Ontario’s Elements Casino Loses Court Battle Over Pai Gow Poker Rules

Posted on: March 8, 2022, 05:44h. 

Last updated on: March 8, 2022, 05:58h.

Two London, Ontario gamblers have won a payout from the Elements Casino in the city of Brantford, thanks to a lawsuit that nitpicked on the rules of Pai Gow Poker.

Fred Woolford
Fred Woolford, above, hit a royal flush in Pai Gow Poker at the Elements Casino, Brantford. But he didn’t get the payout he wanted until this week. (Image: Fred Woolford/London Free Press)

Fred Woolford and Douglas Dunbar were playing the table game, which blends elements of poker with the traditional Chinese tile game of pai gow, at the casino in January 2019.

The hand that launched a legal battle involved both players staking $10 and each placing an additional $10 “envy bet” on each other’s hand. These are bets that ease feelings of jealousy when the gambler next to you hits big by affording you a slice of your neighbor’s action.

In Pai Gow Poker, players are dealt seven cards and, after one draw, are required to make a two-card low hand and a five-card high hand, each as high as possible.

Woolford was dealt 10-J-Q-K-A, all in clubs, plus a wild card joker, and he believed he had hit the 1000-1 shot, advertised on the table as a “royal flush with ace and queen suited.”

That would have netted Woolford $10,750, and Dunbar $750 for his envy bet.

The dealer wasn’t sure and called a pit boss.

Breaking the Rules

The official checked the rulebook and confirmed that Woolford’s hand was simply a royal flush, which paid 100-1. The 1000-1 jackpot required a royal flush plus an additional ace and a queen of any suit.

Aggrieved, the two men went to the small claims court, arguing that the casino’s rules were not accurately reflected on the Pai Gow table.

On the face of it, the complaint is ridiculous, since any royal flush must include a suited king and a queen, ipso facto.

So, the description of a “royal flush with ace and queen suited” can make no sense other than its intended meaning within the rules of the game: one five card royal flush high hand, plus a low hand of A-Q. As the casino argued, the rules of Pai Gow Poker and its odds are approved by the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission, and any deviation from those rules by any gaming operator would be illegal.

Crucially, these rules are in place to ensure that everyone has an equal chance of winning.

Bizarre Rulings

Nevertheless, the small claims court in 2020 ruled in favor of the two gamblers, noting the casino had changed the chart on the table since it had been hit with the lawsuit.

Deputy Judge Richard Campbell ordered the casino to pay Woolford $9,450 and Dunbar $700, respectively, plus legal fees.

The casino appealed, and remarkably this week, Superior Court Justice John Harper upheld the ruling.

Woolford told the The London Free Press that the judgment was a win for “the little guy.” He said he believed the Elements Casino had spent between $20,000 and $22,000 defending a $10,150 payout, ignoring the fact he could have faced a similar bill chasing a $10 bet.

Instead, he gets 1,000-1 when all the other little guys get 100-1.

Woolford said he and Dunbar planned to hit the tables with their winnings, but would bypass the Elements Casino, operated by Great Canadian Gaming, in favor of its competitor, Caesars Windsor.

Woolford may be disappointed to learn that the province-approved rules of Pai Gow Poker are the same at Caesars Windsor, and he may not get such an easy ride next time he hits a 100-1 shot.