11 Famous Gambler vs Casino Court Battles

Gavel vs Phil Ivey

Gamblers and casinos don’t always agree on the outcome of games. These disagreements have led to some high-profile court cases, where players have sued casinos to collect winnings or vice versa.

You’ve likely heard the saying “the house always wins.” But this isn’t necessarily true when it comes to cases involving gamblers and casinos.

In fact, over half of the most-famous court battles between casinos and players have gone the gambler’s way.

Whether the player or gambling company wins depends upon the circumstances. Slots glitches tend to swing the house’s way, while advantage players often hold the advantage in court too.

Of course, gambler vs casino court battles can be as unpredictable as the games themselves. You can see this for yourself by checking out the 11 cases below.

1 – Ken Uston vs. Resorts International

Ken Uston (1935-1987) was a famous blackjack pro who began playing in the 1970s. He was also an author who wrote the books Million Dollar Blackjack, The Big Player, and Mastering PAC-MAN.

Uston became interested in advantage play after meeting blackjack legend Al Francesco. He eventually joined Francesco’s card counting team as a “spotter.”

Francesco is credited with inventing the “Big Player” strategy, which involves spotters counting cards until they get a favorable count. The spotter then signals the big player, who sits down and starts betting big right away, thus giving off the appearance of a regular high roller.

Uston claimed that he was an important member of the team, thus qualifying him to write the Big Player. But Francesco and other team members said that he didn’t make much money for them.

Whatever the case may be, he was involved in one of the most influential cases in gambling history. Uston, who eventually started his own card counting team in Atlantic City, was caught and banned from all New Jersey casinos.

He filed a lawsuit in 1979 after being barred from Resorts International Hotel. Uston took his case to the New Jersey Supreme Court (Uston v. Resorts International Hotel Inc.), arguing that casinos shouldn’t be able to ban card counters just for being good.

Uston won his case after a judge ruled: “[gamblers] have a right of reasonable access to property open to the public as long as the person does not threaten the security of the premises and its occupants.”

Uston’s victory was short-lived, though, because Atlantic City casinos responded by adding decks and including other unfavorable rules to deter card counters.

2 – Phil Ivey vs. Crockfords and the Borgata

Phil Ivey has made his name in the poker world, where he’s won over $26.2 million in live tournaments along with a fortune in cash games.

But the 10-time WSOP champion is also a very good all-around gambler, which he proved by beating three casinos out of over $20 million through punto banco.

Working alongside an accomplice named Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun, Ivey was allowed to make special requests since he was placing a $1 million deposit.

Here are some of the odd requests that both Crockfords and the Borgata granted:

  • A Mandarin-speaking Chinese dealer.
  • Cards being rotated at 180 degrees.
  • A purple Gemaco deck.

The Mandarin-speaking dealer allowed Sun to make special requests without the English-speaking Borgata management knowing what was said.

Sun and Ivey knew that the purple Gemaco deck featured flawed card backs, which was key to their edge sorting plot.

Edge sorting is an advanced technique that involves looking for flaws on card backs that might give away specific values before they’re revealed. Rotating the cards 180 degrees makes it easier for an edge sorter to spot these imperfections.

Knowing the card values before they’re flipped over helped Ivey and Sun make $11 million at Crockfords and $9.6 million at the Borgata in 2012.

Crockfords told Ivey that they’d wire him the money after the bank holiday ended. They instead kept the $11 million and waited for the impending lawsuit from the famed gambler.

The Borgata paid him $9.6 million at the time. But after seeing the case between Ivey and Crockfords, they sued in 2014 to recover their money.

Following a lengthy legal process that involved multiple appeals in both New Jersey and London, the casinos both won against Ivey.

The judges in each lawsuit believed that Ivey honestly thought he wasn’t cheating. But they sided with the house, noting that Ivey’s and Sun’s requests went beyond standard advantage play.

3 – Katrina Bookman vs Resorts World Casino (Genting)

Katrina Bookman was playing slots at New York’s Resorts World Casino in September 2016, when a life-changing jackpot flashed on her screen. The Sphinx slot machine she was playing showed that she’d won $43.1 million.

Naturally, the New Yorker was excited and took selfies of herself next to the dollar amount. She was crushed, though, when Resorts World officials told her that the game experienced a machine malfunction.

They added that she’d actually only won $2.25. Bookman was angry about this, at which point Resorts World tried buying her off with a steak dinner.

She’s since hired an attorney named Alan Ripka to fight her case. Ripka argues that Resorts World only claimed a machine malfunction to avoid paying a record-breaking jackpot.

“You can’t claim a machine is broken because you want it to be broken,” he told CNNMoney. “Does that mean it wasn’t inspected? Does it mean it wasn’t maintained?”

Bookman claims to have suffered “mental anguish” after having her perceived $43 million jackpot taken away. Unfortunately for her, the New York State Gaming Commission backs Resorts World’s claims on the machine malfunction.

“Casino personnel were able to determine that the figure displayed on the penny slot was the result of an obvious malfunction,” said Resorts World spokesman Dan Bank, “a fact later confirmed by the New York State Gaming Commission.”

The case is still pending in courts. But given the next story that I’m going to cover, the odds of Bookman receiving her jackpot — or anything close to it — are slim.

4 – Pauline McKee vs. Isle Casino Hotel

Pauline McKee is another slots player who thought she’d won big, only to have the casino later tell her that it was due to a machine malfunction.

The 87-year-old grandmother was playing Miss Kitty slots at Iowa’s Isle Casino Hotel when the following message showed onscreen: “The reels have rolled your way! Bonus award — $41,797,550.16.”

McKee, an Illinois native, was in Iowa for a family reunion. Her daughter talked her into going to the nearby Isle Casino.

This was a rare casino trip for McKee, who didn’t gamble much. But she made an exception for her daughter, and it nearly became the most-fortuitous casino trip ever.

McKee hadn’t played Miss Kitty long before the $41.8 million jackpot flashed across the screen. Isle employees were stumped by the win, given that Miss Kitty only advertises a $10,000 jackpot.

The staff gave her $10 in credits to continue playing while they looked into the matter. The casino also enlisted the help of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which determined that McKee had really only won $1.85.

Aristocrat Technologies, which manufactures Miss Kitty, told Isle Casino about the false bonus in the game. They also recommended that Isle remove the machine and fix it.

McKee later argued this point after launching a lawsuit against the casino for consumer fraud and breach of contract. She claimed that the casino should’ve fixed the game or removed it entirely, which they failed to do.

Her case went all the way to Iowa Supreme Court, which sided with the casino on grounds that Miss Kitty was never programmed to offer anywhere near $41.8 million.

5 – James Grosjean vs. Imperial Palace and Griffin Investigations

James Grosjean is the world’s best blackjack player. He’s also an expert at various advantage play methods, including card counting, shuffle tracking, and hole carding.

Grosjean is even a noted author, having written the popular 2000 book Beyond Counting: Exploiting Casino Games from Blackjack to Video Poker.

He’s also the youngest person to be inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame and won the Blackjack Ball’s “best player” title so many times that he was asked to stop competing.

As famous as Grosjean is for his gambling abilities, he’s perhaps just as notable for winning a huge case against Imperial Palace casino (now the Linq)and Griffin Investigations.

Grosjean claimed that Imperial Palace illegally detained him and his partner, Michael Russo, before banning them. They also leveled a lawsuit against Griffin Investigations for supplying improper information to Imperial Palace.

Grosjean won these cases and earned a huge sum worth $599,000 from Imperial Palace. He collected another $25,000 from Griffin investigations, which was forced to file bankruptcy afterward.

Many within the blackjack community hailed Grosjean as a hero for beating Griffin in court. This private investigator, which essentially brought down the MIT Blackjack Team, made an entire business out of outing advantage players.

6 – Safa Abdulla Al Geabury vs. Ritz Club

London’s Ritz Club is used to big high rollers who gamble lots of money. Therefore, it wasn’t strange when billionaire Safa Abdulla Al Geabury took a £2m marker and gambled the entire amount through the roulette.

What happened next, though, is what makes this 2014 case interesting. Rather than paying up on the £2 million debt, Al Geabury claimed that he was a problem gambler who’d been taken advantage of.

His story had some merit, considering that he signed a self-exclusion from the Ritz in 2009. However, he later signed another document that claimed his problem was under control.

Justice Simler, who presided over the case, claimed that the Swiss businessman’s testimony “lacked credibility and was riddled with inconsistency.” Simler added that Al Geabury “failed to establish that he had any gambling disorder at any material time.”

One more reason why the judge sided with Ritz is that Al Geabury had a £1 billion net worth. Therefore, he should’ve had no problem settling the amount.

But Al Geabury still refused to pay the debt. By 2015, he was ordered to spend 10 months in jail for not paying up.

Al Geabury was found in contempt of court for “deliberately choosing to do nothing to comply.” The 52-year-old claimed that he was unable to cover the amount and that his vast wealth was exaggerated.

Justice Spencer ignored Al Geabury’s excuses, which revolved around anxiety, depression, and prescription medications. Spencer pointed to the “evidence of enormous capital wealth” as a sign that the businessman could afford the court-ordered payment.

7 – Behar Merlaku vs Casino Bregenz

Behar Merlaku is yet another gambler who won a huge slot machine jackpot due to a machine glitch.

Merlaku was playing at Austria’s Casino Bregenz when he saw a jackpot worth £40million flash onscreen. If this payout had stood, it would’ve been the largest jackpot in slots history.

Unfortunately for Merlaku, Bregenz officials ruled that the jackpot would not stand due to a software error. They instead offered him a free meal, which he refused to accept.

The Swiss man took Bregenz to court and demanded £5 million in compensation. Merlaku claimed that his newborn baby, Erion, was born with a cleft palate as a result of the stress surrounding he and his wife.

Merlaku made a convincing argument because the casino settled out of court for £1 million. He used a portion of the money to pay for plastic surgery needed to fix Erion’s cleft palate.

Besides his son’s deformity, another thing that helped Merlaku’s case is that Casino Bregenz didn’t have gaming officials check the jackpot win. They instead determined that it wasn’t valid themselves.

Perhaps if they let the local licensing jurisdiction help, they would have had a stronger case against Merlaku.

8 – Esports Gamblers vs. Valve

In 2016, a group of teenagers sued Valve — producer of the video game Counter Strike Global Offensive (CSGO) — under allegations that they were offering illegal gambling on their Steam platform. Steam is a place where CSGO players can buy and sell virtual items.

Players use CSGO “Skins” to purchase virtual weapons that can be used in the game. These Skins are essentially like casino chips, which only have monetary value within the gaming establishment.

The teenage plaintiffs alleged that Valve, which took 15% of all Skins as profits, was aiding and abetting illegal gambling. Their lawsuit (Mcleod v. Valve) also claimed that minors could easily gamble on Steam, given that there was no age verification.

Here’s an excerpt from the lawsuit:

“In sum, Valve owns the league, sells the casino chips, and receives a piece of the casino’s income stream through foreign websites in order to maintain the charade that Valve is not promoting and profiting from online gambling, like a modern-day Captain Renault from Casablanca.

“That most of the people in the CS:GO gambling economy are teenagers and under 21 makes Valve’s and the other Defendants’ actions even more unconscionable.”

The Washington Federal Court dismissed this case on grounds that it didn’t fall under the RICO Act, which outlaws underground gambling and racketeering.

The teens re-filed their case in Washington and Florida, but nothing has ever come of these efforts.

9 – Bruno Venturi vs Eurobet

Bruno Venturi was playing Eurobet’s “Sixty Seconds” lottery style game in 2009 when he started an impressive winning streak. Venturi played for three hours and managed to net £650,000 in profits.

The Italian man earned a modest salary at a Naples, Italy pet shop, so the £650k was a life-changing sum to him. But Eurobet refused to pay on grounds that a software error had occurred.

The online casino claimed that a software update caused Venturi to only be charged for one out of every six wagers. He placed 6,670 bets, meaning that he got over 5,000 of these for free.

Venturi started with just £20 in his account but ran this amount higher and higher thanks to numerous free wagers.

Eurobet’s legal team argued that Venturi must have noticed something was wrong when he continued winning. But the gambler insisted that there were no visible signs of a software malfunction.

“How could I realize there was an error,” Venturi explained. “There was no message, I was just drawing, I didn’t have a clue.”

He claims to have only stopped because he felt“lucky enough” and was overtaken by the “emotions and euphoria.”

Venturi’s lawyer, John McLinden QC, said that Eurobet couldn’t prove his client broke any rules while winning the fortune.

“The defendant has failed to establish that Mr. Venturi broke any rules of the game whilst playing and obtaining the winnings,” said McLinden.

The London High Court ultimately sided with Venturi on grounds that he did nothing wrong to win the money. Furthermore, it was Eurobet’s responsibility to offer legitimate software.

10 – Sheila King vs Multiple Las Vegas Casinos

Sheila King had always been a low stakes gambler. But the widow decided to start playing $500 slot machines at Caesars Palace in 1991.

Her sixth spin on the high limit game resulted in a $250,000 jackpot. King hit another payout worth $50,000 while the casino was preparing the $250k check.

Just a few moments later, she won yet another $50,000 prize. These three wins formed the foundation for one of the greatest slots runs in history.

King spent the next three years playing high limit slots and winning a collective $200 million in jackpots. She never sat on the money, though, continuing to spin the reels after every win.

Las Vegas casinos took notice and began courting her. Caesars gave King a Mercedes-Benz convertible, while other casinos made sure to install her favorite slot machines.

The same gambling establishments wouldn’t let anybody else play her preferred games whenever she got a meal or took a nap.

But the good times ended for King as her multimillion-dollar fortune turned into $500,000 by 1993. It’s at this point when she began claiming that casinos were tampering with the machines.

She had an agreement with each casino, whereby technicians would avoid working on her favorite slots during an active session. King felt so strongly that the casinos cheated that she took her case to court.

Nevada judges ruled that gambling contracts aren’t enforceable under common law. Therefore, she had a nonbinding agreement with casinos to avoid working on her machines.

King continued losing most of her winnings and eventually dropped from her lofty high roller status for good.

11 – Cheryl Kater vs Big Fish Games

Social gaming straddles the border between free games and outright gambling. Players are often required to buy chips if they want to earn certain rewards or continue playing after losing everything.

In 2015, Washington resident Cheryl Kater alleged that social gaming site Big Fish Casino was offering illegal gambling.

The Evergreen State is the only place in America where internet gambling is considered a felony for both operators and players. Therefore, Kater was counting on Washington’s negative attitude towards online gambling to reclaim the $1,000 she’d spent.

She lost her initial bid to recoup the money. But a Seattle appeals court reversed the decision on grounds that Big Fish Casino’s chips are a “thing of value,” thus the site “constitutes illegal gambling under Washington law.”

Kater’s win opened the floodgates, as a number of similar lawsuits against social gaming sites were launched in the aftermath.


Casinos may have the house advantage in their own establishments. But they don’t always hold an edge in the courtroom.

I’ve covered several gamblers who brought a solid case and were able to win against casinos.

Of course, not all court victories are truly victories. Ken Uston may have prevented Atlantic City casinos from banning card counters, but these casinos responded by offering worse blackjack rules.

Other times, gamblers claim smashing legal wins over gaming venues. James Grosjean, Behar Merlaku, and Bruno Venturi are all examples of players who earned fortunes after winning in court.

Luckily, most disputes between players and casinos are settled amicably. But legal action is always a possibility when the house refuses to budge.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.