Gamblers Win Big In Atlantic City With Unshuffled Decks

Recent cases of unshuffled cards at casino tables in Atlantic City, N.J., have led to legal disputes over jackpot winnings. Host Scott Simon talks with The Press of Atlantic City reporter Hoa Nguyen about how unshuffled card decks led to big payouts.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A case of unshuffled card decks has riled up casino owners and players in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Fourteen gamblers at the Golden Nugget there raked in more than $1.5 million playing a game called mini-baccarat in April. But they didn't have Lady Luck to thank so much as a technical malfunction. The players realized after a few hands that they were being dealt cards in the exact same sequence.

Now, the players and the casino are caught in a legal feud over the winnings and a judge has permitted some of the players to cash in their winnings. Reporter Hoa Nguyen has been following the story for The Press of Atlantic City newspaper. She joins us now from Pleasantville, New Jersey.

Thanks for being with us.

HOA NGUYEN: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Don't you have to reshuffle the cards before every hand? That's what they do in the movies.

NGUYEN: Yes. In general, in a lot of casinos, they do that by hand. But in some casinos in recent years they've purchased pre-shuffled cards from a manufacturer, where the shuffling is done in a factory and then it's sealed and certified by that company and then taken to the casino floor.

SIMON: I don't know this game called mini-baccarat. So how important is card order?

NGUYEN: Card order is extremely important. It's two hands. There's a player hand and there's a bank hand. And as a player, you just have to determine which hand you're going to bet on and how much you're going to bet. The goal of the game is whichever hand gets to a sum of nine. And so if the cards are going through the same order each time, then it becomes pretty easy.

SIMON: At the heart of this story is something I don't understand. We're talking in a big time casino, which the Golden Nugget certainly is, about an environment where there is 24-hour video surveillance, where you have security people who are cruising the aisles looking for anything remotely suspicious. This was happening for hours. How did it go undetected?

NGUYEN: The thought that the cards weren't shuffled probably didn't even enter their minds. They're thinking there's some cheating involved. Because the assumption is the cards are shuffled. I mean, most people would assume that that's a very basic element of casino gambling.

SIMON: You cover Atlantic City, so I guess you cover gambling, right?

NGUYEN: Yes.

SIMON: You going to hope for another technical malfunction at the Golden Nugget this weekend?

NGUYEN: No. You know, I think the casinos have probably learned their lesson.

SIMON: Hoa Nguyen, reporter for The Press of Atlantic City newspaper. Thanks very much for being with us.

NGUYEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUCK BE A LADY")

FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Luck be a lady, luck be a lady, luck be a lady tonight.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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