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Rod Smith

Attorney Sues Casinos for Using Card Counting System

19 October 2004

LAS VEGAS -- A Las Vegas attorney who has represented dozens of card counting clients filed another lawsuit Monday, this time to stop Nevada casinos from using a computerized card counting system that boosts the house's odds of winning at blackjack.

The system, which is sold by the MindPlay division of Alliance Gaming Corp., was designed to protect the integrity of blackjack games by ensuring that cards are dealt out in the same order they are shuffled, industry sources said.

But Bob Nersesian, who represents gambler John Allen in the lawsuit, said the computer systems are being used by some Nevada casinos to track cards, effectively limiting blackjack players' chances of winning.

Allen, a Los Angeles attorney, targets the Nevada Gaming Control Board and its members -- Chairman Dennis Neilander, Bobby Siller and Scott Scherer -- the El Dorado Hotel & Casino in Reno, Bally Gaming and MindPlay in his lawsuit. Neilander declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday.

Al Rogers, a professional advantage gambler who also claims to have been duped by the system, called the MindPlay system a "dastardly cheating device."

"(The dealers) shuffle up whenever the count goes positive over and above a certain criteria. It's universal there and the dealers aren't all competent card counters, so it's obvious they are getting outside information," he said.

"The casinos already have everything (stacked) in their favor and they want to make sure no (players) ever win. It's another example of corporate greed wanting to slaughter the cow instead of milking it, and the poor tourists just line up to get killed," Rogers said.

Ironically, Nersesian's latest suit claims the MindPlay system does electronically -- and more accurately -- what many of his former clients have been banned from casinos for doing on their own: counting cards.

Nersesian has represented about 40 gamblers who have been abused by casinos for counting cards or using other natural advantages to improve their chances of beating the house.

Casinos generally ban card counting by patrons and, in many instances, have beaten and illegally detained gamblers they suspected of card counting.

Nevada's highest court, as well as courts in other gambling states, however, has ruled card counting is legal since players don't manipulate any cards or use mechanical devices. Rather, they do nothing more than use normal intelligence much as a bridge player would use while watching other players.

The MindPlay system is being used at the El Dorado, which is where Allen was playing.

It is also used in the Flamingo on the Strip in Las Vegas, at Crystal Bay casino in Reno and at a major casino in Aruba.

The MindPlay system uses an optical scanning device to read markings embedded in the face or along the edges of cards. The system then records each card's position within a deck as it is being shuffled and when they are dealt out. The system can be adapted for single-deck blackjack games, like those at the El Dorado, and for multiple-deck games that use automatic shufflers.

With that information, the computerized system can continually calculate the odds of the house winning each hand, and that's the problem with the system, according to Nersesian.

"People in the casino, such as shift managers and surveillance, can call up what's going on in the game and signal the dealer (to reshuffle). There are read-outs in the casino," Nersesian said.

Other players who asked not to be named said casinos place a light under the blackjack table that dealers can see to alert them when to reshuffle the deck because the odds are turning against the house.

Alliance Gaming Executive Vice President Mark Lipparelli denied the system affects the level of win or loss of individual players, although he declined to comment on specific claims in the lawsuit.

Another industry source said some casinos use the MindPlay system to track gamblers' wagers for calculating comps and government reporting purposes.

In a letter to an advantage player in 2003, Neilander wrote that the MindPlay system is acceptable because a casino is not a person under Nevada gaming regulations. Neilander could not be reached for comment on Monday.

However, Nersesian said it is illogical to consider a casino dealer is anything other than an individual under Nevada statutes.

Don Carano, president of the El Dorado, could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.

The MindPlay system previously was used at the Las Vegas Hilton when it was owned by Caesars Entertainment, company spokesman Robert Stewart said.

The hotel-casino, which was bought by Colony Capital this summer, removed the MindPlay system after the acquisition, Las Vegas Hilton spokesman Ira Sternberg said.

Stewart said the MindPlay system may also have been installed in other Caesars Entertainment properties, but he did not disclose which properties may be involved.

Bally Gaming and Systems, the slot machine division of Las Vegas-based Alliance Gaming, offers the computerized player and card tracking system through its Bellevue, Wash.-based MindPlay subsidiary, which it acquired in February.