ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Gamblers who won $1.5 million at a casino after realizing the cards hadn't been shuffled have been ordered to return the money.
State Superior Court Judge Donna Taylor has sided with the Golden Nugget casino in its long-running dispute with 14 gamblers who say the fault wasn't theirs and they should be allowed to keep their winnings.
At issue were games of mini-baccarat played in April 2012 using decks of cards the casino had paid a manufacturer to pre-shuffle but that hadn't been shuffled. Once players realized the pattern in which the cards were emerging they drastically upped their bets from $10 a hand to $5,000 and won 41 straight hands.
In the ruling, issued Monday and publicized by the casino on Thursday, the judge determined the games were illegal under state law because they didn't conform to gambling regulations specifying the way each game must be played.
"The dealer did not pre-shuffle the cards immediately prior to the commencement of play, and the cards were not pre-shuffled in accordance with any regulation," the judge wrote. "Thus, a literal reading of the regulations ... entails that the game violated the (Casino Control) Act, and consequently was not authorized."
She ruled that the gamblers must return any cash paid to them by the casino and any outstanding chips in their possession. The casino in turn must refund the gamblers the money they first put up to play.
The Golden Nugget was pleased with the court's ruling, casino general manager Tom Pohlman said.
"We believe it was the right decision," he said.
A lawyer for the gamblers did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the decision. A lawyer for the casino's partner, Landry's Inc., said he expects the decision to be appealed.
The Golden Nugget bought what were supposed to be pre-shuffled cards from a Kansas City manufacturer, which acknowledged in court it failed to shuffle them. The casino said its litigation with the manufacturer has been resolved but a confidentiality agreement prevents it from revealing details.
The judge's ruling was the latest in a long series of decisions that have seesawed between favoring the casino and favoring the gamblers. The owner of the casino, Texas billionaire Tillman Fertitta, originally decided to let the players keep their winnings, but that offer was contingent on them dropping other claims they made against the casino, which they declined to do.
The casino paid out about $500,000 in winnings for the disputed games. About $1 million in chips remains outstanding.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC