Sugarhouse Casino Sued by Gamblers Over Illegitimate Decks, Bad Card Shufflers

As the World Series of Poker started last week, I thought back to my couple summers covering the Series live. It was more than a decade ago, but one thing I miss is strolling through the Rio casino when I was taking a break from the poker action, plopping down at a video poker machine, and wasting a few bucks. It was silly, but it was relaxing. I also loved those times I went with my co-workers to the Four Queens to play blackjack switch, a game which would regularly kick my ass. Even though I usually lost money in both situations, I expected to and just had fun, whether it was because I was giving my mind and legs a break or because I was enjoying a night out with friends. I knew the casino had the edge, but that was fine with me. A couple of gamblers at Pennsylvania’s Sugarhouse Casino had similar expectations last year and ended up losing many magnitudes more money than I ever did, but according to a lawsuit they filed in federal court on Wednesday, they claim that the games were not on the up-and-up.

In the lawsuit William Vespe and Anthony Mattia say that they lost around a quarter of a million dollars in the span of eight months at Sugarhouse Casino, but their losses were not solely the result of the house edge and bad luck. They claim that messed-up decks and malfunctioning shuffling machines contributed to their losses and not only that, but Sugarhouse knew about the problems and did nothing about it.

Sugarhouse Failed on Several Occasions

To understand what the two men are talking about, let’s go back to early last October. It was then that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board fined Sugarhouse Casino $95,000 for multiple table games violations.

$85,000 of the total fine was the result of seven incidents between May 2017 and January 2018 in which the automatic shufflers were apparently not working properly on mini-baccarat, blackjack, and poker tables, thus activating the malfunction warning indicators on the machines, but nobody at the casino addressed the issues.

One example of what happened was on September 23, 2017 when 16 hands in a poker game were dealt without the decks being shuffled. Security recordings showed that the green light on the automatic shuffler was blinking, indicating a problem, but nobody took notice. It turns out that the shuffler was in a mode called “sort” rather than “shuffle,” which means that the machine sorted the cards by value and suit, like when they are fresh from the box.

None of the poker players spoke up, but there was no evidence that anyone cheated. After sixteen hands, the dealer figured it out, the machine was fixed, and the game went on.

The rest of the fine was for the use of “compromised decks” in Spanish 21 games. In May 2017, sixteen cards were found in an automatic shuffler that was no longer in use. Naturally, this raised some eyebrows and the cards were traced back to six decks used in 46 rounds of Spanish 21 the day before. Those rounds consisted of 122 hands.

Not for nothing, but of the eight people playing the blackjack variant during those 122 hands, just one of them ended up making a profit. Now, considering even the most player-friendly games have a house advantage, it is not necessarily crazy that seven of eight players lost money, but it certainly looks suspicious under the circumstances. None of the players were refunded any money.

Plaintiffs Blame Lack of Proper Controls for Losses

During the period for which Sugarhouse Casino was fined, William Vespe lost $147,026 and Anthony Mattia lost $103,844.

Their attorney, Steven Feinstein, told

The thrill in playing table games at SugarHouse is knowing that while the odds are against them, they can still ‘beat the house.’ But that all goes out the window when a casino uses broken equipment or ‘illegitimate’ decks as the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board previously found SugarHouse to have done.

“The integrity of our gaming operations is of the utmost importance. We have disciplined or terminated the employees responsible, and revised procedures to help prevent recurrence,” said a spokesperson for Sugarhouse Casino. “We deny the claims made by the individuals in this lawsuit, and cannot comment further on pending litigation.”

The two men accuse the casino of being unable to “provide an honest wagering environment” and are suing for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, negligence, breach of good faith and fair dealing, fraud, and conspiracy to commit fraud.


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