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Regulator Insist That Gambler Who Was Kicked Out of Casino Must Be Paid

By Manny Wood.
Fact checked by Wilbur Thompson.

In a twist that could only happen in the world of gambling, a controversial decision by the Nevada Gaming Control Board has set the stage for a heated policy debate, raising questions about the rights and responsibilities of both casinos and players in the Silver State. The story revolves around Rhon Wilson, a gambler who was banned from the Casablanca hotel-casino in Mesquite for theft but managed to sneak back in and win a $2,045.18 slot machine jackpot.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board, in a split 2-1 vote, ruled in favor of the player, insisting that the casino must pay out the jackpot to Wilson. The decision, however, is final and doesn’t require approval from the Nevada Gaming Commission. This surprising verdict was handed down in the midst of a casino-player dispute appeal, a scenario that rarely ends in favor of the gambler. Typically, such appeals arise from unpaid jackpots due to slot machine malfunctions.

Casablanca itself brought the appeal to the board, hoping to avoid making the payout despite Wilson’s win, as he had previously been ordered to leave the premises on seven occasions for failing to pay for a drink. Despite the trespassing issue, the hearing officer recommended that the jackpot be awarded to Wilson.

The decision has sparked controversy not only because of the unique circumstances surrounding the case but also because it raises fundamental questions about the rights and responsibilities of casinos and players in Nevada. Dick Tomasso, vice president of security and government affairs for Mesquite Gaming LLC, which owns the Casablanca, appeared before the board to explain the appeal. Notably, Wilson was absent from the meeting.

Tomasso’s statement during public comment shed light on the broader implications of this decision, highlighting the fact that Wilson had calculated that it was more profitable to pay a misdemeanor fine and continue gambling, despite the trespassing ban. He argued that this decision could have a significant impact on all casino licensees in the state of Nevada, as it effectively allows banned individuals to reap the rewards of their gambling activities, even if they’ve committed misdemeanors.

He explained, “Mr. Wilson was continually violating the trespass statute, seven times to be exact. He found it more profitable to pay a small fine and then return to the casino to gamble, knowing that the gaming enforcement policy would allow him to keep his winnings as they did three previous times he was caught violating the trespass statute.”

However, George Assad, a retired Las Vegas Municipal Court judge and a member of the Gaming Control Board, voiced his concerns about the decision. He argued that Nevada’s unwritten policy of paying winnings to anyone who hits a jackpot might not necessarily be good policy. Assad’s stance was in stark contrast to that of Board Chairman Kirk Hendrick and member Brittnie Watkins, who emphasized the importance of licensees paying out jackpots, even if the winners had been convicted of misdemeanors.

This contentious decision is poised to ignite a policy debate within the gambling industry. The Nevada Gaming Control Board has scheduled a regulatory workshop for October 18th, where the issue of trespassed players winning money is expected to take center stage. The outcome of this debate could have far-reaching implications, not only for casinos and gamblers but also for the broader legal and regulatory framework that governs the gaming industry in the Silver State.

As the debate rages on, one thing is clear: the case of Rhon Wilson has set a precedent, challenging the status quo and prompting a reevaluation of the rules that govern the world of gambling in Nevada. Whether this decision will ultimately be seen as a victory for individual gamblers or a potential loophole for those who seek to skirt the law remains to be seen, but one thing is certain—the stakes in Nevada’s gaming industry have never been higher.