Golden Nugget New Jersey baccarat case

The DGE has ruled in favor of players in the million-dollar lawsuit over an unshuffled baccarat deck at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. (Image: atlanticcitynj.com)

The Golden Nugget New Jersey can breathe a little easier this week, after the Atlantic City casino was exonerated for a game of mini-baccarat that sparked a million-dollar lawsuit. The game has now been deemed legal by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) following a two-year investigation.

And here’s the back story: In 2012, a group of customers at the Golden Nugget New Jersey casino spotted a new deck of cards at one baccarat table that appeared to be unshuffled. The cards were being dealt in specific order that repeated itself every 15 hands, allowing them to know with almost complete certainty which cards were coming next. Upping their bets to as much as $5,000, opportunistic gamblers managed to win 41 hands in a row and collectively bank $1.5 million.

The casino quickly put the kibosh on the fishy game and called State Police and the DGE, but not before it had paid out $500,000 of the $1.5 million.

It seems that the cards were supposed to arrive from the manufacturer, Kansas-based company Gemaco, in a pre-shuffled state, via a machine that uses complex algorithms to ensure that no two decks are the same. This particular deck, however, somehow slipped through the system.

The casino sued the gamblers to reclaim the sum it had paid out, while the gamblers counter sued for the $1 million they believed was being illegally withheld, and also alleged that the casino had illegally detained them. The new decision from the DGE is likely to have a major impact on the ongoing court case in which the Golden Nugget was gaining the upper hand.

No Funny Business

While the DGE found that neither party had acted inappropriately, it also ruled that the game itself did not contravene New Jersey gaming regulations, which has to look good for the gamblers. It also cleared Gemaco of any form of conspiratorial involvement in the incident.

“The Division has determined that the game offered by Golden Nugget on April 30, 2012 at table MB-802 was a legal and valid game under the New Jersey Casino Control Act,” said the DGE. “There is absolutely no evidence that the players or casino personnel involved in the game were involved in any sort of collusion, cheating or manipulation to affect the results of the game.

“Golden Nugget management was actively watching the game, either through reports from personnel or surveillance, and was not able to discover any obvious issues regarding the integrity of game play,” it added. “On this issue, Golden Nugget had the authority to cease play at any time, and could have introduced a new deck of cards at any time, but elected to let play continue.”

Is the DGE Ruling Law or Opinion?

A preliminary court ruling in 2012 initially ruled in favor of the gamblers. The Golden Nugget vowed to appeal, but owner Tilman Fertitta overrode his lawyers and offered to pay the disputed winnings as a goodwill gesture. The deal fell apart, however, when some of the gamblers refused to dismiss their claims of illegal detention against the casino, forcing it to launch an appeal, regardless.

At that hearing in June of this year, the judge ruled in favor of the Nugget, as its lawyer Louis Barbone successfully argued that the game’s legality came down to whether game was a “game of chance” and whether it was “fair.” Since the outcome was “predetermined” by the deck, he said, it could not be considered to be a game of chance at all.

Reacting to the news this week, Barbone said: “We disagree with the DGE. We think it’s an opinion that has no binding authority. This is a legal conclusion that needs to be made by a court, and I think that’s where this needs to go.”

The case will continue.