In a surprising turn of events, the Ameristar Casino in Black Hawk, Colorado, finds itself entangled in a legal battle of substantial proportions. Joseph Shiraef, a 34-year-old resident of Georgia, has launched a $3 million lawsuit against the casino’s owner, Gaming and Leisure Properties, as well as the city of Black Hawk, a city police officer, and an employee from the state’s Division of Gaming. Shiraef alleges that he was unlawfully detained for engaging in card counting at the casino’s blackjack tables. His lawsuit seeks $1.5 million in economic and compensatory damages and an additional $1.5 million in punitive damages.
The Card Counting Conundrum
The incident that triggered this legal saga occurred on October 19, 2021. Joseph Shiraef, facing a lengthy layover at Denver International Airport, decided to spend his time at the nearby Ameristar Casino in Black Hawk, approximately 45 minutes away. Admitting that he was a card counter, Shiraef had been playing blackjack for some time and was down about $4,000 when casino staff approached him and requested his identification. However, he declined, instead presenting a wristband as evidence that his ID had already been verified upon entry.
Shiraef suspected that the casino intended to share his information with other establishments, a practice shrouded in legal ambiguity. With $1,800 worth of chips still in his possession, the casino refused to cash them without his ID. Rather than further confront the situation, Shiraef chose to return later and catch his flight.
The Alleged Illegal Detention
As Shiraef attempted to exit the casino, staff members reportedly physically blocked his path. An employee cited the “criminal violation of the Colorado fraud statute by counting cards” as the reason for the detention.
It’s important to note that card counting itself is not illegal, not even in Colorado. While property management reserves the right to refuse service to players, Shiraef’s actions were well within the boundaries of the law.
To make matters worse, as Shiraef finally managed to leave the casino premises, his car was allegedly obstructed by an SUV. An employee threatened him with the issuance of a warrant for his “fraudulent activity” related to card counting. Shiraef also claims that a Colorado Gaming Commission agent demanded to see his license, despite him not breaking any laws. The situation left him feeling bewildered by the ignorance displayed by city officials.
While he was eventually allowed to leave, the delay caused him to miss his scheduled flight.
The Legal Battle Unfolds
Shiraef’s lawsuit asserts that his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures were violated. Furthermore, it accuses the casino and Gaming and Leisure Properties of false imprisonment, negligent training, and wrongfully refusing to cash in his chips.
As of now, the casino has not commented on the lawsuit. However, the city of Black Hawk and the involved police officer have filed a motion to dismiss the case. City officials argue that the officer is protected by qualified immunity, which shields government officials from liability while on duty.
The outcome of this lawsuit will undoubtedly be closely watched, as it raises questions about the limits of a casino’s authority when it comes to card counting and the responsibilities of law enforcement in such situations. Whatever the verdict may be, it is a stark reminder that even in the world of gambling, the law remains a powerful force that can hold all parties accountable for their actions.