|A high-rolling California gambler who said he was defrauded by Park Place Entertainment and its Paris Las Vegas resort was awarded more than $8 million by a Las Vegas federal court jury last week.|
Lawyers for multimillionaire gambler Steven Mattes argued that Paris Las Vegas executives lured him to the resort’s grand opening in September 1999 by promising him a $2 million credit line.
After he lost millions of his own money, and he asked for the credit the casino had promised, the casino refused. This was because they wanted to look good by recording Mattes' losses as big first-day wins for Paris Las Vegas, the lawyers argued.
Nevada gaming regulators have begun a preliminary investigation to determine if the case warrants a full-fledged inquiry, Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said Friday.
Mattes, a 42-year-old investor, also charged that Park Place and Paris Las Vegas casino bosses fraudulently created bogus markers, his lawyer said Friday.
The lawyer, Kevin Mirch, also claims that Paris Las Vegas representatives lied to other casino operators about his client Mattes, telling them he was possibly involved in a check-kiting scheme, trying to prevent their customer from taking his business to competitors.
'(Park Place casino host) Tom Bonnani informed Mr. Mattes that the real reason for revoking the credit line and expelling Mr. Mattes to the Las Vegas Hilton, which is owned by Park Place, was that they were concerned with the bottom...line for the grand opening and wanted to show a profit, and that Mr. Mattes' numbers made the grand opening look great,' said the lawyer.
Rather than let Mattes borrow the $2 million promised by Paris Las Vegas and possibly win back some of the resort's first-night haul, he was refused action and directed to the Hilton, Mirch said.
'We caught them stealing money from a high roller in Las Vegas,' Mirch said. 'They falsified documents. Bottom line, they lied. They flat-out cheated him.'
Park Place spokesman Robert Stewart said the company was disappointed by the jury's award.
'We strongly believe the verdict was not supported by the facts presented at trial,' Stewart said. 'We intend to appeal.'
He declined to discuss the case further.
Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, at the University of Nevada, Reno, said, “gamblers suing casinos often elicit sympathy. You can get people who just don't like casinos. It's obvious in this case that the jury didn't like the defense.'
Nevertheless, Eadington said the verdict is bad publicity for Paris Las Vegas, Park Place and for the Nevada casino business.
'You can't ignore a verdict of this size that cites fraud,' he said.
The five-day jury trial began Nov. 5, and the jury reached its verdict midday Thursday after about four hours of deliberations.
Under federal civil case rules, the eight-person jury was required to reach a unanimous decision. The jury awarded Mattes:
-- $2.56 million for a breach of contract claim.
-- $1.5 million for punitive damages, noting: 'We the jury find by clear and convincing evidence that defendants are guilty of fraud, malice or oppression. ...'
-- $1.47 million for conversion, defined by Mirch as 'civil embezzlement.'
-- $1.2 million for breach of good faith and fair dealing.
-- $1 million for defamation.
-- $300,000 for negligence, fraud and negligent misrepresentation.
Mirch said he wasn't surprised by the jury verdict. 'We caught 'em faking documents, and they claimed that they didn't have videotapes of Mattes,' Mirch said. 'They were really arrogant.'
Las Vegas casino gambling expert Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor, said that if Paris Las Vegas and Park Place reneged on a deal to provide credit to Mattes, they were wrong.
'That would be gutless,' Curtis said.
But the verdict was 'five times worse,' Curtis said. 'Is it worth $8 million? Absolutely not. It sounds excessive.'
'This wasn't a runaway jury,' he said. 'They could have given him $20 million or $30 million.'
The verdict is still subject to post-trial motions. Mirch expects the judgment to be signed this week. If either side appeals, they'd appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, he said.