If you've ever wondered what your legal rights are if a casino dealer claims to have overpaid you, don't look for clarity or comfort in the experience of William Conner.
The semi-retired Reno, Nev., auto sales manager who liked to play baccarat at Harrah's was wagering at three different tables one busy Saturday in 2008 when a pit boss tapped him on the shoulder and said there was a problem: Forty minutes earlier, one of his bets had been overpaid, the casino employee said, and loudly accused him of "stealing" $950.
Conner had been on a roll and became increasingly convinced, he said, that the casino was trying to keep him from playing. He was escorted by security out of the playing area and asked to return to see the manager the next day, a meeting in which the accusations and acrimony escalated.
A couple of weeks after the heated standoff in the office of games manager Jim Webbert, Conner was summoned to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, where he was arrested, frisked and told he was being charged with a felony -- unless he agreed to go to the casino with them and pay the contested sum.
Conner said he paid to avoid jail and the agents' intimations that he would be subjected to more than frisking in the lockup. He sued the casino and two gaming agents he accused of conspiring with Webbert to shake him down for money he didn't believe he had been given.
"The pit boss was screaming 'we've got it on camera' and made this very verbal public attack on me," Conner recalled Friday. He had swept his winning chips into his pocket, he said, and didn't know how much he had been paid for the hand in question, he said.
It was 18 months before Conner was allowed to see the casino security tape during a pretrial meeting.
"They said they had my face on camera, but it turns out the camera shows nothing!" said Conner, still livid nearly four years later over the theft accusation.
A federal judge in Reno refused to dismiss the lawsuit against Harrah's or the agents, saying that Conner couldn't be charged with theft because he never intended to take money that didn't belong to him, and the casino manager and gaming agents could be tried on Conner's accusations of false arrest and conspiracy.
But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned that ruling Friday, saying the agents had reason to believe Conner had committed a crime and are therefore immune from his lawsuit.
Whether Harrah's must return the money remains an open question, and one that will likely take years and many more billable hours to resolve.
"This is a good ol' boys' town," grumbled Conner, in what sounded like doubt that he would win at a trial on the casino's liability, set to begin in June.
Christopher Rusby, who has represented Harrah's in the case, didn't immediately return a phone call from The Los Angeles Times. Nevada Deputy Attorney General John S. Michela, who represented the gaming board, did not immediately respond to a call and e-mail.
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