will then set a pretrial conference. Shiraef is seeking $3 million in compensation for his alleged unlawful detention, plus legal fees and attorney costs.