Golden Nugget, New Jersey, Atlantic City

A pack of unshuffled cards resulted in a $1.5 million lawsuit, which was finally settled in the Golden Nugget’s favor last week in New Jersey State Superior Court. (Image:

A New Jersey State Superior Court judge has ruled that the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City does not have to pay out almost $1 million in disputed winnings resulting from a deck mix-up during a game of mini-baccarat. The incident occurred in 2012, when gamblers realized that a new pack of cards used in the game was unshuffled and that the cards were being dealt sequentially, allowing them to know with certainty which cards were coming next. Customers began upping their bets to as much as $5,000 and were able to “win” 41 hands straight and bank $1.5 million in winnings before the game was halted.

If it seemed too good to be true, it was. Judge James Isman ruled that the casino should not have to pay the $1 million it held back from 14 customers once it had realized the mistake, and that furthermore it was entitled to pursue restitution for more than $500,000 paid out to players previous to that.

“We were 100 percent vindicated by Judge Isman’s ruling,” said the casino in a statement.

No Game of Chance

Louis Barbone, representing the Golden Nugget, said the decision related to the question of whether the game was “fair” and the definition of casino games in New Jersey law as “games of chance.”

“It was no game of chance,” he said. “It was a predetermined outcome,” Barbone added, noting that had the mistake been in the casino’s favor, it would have repaid the customers. “It shows the Golden Nugget follows the rules to a T. They would do it whether they were on the good end or the bad end of the stick. They’re a reputable organization,” he said.

The court heard that the offending deck was supposed to arrive pre-shuffled from the manufacturer, using algorithms that ensure that no two decks are shuffled the same; however, it seemed this one had slipped through the net. Casino security officers immediately shut down the table and called State Police and the state Division of Gaming Enforcement when they realized what had happened.

The casino initially sued the gamblers for restitution of the sum it had paid out, while gamblers counter sued for the funds the casino had withheld, and also alleged that casino had illegally detained them.

A Lesson to be Learned

A preliminary court ruling in 2012 ruled in favor of the gamblers and the casino vowed to appeal. However, owner Tilman Fertitta overrode his lawyers and agreed to pay the disputed winnings. The deal fell apart (and there’s a moral here, folks!) when some of the gamblers refused to dismiss their claims of illegal detention against the casino.

“Remarkably, and despite this generous proposal, the gamblers and their lawyers steadfastly refused, and selfishly wanted more damages than just the gambling winnings,” the casino said in its statement. “Instead of walking away with over a $1.5 million win, the gamblers must now return all of their gambling chips to the Golden Nugget. There are obvious lessons to be learned by all sides as a result of this incident. Unfortunately for the gamblers, it cost them over $1.5 million.”

It’s also good news for poker player Phil Ivey, incidentally, as the Golden Nugget’s lawyer Louis Barbone is representing him in his legal battle against the Borgata. The Borgata is attempting to sue Ivey for allegedly “edge sorting” at the baccarat tables.