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14 seek to keep unshuffled winnings

Gamblers who won $1.5M with a series of card decks hope to keep money they were told to return.

ATLANTIC CITY - Gamblers who have been ordered to return $1.5 million they won at an Atlantic City casino that unknowingly used unshuffled cards asked a judge Friday to let them keep the money.

The 14 gamblers say they won the money through no wrongdoing of their own playing mini-baccarat at the Golden Nugget in April 2012. They say that if the ruling stands, it would send a chilling message to the gambling public that no jackpot is ever safe.

"By ordering the patrons to return the monies that were paid out by [the Golden Nugget] nearly three years after the game ended sends incredible conditional messages to the public: A win isn't necessarily a win, and that casinos will go after winning players who are without fault" if the casino or one of its agents were to blame, the gamblers said in a court filing asking the judge to reverse her February ruling in favor of the casino.

Steve Scheinthal, general counsel for the casino's parent company, Landry's Inc., said the judge got it right.

"The trial judge considered the law and made a very thoughtful and correct decision," he told the Associated Press. "We see no reason why she would change her mind."

The judge heard the motion Friday but did not issue a decision.

At issue were games of mini-baccarat using decks that the casino had paid a manufacturer to pre-shuffle but that hadn't been shuffled. Once players realized the pattern in which the cards were emerging, they drastically upped their bets, from $10 a hand to $5,000, and won 41 straight hands.

Last month, the judge determined the games were illegal under state law because they didn't conform to gambling regulations specifying the way each game must be played.

The Golden Nugget bought what were supposed to be pre-shuffled cards from a Kansas City manufacturer, which acknowledged in court it failed to shuffle them. The casino said its litigation with the manufacturer has been resolved, but a confidentiality agreement prevents it from revealing details.

The judge's February ruling was the latest in a long series of decisions that have seesawed between favoring the casino and favoring gamblers.

The owner of the casino, Texas billionaire Tillman Fertitta, originally decided to let the players keep their winnings, but that offer was contingent on their dropping other claims they made against the casino, including illegal detention, which they declined to do.

The casino paid out about $500,000 in winnings for the disputed games. About $1 million in chips remains outstanding.