Ken Uston sues Nevada Gaming Commission
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Ken Uston on his Beating at the Mapes Casino

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Why I'm Suing in Nevada
By Ken Uston

(From Blackjack Forum VI #2, June 1986)
© Blackjack Forum 1986


[Note from A.S.: After reading this article, I encourage you to read James Grosjean's "It's Not Paranoia If..." about his successful lawsuit against the Imperial Palace for false arrest--a major victory and step forward for players that would have made Uston very happy.]

After I won the legal battle against the Atlantic City casinos in September 1982, I was determined to fight the Nevada casinos as well. But I kept putting it off, and probably would never have gotten around to it were it not for a chance confrontation on a Lake Tahoe skiing trip in February, 1984.

I was relaxing with some friends at Caesars Tahoe, and playing some low stakes blackjack, betting no more than $50 per hand. A floorman named Neil Lewis, who’d been giving me dirty looks all evening, finally whispered to the dealer, and I was suddenly out of the game.

I asked Lewis what was going on—our betting levels were certainly no threat to his club—and Vegas Caesars had always let me play, as long as I stayed below $200 per hand. Lewis’ smug, superior attitude and his curt, condescending responses got to me. That’s what did it. When I got home, I wrote to the Commission, and the entire process began.

Now it’s over two years later, and I’ve just appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, after fighting a losing battle for two years with the Commission, the Nevada Attorney, the Nevada Resort Association, and the Clark County District Court.

Right off the bat, I can tell you that because I’ve invested so much time and effort, because I feel that the law and the facts are totally on the side of non-exclusion, and because I’m so wrapped up in the legal research and enraged at what I believe to be totally unfair tactics of the opposition, that there’s no way I’d give up now. Yet, I sometimes wonder if I did the right thing by starting all this. What will be accomplished? And I’m aware that just about every interest I can think of seems to want me to lose this case, for their own reasons:

  • The Nevada casinos obviously want the right to continue to throw out counters.
  • The Nevada Resort Association (representing the casinos in court) obviously wants what the casinos want.
  • The Commission, far from being an independent, objective government agency serving the interests of the public, obviously wants barring—in fact, they are the opposition in this case (which is “Uston vs. The Commission”).
  • The Nevada Attorney General is not only my opposing counsel, but I suspect their lawyers would feel humiliated if someone who wasn't even a lawyer beat them in court.
  • The Griffin Agency would lose business if they couldn't list card counters in their "Mug Book" (which I feel is a crass invasion of our privacy), circulate fliers to their casino clients, and have their agents patrol the casionos and identify and pull up card counters.
  • Card counters are worried that, if I win, the game of blackjack may be ruined. (This may be possible, although there's no doubt that Nevada competition is much keener than in New Jersey--which might keep many games beatable.)
  • Publishers of blackjack books and newsletters want the game to be beatable so they can sell books and maintain high volume subscription lists. In fact, the publisher of one of my blackjack books told me, "I'm with you in principle, Kenny, but think about the effect of what you're doing."
  • Blackjack authors and teachers may fear that the game would become lots toughter, and that they'd be out of business.
  • Lawyers who specialize in representing counters would lose business if counters were no longer hassled by casinos.
  • I, too, would have something to lose. If the game were altered, I may not be able to form teams in the future. I'd also endanger my royalties from blackjack books, a video casette, and computer software that instructs people how to play blackjack. And on rare occasions I do wonder if there might actually be a risk of physical violence, as my friends sometimes suggest.

I'd like to say this to any counters who are criticizing my efforts, but who haven't been hassled yet. You've got to go through the humiliation at least once to fully understand what's going on.

I can't tell you how outraged and incredulous counters (teammates and others) get when they're barred for the first time. Their typical reaction is:

"I can't believe it. How can they do this to ME?" and
"Those bastards. I'll sue 'em for everything they've got."

But when these people get jostled into a backroom, involuntarily photographed, or arrested, their attitudes get far more militant--to say nothing of when they're threatened with physical violence or, even, beaten up.

And don't be deceived--physical threats--and sometimes violence--are a fact of life in Nevada casinos. Just a few weeks ago, an ex-teammate, 100 pounds soaking wet, was dragged across the lengthy Flamingo Hilton floor by two huge uniformed Neanderthals, hustled into a backroom, given bruises about the arms and legs, and arrested.

And I'm sure by now you've heard of the two counters (who were also first-basing), who were beaten by Horseshoe security, both getting broken ribs and one receiving contusions of the spleen, kidney, lungs and liver.

Many casinos view detention, back-rooming, involuntary photographing, reading the Tresspass Act, and even physical abuse as their BASIC RIGHT. In this current case, the opposition has argued, increulously, "Counters have redress to the courts when this happens. It's not the Commission's responsibility to promulgate regulations to prevent this."

As I sit writing this, I have no feeling in the left part of my mouth and stiff muscles surround my left eye, because of a sucker punch thrown at me by a Mapes casino security guard in 1978, who happened to be a former Coast Guard boxer. The reason for the blind punch: I was staying at the Mapes as "Billy Williams, from Texas," I beat them for $7,000, and was finally recognized and thrown out--physically.

I've sent Arnold pictures of my broken face--which he may or may not choose to publish. [Note from A.S.--I'm looking for the original photos in my files and will try to get them posted here soon. They're shocking.]

I daresay most of you would probably take it personally if five bones around your left eye were crushed, and you had to wear a metal pin in your face for the rest of your life, because you were suspected, by some goon pitboss, of playing blackjack too skillfully.  ♠

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