Banned Card-Counter Loses Casino Suit

Here’s a bad risk, betting against a Las Vegas casino, even in court.  A professional card-counter, once a member of the MIT Blackjack Team and banned from various casinos, can’t claim the ban was lifted because she got promotional mail offers to gamble.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the police arrest of Laurie Tsao for trespass after her banishment as an “advantage gambler,” otherwise known as card-counters.  The court said her civil rights suit was properly dismissed.

Ironically, Tsao comes out $21,000 ahead.  The appeals court vacated the award of attorney fees and costs to the casino and arresting officer, which total $21,000.

Tsao was once part of a group of MIT students who engaged in card-counting at blackjack for more than a decade.  The story resulted in a fictionalized book, “Bringing Down the House” and a movie “21” and also got team members banned from a variety of casinos.

“This case grows out of the high-stakes cat-and-mouse game played between advantage gamblers and Desert Palace, which operates a number of gambling venues, including Caesars Palace in Las Vegas,” wrote Judge Marsha Berzon.

Tsao had been banned five times under different names.  But she appeared at Caesar’s Palace in 2008 and was detained.

She claimed Caesar’s, which is owned by the Desert Palace, had sent her several promotional offers for free rooms and events, even after she was identified as a card-counter so she argued she believed the ban was lifted.

She claimed constitutional rights violations for unreasonable search and seizure, battery, false imprisonment and defamation, stemming from two separate arrests in 2008.

Police didn’t agree.  She was arrested for trespassing and obstructing police.  But the charges were later dismissed.  Not only did she lose in trial court, but the judge also ordered her to pay $21,000 in attorney fees, costs to the casino and the arresting officer costs.

But the one bright spot for Tsao came with the appeals court upending the award of attorney fees and costs, holding that her claims were not “frivolous and unreasonable.”

The appeals court said Tsao failed to show the mail offers were an official policy that casino workers knew about.  She had been “trespassed” from Desert Palace properties at least five times, under four different names, and was warned she could be arrested if she returned.

Tsao did not introduce enough facts to show that the casino knew that its security staff might accidentally arrest someone who had been invited back after a ban, according to Berzon.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Judge Stephen Reinhardt joined Berzon in the decision.

Case: Tsao v. Desert Palace, Inc., No. 090-16233






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *