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Rod Smith
 

Two Awarded Punitive Damages from Detective Agency Used by Casinos

20 June 2005

Two advantage gamblers whose rights were violated in an incident five years ago at Caesars Palace on Friday won punitive damages from a detective agency that supplies information to casinos.

A District Court jury ordered Griffin Investigations to pay Michael Russo $15,000 and James Grosjean $10,000 in punitive damages.

Advantage gamblers increase their chances of winning by legally taking advantage of a dealer's or a casino's mistakes or by means such as card counting.

Griffin Investigations supplies lists of suspected advantage players and cheats to casinos.

Last week, the jury decided that Caesars Palace had falsely imprisoned, defamed and battered the two men and that Griffin Investigations was guilty of libel and maliciousness.

It ordered each company to pay Russo and Grosjean actual damages of $25,000 apiece and found that Griffin Investigations and Caesars Palace should be subject to punitive damages. Judge Lee Gates, who heard the case, ordered Friday's hearing to decide on punitive damages.

Sources familiar with gaming law said this is probably the first case in which Griffin has failed to win on technical arguments.

The case's conclusion was also unusual for advantage gambling lawsuits, which are normally dismissed or settled out of court and for much less, usually from $15,000 to $20,000, according to several local attorneys.

On Thursday, Caesars Palace settled its punitive liabilities from the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.

David Strow, spokesman for Harrah's Entertainment, which acquired Caesars Palace this week as part of its $9 billion merger with Caesars Entertainment, declined comment.

"The jury in this case clearly told Griffin Investigations it no longer can include the universe of advantage gamblers and just say individuals are suspected of cheating or using a device and ascribe a felony (as they did in this case)," said Bob Nersesian, a Las Vegas attorney who represents Russo and Grosjean.

The judgments vindicated his clients and showed that people in Nevada believe casinos should treat all patrons, even winners, with proper respect under the law, he said.

The complaint in this case originated from an April 2000 incident when Russo and Grosjean were playing Three Card Poker at Caesars.

Grosjean, a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Chicago and author of "Beyond Counting," a "how-to" manual on beating the gambling odds, was winning the game thanks to a "sloppy" dealer and his own "hole carding," where a player tries to catch a glimpse of a dealer's face-down card, he said.

Caesars Palace pit workers, based in part on an entry about Russo in Griffin Investigations' book of known cheats, detained the two men and accused them of card bending.

Griffin Investigations has listed Russo in its book since 1993, and has described him as having a history of "21 hole carding, card bending, Caribbean Stud conspiracy."

The company also listed Russo as a "known" card bender in a number of fliers sent to casinos.

Caesars Palace called the Nevada Gaming Control Board, handcuffed and searched Russo and Grosjean and detained them for five hours.

Russo and Grosjean were then arrested by Las Vegas police for allegedly cheating.

Russo was released the next day, but Grosjean was held in custody for 4 1/2 days.

At the recent trial, Caesars Palace contended the Gaming Control Board had investigated and decided to arrest Russo and Grosjean. However, the jury found Caesars Palace had pressed to have them arrested based on evidence the casino gave state investigators.

The jury found that Caesars Palace had no probable cause to believe that Russo or Grosjean committed a gaming violation or a felony.

Last year, Grosjean won a $400,000 judgment against Imperial Palace in a related case.