Warning to casino patrons: Beware the flashing light on the dealer's automatic card shuffler.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Wednesday fined SugarHouse Casino a total of $100,000 for dealing cards to patrons using "illegitimate" decks, including a series of incidents last year in which cards were compromised by malfunctioning automatic shufflers.
The casino said that employees had failed to properly address warning lights on automated shufflers used at blackjack, poker, and mini-baccarat tables in seven incidents between May 2017 and January 2018.
In some cases, dealers used decks of cards that contained too many cards; too few cards; or in one poker tournament, cards sorted into sequential order rather than randomly shuffled.
Though the casino and investigators found no collusion — the incidents involved different games, dealers and supervisors — two casino supervisors were terminated, said John M. Donnelly, the SugarHouse lawyer. One was later reinstated on appeal.
In a May 2017 incident, a technician found 16 cards remaining in an automatic shuffler that had been removed from service. When investigators retraced the cards, they found them missing from six decks that were used in 46 rounds of blackjack the previous day, involving 122 individual hands.
Only one of eight blackjack players who were dealt hands from the short decks won. "SugarHouse personnel did not provide the patrons with any kind of reimbursement," according to the consent agreement.
In a September 2017 poker tournament, a dealer mistakenly set the automatic shuffler not to randomly shuffle the cards, but to sort them by suit into sequence. The dealer dealt 16 poker hands before noticing the cards were suited and in sequential order. It was curious that none of the players complained, the casino said.
"What was going on in SugarHouse that was causing this amount of mess-ups in that short time?" asked Chairman David M. Barasch, who dissented in the board's 6-1 vote to accept SugarHouse's agreement to pay an $87,500 fine for the incidents.
Carelessness and boredom seemed to be the likely explanations, said Cyrus Pitre, director of the PGCB's office of enforcement counsel. "It's complacency in regard with the red light going off on the shuffler," he told Barasch, who expressed consternation at the "rash" of incidents.
In a separate violation that merited a $12,500 fine, SugarHouse dealers deployed decks with too many cards in a game of Spanish 21, a blackjack game in which the 10s are normally removed from play. The casino employees noticed that the 10s had not been removed from several decks only after 27 hands were dealt, including 18 hands that contained 10s. No players complained.
Dean McBride, SugarHouse's vice president of gaming, said employees have been retrained and disciplined, and the casino has directed its card vendor to supply special 48-card decks for Spanish 21 play, so that the mistake would not be repeated.
But under questioning, McBride acknowledged that the 48-card decks have no other markings to distinguish them from 52-card decks — raising the risk they could be mistakenly used in the wrong games.
"I don't want to be here in a couple months talking about other games when Spanish 21 cards are used when it should have been a deck of 52 used," said Barasch.