Bear Praise: Gaming Control Board settles Treasure Island false imprisonment case

As regular readers know, I am a frequent critic of the Nevada Gaming Control Board for failing to use its considerable enforcement power to punish wrongdoing by casinos and their employees. I dislike the Board’s ability to legally operate in secret in most cases. I think transparency would be best for Nevada and best for the industry, because the fear of bad publicity might provide more incentive for top management to curb wrongdoing by casino employees. If errant employees were publicly named, the scorn and shame might make some think twice before engaging in wrongful or criminal behavior.

As it stands now, most investigations never get public scrutiny. Punishment by Gaming, when agreed to by the offending casino, is done in secret, private deals that never see the sunshine. This is not healthy for the industry, and is not healthy for the reputation of the Gaming Control Board. It would be appropriate for the Board and Nevada Gaming Commission to request that the legislature change the statutes permitting the Board to operate in secret, and instead impose the same openness that is required of most government agencies.

Be that as it may, I commend the Board for recently taking action against Treasure Island in Las Vegas. According to the details of the complaint, a patron arguably pulled a cheating move by removing a $500 bet after the cards were dealt in a mini-baccarat game. In the absence of more complete information, we cannot be sure it was a cheating move, but it is reasonable for the casino to believe it was cheating. Casino guards seized the patron and forcibly backroomed him, probably within their rights.

But what happened next is bizarre, and makes one wonder if this particular casino shift manager has a functioning brain. Instead of immediately notifying the Gaming Control Board and/or Metro police, as is legally required when casino security “detains” a person, the casino shift manager essentially committed a robbery of the patron. While the patron was handcuffed, casino employees rummaged through his pockets. The shift boss found five black Treasure Island chips and stole them from the patron. Then, the guards trespassed the patron and walked him out the door. No law enforcement involvement whatsoever. Instead, because of their “self-help,” it can be reasonably argued that the casino employees committed several felonies, including kidnapping and robbery. The possible cheater became a crime victim. No allegation of cheating was made with the authorities. The “detention,” use of force, kidnapping, and robbery of the patron became the crimes because of the abject stupidity of these casino employees.

Though the Board did not specifically address the felonies committed by the casino employees, it filed a complaint against Treasure Island for unsuitable method of operation. It would be in the best interest of the public to have casino employees individually prosecuted for crimes they commit, just as any other individual. But that is not likely to happen in the near future, absent a vicious beating administered by guards resulting in serious injury or death to a patron, or some similar circumstance that is too egregious for the usual cover-up.

Treasure Island quickly settled the complaint for a paltry $10,000 fine and agreeing to train its employees properly, which it should have done all along. Because this complaint became public, rather than the usual secret settlement, we can only assume TI refused to cooperate or admit its wrongdoing until the glare of bad publicity hit it right in its corporate nose. Suddenly it wanted to settle, and have the problem go away.

Posted on Green Chip:

… a fine of about $250,000 would have been more appropriate, but it’s interesting how quickly Treasure Island settled, and good to see Mr. Ruffin himself have to sign on its behalf. Ruffin cannot later claim he didn’t know how his employees behaved, though this settlement was carefully crafted to try to avoid any personal liability for Ruffin.

I wonder if the District Attorney will file robbery charges against the shift manager who stole the $500 from the illegally detained patron. It appears that the circumstances are strikingly similar to the robbery charge against O.J. Simpson that was prosecuted with such vigor. “Trying to recover his own allegedly stolen property,” use of force, illegal detention, etc. I see no real distinction between this and the Simpson robbery case.

The good news from this is that the Gaming Control Board took this seriously, even if the specific charges and the settlement were weak, and there apparently will not be any punishment for the shift manager. I think illegal detentions of advantage players might get some action from the Gaming Control Board in the future, if promptly called to the Board’s attention.

Though the penalty was too small, I think this is an important case for patron rights vs. casino abuse. I congratulate the Gaming Control Board for getting involved in a case that in the past it would ignore. Let’s hope for more Gaming involvement in false imprisonment cases.



  1. Cheating?
    It would appear so but it might have been a mistaken color-up or buy-in transaction. I would want to see the tapes to ascertain if there was a hasty flight from the table or the player simply sat there arguing about it. I’d certainly want to see a history of player’s bets and his wandering about the casino. From what I’ve learned of the incident, I think it was cheating, but I’m not certain of it.

    Removing the handcuffs once in the backroom would have been better and then demanding the chips. If they are removed from his person the casino personnel in the security office should already know they remain the property of the player until a proper determination is made and the evidence envelope must bear that notation.

    At the 500 dollar level, the casino has, I believe, an automatic requirement to contact the Gaming Commission even if the player does not want that to happen.

    Even if the situation were to be handled informally it should have been in writing that the player admitted his attempt to take back the bet and his acknowledgment that he was now surrendering his chips. Ideally I’d insist they play out the hand. Pity if the player yanked back his bet too soon.

    I can understand a player having made an error of judgment and then asking that the matter be resolved informally so as to avoid charges. Its possible alcohol was involved or fatigue or distraction of some sort. This could probably have been settled by the player signing a release and an acknowledgment that he had made an error of judgment involving casino chips after he had ingested a quantity of alcohol. It lets the player have an out that avoids criminal charges and the casino gets their chips back.

    Rather than kidnapping it would merely have been an unlawful detention (false imprisonment) charge but I’m shocked that the security personnel were as untrained as the pit personnel were. In the security office there are usually cameras and also microphones whereas on the gaming floor of course there are no microphones. The statements made by the player might have shed a different light on the entire matter but we will never know.

    I agree that public access to the Commissions records and formal proceedings is best. A good many casino employees have been laid off due to the economy and it is perhaps the recent ownership change that compounded the gaps in employee training.

    I would not be quite so hard on the casino employees if the tapes revealed no violence or threats of violence. Its a bit difficult for a patron to hand over chips if he is handcuffed and the employee may have felt he was more ‘assisting’ a lawfully handcuffed patron than ‘robbing’ one. Its possible there was some miscommunication as to combativeness or a misunderstanding as to “taking chips from the Baccarat table” which could have been mis-interpreted as being taken from the dealer’s bank rather than from the betting area during or after play.

    I would not have made the TI fine quite so low but I certainly would not have levied a 250,000 dollar fine based on the information that now available.

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