Unshuffled decks at the mini-baccarat table

by Walter Olson on August 22, 2012

Gamblers at a mini-baccarat table at the Atlantic City Golden Nugget could scarcely believe their good fortune: the house was dealing from an unshuffled deck, making it possible to guess which cards were coming next. “Forty-one consecutive winning hands later, the 14 players had racked up more than $1.5 million in winnings — surrounded by casino security convinced they had cheated but unable to prove how.” When the truth emerged, the casino filed a lawsuit against the card manufacturer, saying the decks had wrongly been promised as pre-shuffled. Meanwhile, it is refusing to cash in the uncashed chips of the winners, on the theory that New Jersey regulations invalidate casino games that do not offer fair odds to both sides. The players’ lawyer rejects that theory and also claims the casino has shown bias toward his clients because of their Asian origin, which the casino denies. [AP/NJ.com]

{ 18 comments }

1 CTrees 08.22.12 at 10:18 am

Is this any different than card counting, beyond being easier? Given that precedent, I’m not really sure why the casino would be expected to pay.

2 John Anthony 08.22.12 at 10:25 am

Since the gamblers didn’t actually cheat, it’s absolutely unfair that they’re not paid what they’ve won – it’s the casino’s fault that they hadn’t checked what decks they’re using prior to the game. In my opinion it would be fair if they paid the gamblers and then sew the card manufacturer all they want – hoping they’d settle for more than what the gamblers have won.

3 Cloudesley Shovell 08.22.12 at 10:55 am

Ctrees: Card-counting, so long as the player uses only his brains and not any external device, is legal. NJ casinos are prohibited from barring players just because they’re card-counters. Uston v. Resorts International Hotel Inc., 445 A.2d 370 (N.J. 1982).

The casino here want to be relieved of their own negligence and stupidity. Casinos happily take the money of gamblers who play poorly or bet against their own interest because they don’t understand the game or the true odds, and ply gamblers with free alcohol to impair their decision-making at the gaming table. Now this casino screws up, and a number of their own employees can’t see what the players plainly see, which is that the deck is not shuffled. Shame on the casino. They deserve to lose, and lose hard, in this case.

4 Ron Miller 08.22.12 at 12:19 pm

The cards were supposed to be preshuffled so the claim against the card makers would seem strong although at some point you would think the casino would have a duty to mitigate its damages by noticing the obvious.

The claim against the gamblers is ridiculous as it the counterclaim brought by some of the gamblers.

5 Ron Miller 08.22.12 at 12:22 pm

One more thing… did the gamblers have duty to tell the casino that the cards were coming out the same way? Not at all. Would I want my children – when they grow up – to point out this face to the dealer because the game was now unfair? Absolutely. Because that is what a good person does.

6 another guy named Dan 08.22.12 at 12:22 pm

A hand of baccarat uses between 4 and 6 cards. Normally the game is played from a multi-deck shoe, as seems to be the case here (41 hands would require at least 164 cards or minimum 4 decks). If the dealers, pit bosses, and eye-in-the-sky personnel can’t spot an unshuffled shoe in over 40 hands, they do deserve to go out of business.

Furthermore, given the number of decks of cards that are gone through in the casinos of the world, the fact that one could end up arranged in a predictable sequence is remote but not impossible. They players were betting that the sequence was not randomly achieved, which did l=place them at risk of losing their bets. Not at the odds normally associated with the game, but there was still risk involved.

7 Mark Biggar 08.22.12 at 2:35 pm

I believe that a case can be made that continuing to play after realizing that the deck is not shuffled is legally cheating, at least by the way Nevada law is written (I don’t know about Atlantic City). One of it’s clauses defines one way to cheat is to play a game of chance with unfair knowledge of the game situation. Just like continuing to play poker after seeing that you opponents hand is visible in a reflection behind them is cheating, so is this.

8 Tom T. 08.22.12 at 3:25 pm

This set of facts is really like an issue-spotting exam. There’s so much here.

Would the card companies be able to argue that they are not liable because these damages are consequential? I suppose it’s fully foreseeable that the casino would put the decks right into use, though.

In the players’ favor, I would argue that they did not employ any knowledge that would not have been equally available to the casino. The dealer could have figured out the problem with the cards just as easily as the players did. How is that not fair odds to both sides?

9 RT 08.22.12 at 4:49 pm

“One of it’s clauses defines one way to cheat is to play a game of chance with unfair knowledge of the game situation. Just like continuing to play poker after seeing that you opponents hand is visible in a reflection behind them is cheating, so is this.”

No. They had no way of knowing 100% certain that the next cards dealt were going to continue to be in order.

10 Ted 08.22.12 at 5:56 pm

One suspects that there is missing information in the story; I imagine that the casino suspects the gamblers of collusion with the dealers, and, reading between the lines, accused them of such. There may be ambiguous actions that support a theory of collusion/cheating, such as abnormally large tips, though abnormally large tips are also consistent with a very big winning streak. But there could also have been tacit collusion: the dealers also recognizing that the decks were not pre-shuffled, but wanting to keep getting paid big tips for winning. And normally, if bet sizes are changed dramatically, casino policy would have the dealers notify the pit bosses by shouting “checks play!”–did they fail to do so? If that happened, the casino has a grievance against its employees, for sure; if the collusion to keep playing was explicit, rather than tacit, there are criminal issues.

The gamblers may well have a cause of action against the casino if there wasn’t collusion or dealer misconduct. If nothing else, they haven’t been paid; they may have been held against their will improperly when they were being questioned.

If the casino wasn’t provided with pre-shuffled decks, and the contract called for such pre-shuffling, that would seem to be a straightforward breach of contract.

11 another guy named Dan 08.22.12 at 6:06 pm

Other factors specific to the game of baccarat: The odds of winning 41 consecutive hands is, by my calculation, roughly 1 in 2.2 trillion. Now pretty much every casino I’ve been to reserves the right to open or shut down tables at their discretion, as well as change limits . It looks like here the house decided to keep the table live in an effort to detect how the players were cheating, rather than shutting it down when it became apparent that there was something more than a bad run going on.

Secondly, it looks like the players may have been communicating with each other in a language unknown to the security staff. It is situations like this that many casinos, and virtually all poker parlors require all table chat to be in English, regardless of the nationality of the players. Again, if this rule existed and was not enforsed by the floor men, it should not be held against the players.

Finally, with respect to card counters in baccarat or blackjack, it takes about a quarter to a third of the shoe being played to shift the odds appreciably. A casinos best defense against a suspected successful card counter is simply to increase the frequency with which they shuffle or replace the decks so there is never the chance for a shoe to go strong or weak.

12 asdfasdf 08.22.12 at 7:47 pm

The casino’s refusing to honor its bets unless it is litigated against seems to me without sound legal or business basis.

This highlights an asymmetry in business litigation that actually favors the business: the cost of litigating against the deep-pocket casino is so high in comparison to the sums at issue that the customers may well have to settle for less than they are owed.

This is one of those rare cases where one party’s behavior – the casino’s – is so egregious and abusive that it is basically impossible not to sympathize with any legal tactics by the victims. It’s really quite rare to see a business trying to take advantage of the American rule in a cut-and-dried contract case against consumers, but this seems to be the case here. Anyway, the victim’s almost have to assert civil rights claims in order to recover their legal fees here, which they ordinarily ought to get.

I’m surprised, though, that the casino’s license is not under review: you can’t just refuse to pay players when they win and claim you’re running at fair odds.

13 Carol Herman 08.22.12 at 10:19 pm

Casino in Atlantic City will cause all gamblers who go in there, to be angry as hell at the management.

Losing money makes people angry, anyway.

NOT paying off winners? It’s about as stupid a move a casino can do. Given that there will be long term consequences.

And, yes. Their gambling license should be removed for failure to pay off debts. This story went VIRAL!

14 ras 08.22.12 at 11:08 pm

Ted’s points are the most valid, I think.

Is it also possible for the dealer, had he (she?) been colluding w/the players, to have “unshuffled the deck?” That could hypothetically be part of a strategy, making the results seem more believable as a straightforward oops rather than as a collaboration. But I don’t know if a dealer can have access to a deck beforehand, or if he can have surreptitiously switch it. Any casino-familiar readers know?

15 Ted 08.23.12 at 9:54 am

Casinos refuse to pay off people who think they have won when the casino thinks there’s an irregularity on a routine basis. That they get away with doing so without substantial adverse publicity is demonstrated by the fact that so many people in this thread think that casinos wouldn’t normally refuse to pay off their customers without hurting their business.

As for whether the casino is unfair to do so here, I simply don’t know. I see scenarios consistent with the reporting that cut in both directions for the reasons stated above.

In response to ras’s question, the answer is “maybe.” I would suspect that it is near impossible to do without detection, however.

16 OBQuiet 08.23.12 at 12:33 pm

Mark Biggar,

I am not sure that rule would apply. The players had exactly the same information as the pit crew(unless there was a change in staff along the way and even then, the had the same information as the casino did in aggregate). So I cannot see it as being unfair.

17 Bill Poser 08.26.12 at 12:34 am

I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the allegation that casino personnel entered a player’s room without his permission, restrained him, searched the room, and detained him for eight hours. That is absolutely unconscionable and is presumably grounds for suit for invasion of privacy, false imprisonment and assault, among other things.

18 Ron Miller 08.26.12 at 9:12 am

Bill, someone should also point out, I guess, that these are allegations, not facts. And that these same people may be the ones who filed a countersuit saying this was all because they were Chinese. (To me, this makes me question their credibility.)

I’m all for suspending disbelief and assuming the facts of a complaint are true to analyze whether a suit is warranted, which is what this site pushes us to do by reporting on filed cases. But while doing so, we really need to keep in mind these are just allegations.

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