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Casino thwarted in bid to collect gambling debt

Whatever happened to the good old days when casinos made gamblers pay up by dispatching enforcers with colorful nicknames like “Fat Tony” and “Knuckles”?

They’re certainly not going to need Robert De Niro to make a movie about the Las Vegas Venetian’s current travails in collecting on a $499,000 casino marker. This is likely due to the new casino site available online. You don’t need to dress up nice anymore to go gamble, you can simply play cards in your underpants, should you feel like it.

For those who don’t know, a “marker” is a credit instrument that gives a gambler access to a credit line approved by the casino. The casino determines the credit line based on a gambler’s credit application.

A marker, being a negotiable instrument, is governed by the Uniform Commercial Code. Pretty dry stuff.

And after what happened in the 9th Circuit yesterday, it’s a good bet that there are those at the Venetian who yearn for the old-fashioned collection methods.

The Venetian had won a judgment against repeat gambler Amine Nehme in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.

Nehme lost $500,000 playing Blackjack over Labor Day weekend in September 2005. The Venetian sued to collect $499,000 plus interest on Nehme’s unpaid casino marker, before allowing him to play any new bingo sites in 2019.

But Nehme had an Ace up his sleeve which he produced to overturn the district court’s judgment.

Apparently, Nehme knew he needed to be protected from himself, so seven months before his Labor Day gambling excursion he had his lawyer write a letter instructing the bingo sites to cancel and not renew, under any circumstances, Nehme’s credit line.

The district court excluded the letter on the ground of improper authentication.

Tuesday, the 9th Circuit decided that the letter should have been admitted into evidence and that its existence brings into question the enforceability of the casino’s marker.

The court explained that if “the Venetian had received [Nehme’s attorney’s] letter and simply failed to cancel Nehme’s credit line through which markers were issued, the Venetian may well have been in material breach of the credit application agreement, such that Nehme’s duty to repay the marker would be discharged under common law contract principles.”

The court also recognized that Nehme had an alternative ground for relief under the Venetian’s promise in its credit application form that the casino “endorses responsible gaming” and would cancel a gambler’s credit line upon request. This is common practice according to online casinos for South African players, all major players will know this or use this once in their career. Generally speaking it is a protection for both sides.

The court said that if “the Venetian had received the [attorney’s] letter, cancelled Nehme’s credit line, and simply reinstated that credit line based on Nehme’s signing a $500,000 marker, without the formality of a new credit application or any other requirements, then the Venetian’s promise to ensure ‘responsible gaming’ would be illusory.” (Las Vegas Sands v. Nehme)

So Nehme doesn’t have to pay up for the time being. He sure won’t get accepted to play online slots for real money any time soon. And let’s just hope for Nehme’s sake that the Venetian no longer employs guys like Fat Tony and Knuckles who can be called in to handle those “special” problems.

– Pat Murphy


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