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New Jersey Court Dismisses Borgata Counterfeit-Chip Lawsuit

A New Jersey court has dismissed a lawsuit brought by six players in connection with the 2014 Borgata Winter Poker Open cancelled in late January that was cancelled following the discovery of a large quantity of counterfeit chips.

In a decision that surprised many onlookers, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge James Isman upheld a motion to filed by attorneys for Marina District Development Company LLC, the parent entity of Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, to dismiss the lawsuit.  The tournament was brought to a halt by the discovery of more than 160 “5,000” chips allegedly introduced by North Carolina player Christian Lusardi, who remains in custody in connection with multiple legal charges.

borgata-logoThe six players who sued the Borgata were among the final 27 players in the event who were still alive when New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) officials ordered the event frozen on January 27th, pending further investigation.  Eventually, nearly three months later, the DGE issued a ruling through which more than 2,000 of the event’s 4,800-plus entrants were refunded their buy-ins, but the final 27 players were given a flat payment of little more than $19,000 each, less than 40% of what the average payout would have been for each of the final 27 players had the event run to completion.  (In an earlier feature here at FlushDraw, we explored why the DGE ruling was mathematically unfair, and belied the DGE’s own claims that a thorough investigation and proper review of the playing circumstances surrounding the cheating had truly occurred.)

The six players — Duane Haughton, Michael Sneideman, Cuong C. Tran, Cuong V. Phung, Alvin Vatanavan and Christopher Korres — retained Philadelphia attorney Maurice “Mac” VerStandig of the firm Offit Kurman, P.A., who filed a four-count action against the Borgata, alleging negligence and breach of contract.

In dismissing the case, Judge Isman sided with the Borgata’s assertions that the events regarding the cheating and the resolution regarding the frozen prize funds all “fall squarely within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DGE,” the state’s gaming regulatory body.  In its April ruling, the DGE absolved the Borgata and its operational staff of any negligence, though the lawsuit brought on behalf of the players challenged that assertion, stating that it denied the players due process.

Nonetheless, Judge Isman essentially upheld the DGE’s claim of absolute authority, leaving it up to the plaintiffs and their attorney to consider an appeal to a higher court.  Another major issue inherent within the lawsuit involved the Borgata’s apparent disregard for estoppel, in that while seeking to deny these plaintiffs their day in court, the casino had no problems filing its own lawsuit against prominent pro Phil Ivey, seeking to recover a $9 million dollar mini-baccarat loss.

VerStandig, the players’ attorney, gave the following statement to FlushDraw:

“It is offensive to believe, as the Borgata has suggested, that players entering a casino forfeit their constitutional rights, and legal remedies, with the same nonchalance as they insert dollar bills into a slot machine. Poker players have a legal right to compensatory and punitive damages, which the DGE cannot grant, and a constitutional right to a trial by jury, which the DGE cannot facilitate. We are also struck by the hypocrisy of the Borgata suing Phil Ivey in a federal court, while simultaneously arguing that bettors and casinos ought not be permitted to resolve their disputes in the court systems. It is this sort of unmitigated hypocrisy which judicial estoppel is meant to guard against.

“The foregoing considered,” VerStanding continued, “we are reviewing the court’s order and working with our clients to actively consider an appeal.”  No timeline has been set for that appeal, should it occur.

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