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Gaming Guru

Richard N. Velotta

Golden Nugget's Poster Deals, Property Accepts $30,000 Fine

9 February 2005

Executives of downtown's Golden Nugget casino have settled a three-count complaint filed last month by the state Gaming Control Board and would pay a $30,000 fine under a proposed settlement agreement.

The Golden Nugget made headlines last week when it was announced that it was being purchased for $295 million by the Landry's Restaurants Inc. chain.

An attorney for the Fremont Street resort -- downtown's largest and most upscale -- said the state's complaint and the subsequent settlement would have no effect on the planned sale and was not in any way a part of the decision to sell the property.

The state's complaint involved a celebrity appearance in which Golden Nugget partner Tim Poster dealt cards to actors who portray "The Sopranos" -- a Mafia crime family on HBO's critically acclaimed series -- as well as an incident in which a sports-book posting error wasn't caught until after wagers were made.

The Nevada Gaming Commission will consider the proposed settlement at a future meeting.

In a stipulation for settlement signed by Poster, the Golden Nugget did not admit any wrongdoing, but acknowledged the board could meet its burden of proof in allegations in two counts involving the sports book incident. But the agreement said the violations "were neither intentional nor the result of willful disregard for regulatory compliance," the settlement document said.

Poster admitted to the allegations listed in Poster's blackjack-dealing count.

The state filed the complaint and its stipulated settlement against GNLV Corp. Jan. 27 citing two separate incidents that occurred at the Golden Nugget in May and June last year.

Two counts involved a series of sports book wagers involving a gambler who bet on the outcome of the St. Jude's Federal Express golf tournament May 27-30.

Gaming Control Board investigators said the gambler placed bets May 29 after the casino set odds for players to win the tournament with one round remaining to be played. The sports book listed the wrong odds in association with the wager and the gambler placed several bets to avoid suspicion, each time betting an amount that would not invite a supervisory review of the wager.

The bettor eventually wagered $2,700 total on the golfer and when the tournament ended was entitled to collect $48,600. When the gambler came forth to collect his winnings, the Nugget cited the error on posting the odds and refused to pay, offering instead to refund the gambler's bets.

One casino authority said gamblers are always looking for casino errors to take advantage of.

"If they make a mistake on the board they should pay it," said Anthony Curtis, publisher of Huntington Press and a casino-gambling expert. "It's a cost of doing business when you make mistakes. They should have paid the bet."

One count of the complaint cited the casino's failure to honor the winning tickets and the rescinding of the wager. State regulations require permission from regulators to take such an action.

The second count of the complaint cited the casino's failure to report a patron dispute. State regulations require that any patron dispute involving winnings of at least $500 require notification to the Gaming Control Board.

"That's the rule, notifying the board protects the gambler," Curtis said.

Under provisions of the settlement agreement, the Golden Nugget agreed to pay the gambler his winnings. However, the casino admitted to no wrongdoing in the matter while acknowledging that there could be sufficient evidence to establish those facts.

Golden Nugget attorney Frank Schreck said the gambler took advantage of an error by the sports book staff, yet the casino still ended up paying the gambler after the mistake was caught.

The third count of the complaint against the resort was lodged in connection with a June 12 incident in which the cast members of "The Sopranos" were in the casino for a "meet and greet" celebrity event. When the event was nearing an end, cast members went to the main casino floor and began playing blackjack at one of the tables.

Poster, the company's chief executive officer, observed the celebrities' play and then decided to deal the game himself. In the four hands he dealt, Poster switched cards, distributed cards out of sequence, revealed a hole card, took additional cards to facilitate a bust and allowed customers to enter the game late and continue to add to their bets.

Investigators determined that Poster's actions constituted "an unsuitable method of operation."

Schreck said the resort did not dispute the incident.

Curtis said fining Poster for his dealing stunt was unfortunate.

"That's just ridiculous," he said. "The guy owns the place. He's having fun, he's making his joint more lively. But I guess the rule is the rule. They should have fined him a hundred bucks."

The proposed $30,000 fine is well below the maximum punishment regulators could have sought. Board officials said the casino could have been assessed fines of $100,000 per count, or $300,000 total.