This is being posted here as a place to preserve the information. It was originally posted on SweatTheMoney.com and on BJ21.com.
Player X vs. Sands Regency Dispute
Last update: June 3, 2008
This dispute happened in 2006 at the Sands Regency in Reno in blackjack. It should be noted that the Sands Regency is not part of the Sands casinos owned by Sheldon Adelson. … In this dispute, a player doubled on A8, got a 2, the dealer drew to 17, and casino management refused to pay him, saying the player had 11. Here is the what happened in the player’s own words, reprinted here from BJ21.com with permission.
Three suits were watching me play at the Sands Regency, and they were making me uncomfortable. I was planning to leave at the next shuffle, because they were sweating the action so badly.
This little casino allows double on 9, 10, 11 only. This is stated in a sign on the table. With $100 bet, I doubled an Ace, eight. The dealer made a 17, and turned over my double down card, which was a 2, for 21. The dealer started to pay me, but a female suit said to the dealer, “Don’t pay him; he has eleven. He lost.” Another suit said, “No, he has 21 — pay him.” The third suit said nothing. The dealer was confused and did nothing. The three suits quickly huddled, then announced that Sands Regency has a “special rule” that if you double on Ace, eight and draw a 2, you have to count the Ace as a one; you forfeit the right to deem it an eleven. Therefore, my hand lost.
(Cell phone picture of disputed hand appeared here in the original post)
I have never heard of this rule anywhere. Apparently neither had the dealer and at least one of the suits. After some discussion, the female, who I later learned was the shift manager, held firm. I offered to call the hand a push, take my bet back, and leave, never to return. No. I called the Gaming Control Board, and spoke with Enforcement Agent Cindy Martinez, who told me, “That’s absurd; they have to pay you.” She said she would send an agent to the casino.
While waiting for the agent, I demanded that the “evidence” be preserved unaltered. To my surprise, the shift manager complied with my demand, resulting in the game being shut down for ninety minutes pending arrival of Agent Jim Carlile. I informed a few patrons who wanted to play the reason the table was out of operation. One patron incredulously told the floorman, “This is bull—-. The guy has 21. How can you not pay him?” Two patrons walked out the door after I explained what had happened. The guard didn’t say one word to me, and the cocktail waitress brought me liquid refreshments as if I was still playing. The situation was actually quite humorous. I photographed the cards with my cell phone camera. No one said anything about it.
Agent Carlile arrived and took verbal statements from me, the dealer, and two of the suits. He said he would seize the surveillance video. The agent asked me to complete a written statement, including any supporting documentation about game rules, and send it to him. He said he would issue a ruling by mail within thirty days, but for now, the dealer could take my $200. She did.
Sands Regency does not have blackjack rules on its website. I understand the logic of the casino’s position, but I think it’s silly. It carves out a single exception to the generally understood rule that an Ace is one or eleven, at the player’s discretion. This exact sequence of cards is the only time this “exception” would result in a changed result of a hand. I later filed a written complaint with Gaming, which subsequently ruled in the casino’s favor. I haven’t decided whether or not to appeal this decision.
Following is a copy of the player’s complaint:
State of Nevada, Gaming Control Board
VOLUNTARY STATEMENT — Case number 06-1302
The only matter in dispute is whether a licensee has the right to change a fundamental rule of blackjack, denying a player the option to deem an Ace to be a one or 11, without a specific notice to patrons of the rule change. The mere indication on a small sign that the licensee permits doubling down only on 9, 10, and 11 is not sufficient warning of the licensee’s intent to apply this bizarre “rule.”
The attempted “rule change” is of such magnitude that it changes the basic math of the game. Knowing that receiving a 2 on an Ace, 8 double down would result in the hand being counted as a total of 11 instead of the obvious 21 would preclude a rational player from making this double down. By obscuring the “rule,” the licensee is attempting to profit from the ambiguity it created. The Board should not allow this to happen.
Nevada Gaming Regulation 5.012 states, in pertinent part:
2. Payoff schedules or award cards must accurately state actual payoffs or awards applicable to the particular game or device and shall not be worded in such manner as to mislead or deceive the public. Maintenance of any misleading or deceptive matter on any payoff schedule or award card or failure on the part of a licensee to make payment in strict accordance with posted payoff schedules or award cards may be deemed an unsuitable method of operation.
The licensee claiming it does not have to pay off an obvious winning hand changes the payoff schedule of the game of blackjack, and is designed to mislead or deceive the public.
Nevada Gaming Regulation 5.011 states, in pertinent part:
5.011 Grounds for disciplinary action…
10. Failure to conduct gaming operations in accordance with proper standards of custom, decorum and decency, or permit any type of conduct in the gaming establishment which reflects or tends to reflect on the repute of the State of Nevada and act as a detriment to the gaming industry.
Attempting to profit from an absurd interpretation of a common game rule is not within proper standards of custom, decorum and decency, and reflects or tends to reflect on the repute of the State of Nevada and act as a detriment to the gaming industry.
Nevada Gaming Regulation 23.080 states, in pertinent part:
23.080 Posting of rules. The rules of each game shall be posted and be clearly legible from each table and must designate: …
5. Other rules as may be necessary.
In attempting to make a major rule change to a basic rule of a common casino game, the licensee should have posted this rule. Nevada does not publish rules of blackjack, so we need to refer to other authoritative sources.
The website BlackjackInfo.com publishes Blackjack Rules:
2.2: Values of the cards
In blackjack, the cards are valued as follows:
An Ace can count as either 1 or 11, as demonstrated below …
The Ace can be counted as either 1 or 11. You need not specify which value the Ace has. It’s assumed to always have the value that makes the best hand. (emphasis added)
There is no exception for a double down on Ace, 8 that receives a 2.
Mohave Community College in Bullhead City, AZ offers a dealer training course that trains many dealers for employment in Laughlin, NV casinos. The course is run by experienced casino personnel. Enclosed are copies from the Blackjack Handbook published by the college. From Page 5:
VALUE OF CARDS …
3. Any Ace shall have a value of eleven unless that would give a player’s or Dealer’s count in excess of 21, in which case it shall have value of one.
There is no exception for a double down on Ace, 8 that receives a 2.
The licensee claims that by posting a rule permitting double downs on 9, 10, and 11 only, the patron forfeits the right to avail himself of a universally known and understood tenet of blackjack; i.e., the right to deem his Ace as a one or 11. The licensee has not posted this purported change to a basic rule of the game, resulting in an ambiguity. Sands Regency is the only casino in Reno that restricts double downs to 9, 10 and 11, further obscuring the purported rule change (see Current Blackjack News, July 2006 issue attached).
It is well-settled in contract law that an ambiguity should be resolved against the party that created it. Contra proferentum has been held determinative in resolving ambiguity in a contract that, like the agreement here, is drafted by one party and offered on a take it or leave it basis without meaningful negotiations.
Where a contract is open to two different but equally probable interpretations, it is interpreted against the author, especially if there is a power imbalance between the parties. (emphasis added)
The conduct of gaming in a casino is essentially a contract between the licensee and the patron. The licensee has “authored” the contract. The licensee has created the ambiguity. The ambiguity should be interpreted against the author of the words and not against the other party. There certainly is a power imbalance between the parties.
Courts resolve ambiguities … when the ambiguity cannot be (otherwise) resolved … the nondrafting party to a contract is protected by contra proferentum — “against the proffering party.” The principle of the doctrine is that ambiguities are always interpreted against the drafter of the ambiguous language. (emphasis added)
The licensee is the “drafter of the ambiguous language.” The ambiguity must be resolved against it, and in favor of the patron. The Sands Regency’s purported “rule” attempts to carve out an exception to the commonly understood “Ace is one or eleven” rule that would apply only to a specific hand, and would only apply at a casino that restricts double downs to 9, 10, and 11. As previously noted, Sands Regency is the only casino in Reno that has this specific restriction.
The only hand in blackjack where this purported “rule” would change the result of a hand is with the exact combination of three cards; Ace, 8, and 2. No other card drawn to a double down on Ace, 8 would change the result of the hand because of the purported “Sands Regency rule.”
Therefore, the commonly understood principle of blackjack, as stated in the dealer training course referenced above:
“Any Ace shall have a value of eleven unless that would give a players or Dealers count in excess of 21, in which case it shall have value of one.”
… would have to be changed to read as follows:
“Any Ace shall have a value of eleven unless that would give a players or Dealers count in excess of 21, in which case it shall have value of one, except in a casino that permits doubling down only on 9, 10, and 11 in the case of a double down on Ace, 8, and drawing a 2, in which case the Ace does not have a value of eleven, but instead has a value of only one.”
Clearly this would be absurd. The courts and the Supreme Court have always chosen interpretations which do not lead to an absurdity over the one which leads to an absurdity (the absurdity doctrine).
I respectfully request that the Board order the licensee to pay me the $400 in dispute.
I have reviewed this voluntary statement and believe it to be true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.
The Gaming Control Board agreed with the casino’s position, as shown in the ruling linked below.
Gaming Control Board ruling (PDF).