News is out regarding two disputes at the game of mini-baccarat in Atlantic City, one of which has resulted in a lawsuit between a casino and its players. At issue in both disputes is cards that were supposed to be shuffled that, it turns out, weren’t.
By way of background, New Jersey’s regulations generally impose strict procedures (buttressed by a casino’s internal controls) regarding the shuffling of cards at the opening of a table. Traditionally, in any multi-deck game (such as baccarat and blackjack) all of the cards in all of the decks were required to be spread on the table and inspected, then subject to a “wash” shuffle where the dealer scattered the cards about the table in a washing motion. After that, the decks were all stacked up and subject to a traditional “riffle” shuffle. To open a table with eight decks of cards often took over 20 minutes.
Under the recently adopted N.J.S.A. 13:69E-1.18A, a casino may use pre-shuffled and pre-inspected cards from a licensed vendor. In this process, generally the company that manufacturers the cards puts the cards through an automated shuffling machine, then seals the shuffled cards in a package with a tamper-proof seal. Those packages are delivered to gaming table. The packages are opened and use of the cards immediately begins without the need for a wash shuffle or a riffle shuffle (although under that regulation, any patron may demand a riffle shuffle).
In the two incidents that have recently come to light, cards were put in play that the casino apparently believed were preshuffled by the manufacturer, but were actually in traditional deck order. According to the Press of Atlantic City, the first incident involves a mini-baccarat game at the Golden Nugget on April 30. There, the cards were not preshuffled and came out in order. Apparently, a number of patrons at the table noticed that the cards were coming out in order. Because baccarat is entirely dependent on the order of the cards that come out of the deck, knowing the order of the cards means that a player could win every hand by knowing where in the sequence the shoe was and the third-card drawing rules. At this table, the Golden Nugget claims it lost over $1.5 million. Approximately $550,000 has already been cashed; the casino has refused to redeem the remaining outstanding chips from the game. According to the article, casino surveillance and staff were watching the game closely due to the heavy payouts being made, but did not stop the game. The Golden Nugget has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Atlantic County seeking a declaration that the game is void and requiring any players who won to return those winnings.
The Division of Gaming Enforcement has stated that it is investigating the circumstances surrounding this game.
This same issue also occurred at the Taj Mahal on December 10. According to the Press of Atlantic City, a total of nine employees were fired over the incident, which led to $400,000 of losses by the casino. The Division of Gaming Enforcement also fined the casino over $90,000 for its failure to properly shuffle the cards. Again, apparently in that situation, casino employees and surveillance officers were observing the game, but did not notice the problem early enough to stop it.