Controversy swirls around casino markers

Aug 5, 2003 6:40 AM

Casino markers ”” in-house checks used by gamblers to get chips on credit ”” have forever been a key element in high-stakes gaming.

In fact, insiders estimate that virtually all of high-end play and more than half of the money the state’s casinos rake in from gamblers comes from marker play.

Recently, however, markers have found themselves at the center of several controversies that could alter how they are used.

At Harvey’s Resort in Stateline, a pit boss was charged for allegedly forging markers that were redeemed by an accomplice.

The scam lasted about six months before being discovered and resulted in up to $600,000 in casino losses.

Legal experts say the simplicity of the marker system opens itself to abuse.

"All a pit boss or supervisor has to do is fill in a name and get a signature on the marker," said the shift supervisor of a Reno casino. "Most of the gamblers who have credit are known by casino hosts or supervisors, so identification is seldom required. Once the supervisor signs off, the marker is good as cash."

Regulators said abuse of markers by unscrupulous casino workers is difficult to anticipate and nearly impossible to plan for.

"Even though you’d like to, you can’t build a system that’s totally foolproof," said Gary Orton of the Gaming Control Board’s Enforcement Division.

In another case, a California gambler is suing Park Place Entertainment for allegedly forging markers to reduce the amount of his winnings.

Businessman Steve Mattes won his original lawsuit in federal court against Park Place last November, but the jury’s verdict was overturned by a judge in April. A new trial is pending.

In the meantime, Mattes in June filed a new lawsuit in state court, once again charging Park Place had "falsified" markers by "forging his signature" and creating "artificially inflated markers."

The suit also names Nevada’s Gaming Control Board for allegedly participating in a "conspiracy ”¦ to convert monies from Mr. Mattes" by "concealing ”¦ the forged, unsigned and incorrectly generated Mattes Markers."

"At the first trial, a Park Place employee testified under oath that the Gaming Control Board

GCB) had reviewed and verified the markers," said Kevin Mirch, the Reno attorney handling Mattes’ lawsuit. "Now, either the Gaming Control Board okay’d them, or she perjured herself."

Officials with the state’s Attorney General’s office, which handles lawsuits against the GCB, maintains that the board acted properly in the Mattes dispute.

In addition, Scott Mahoney, vice president and general counsel of Park Place’s western region said GCB completed a regularly-scheduled, months-long audit of Park Place’s Paris and Bally’s casinos in 2001, and turned up no irregularities with regard to either Mattes’ play or the company’s bookkeeping.

"Evidence shows that there was only one marker (for $50,000) that was unsigned by Mr. Mattes, and that he refused to sign that marker when he ended his play," said Robert Stewart, vice president of corporate communications for Park Place.

The Mattes case illustrates a critical pitfall associated with marker play. That is the notion of "playing on the rim."

Gamblers who play on the rim are advanced chips, which are tabulated on a "rim card" that is signed by casino employees and not the player.

In Mattes’ case, he was receiving chips on the rim in $100,000 increments, casino officials said.

Stewart said the casino allowed Mattes to play on the rim at his request. "He testified that he never played on the rim, and we have signed testimony and statements from him that he did," Steward said.

Gaming regulators are currently taking a hard look at playing on the rim, and are addressing some concerns in a draft of Minimum Internal Control Standards.

Greg Gale, the GCB’s chief auditor, said there’s nothing dramatic in the upcoming changes, but that he "prefers" gamblers sign off on markers when they’re granted credit, rather than rely on the rim play’s running tab.

"We think the key marker should be generated right away," Gale said, adding that regulators are considering new standards that will allow rim players to leave the table for limited stretches of time, assuming the table is secured and under surveillance.