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With the help of two complete strangers from Brooklyn, a Montgomery County, Pa., woman convinced a federal jury on Wednesday that she was cheated out of a $1 million grand prize she had rightfully won at the Tropicana Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. Rena Gottlieb, a doctor’s wife from Cheltenham, Pa., was a member of Tropicana’s “Diamond Club,” a free promotion whose card-holding members are entitled to one spin a day on the casino’s “Fun House Million Dollar Wheel.” Gottlieb claimed that when she swiped her Diamond Club card and spun the wheel on July 24, 1999, the computer game’s three concentric wheels did exactly what every contestant wanted. The first, outside wheel stopped at “advance,” prompting the second wheel to spin, which also stopped at “advance.” And then, Gottlieb claimed, the third, center wheel, with just six prizes, stopped at the $1 million prize. Gottlieb claimed that other casino patrons reacted to her jackpot win but that the casino attendant quickly removed her card from the machine and swiped another card, causing the inner wheel to spin again and land on a prize for “show tickets.” Immediately, Gottlieb complained to casino management and later that day filed a complaint with the Casino Control Commission. Before she walked away, two women from Brooklyn, N.Y. — Irma Galione and Anna Marie DiMatteo — told her they had seen her win the $1 million prize and would be willing to testify if she ever needed them. When Gottlieb sued in federal court, Tropicana moved to have the case dismissed, arguing that Gottlieb’s story couldn’t be true since her account of the computer’s reactions was simply impossible. But U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III ruled that a jury should decide since the factual dispute was a credibility call between the computer experts and the eye witnesses. Last week, after a three-day trial, an eight-member federal jury sided with Gottlieb. Gottlieb’s lawyers, Alan M. Feldman of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter & Tanner and solo practitioner Thomas W. Sheridan, said the jury’s verdict was a great vindication for Gottlieb who considered the casino’s reaction to be an accusation that she was a liar. Immediately after the verdict, the casino’s insurers agreed to settle the case for the full $1 million, Sheridan said. Although the insurer’s counsel had been present throughout the trial, Bartle decided that the jury should not be aware that an insurance policy existed, he said. One of the trial’s dramatic moments involved the absence of a key casino witness — the attendant who allegedly swiped the second card. Gottlieb’s lawyers were never able to depose the woman because she was no longer an employee and had moved away from New Jersey. But during the trial, another casino employee testified that the woman had returned and spoken with the casino’s lawyers. Sheridan said the judge grew angry and called a sidebar conference to chastise the defense lawyers for not disclosing that fact earlier. But Bartle declined to instruct the jury that it could draw adverse inferences from the woman’s absence. Instead, the judge said he would simply allow Feldman to make the argument to the jurors that the woman was being hidden from them. In his closing argument, Feldman told the jury that the casino’s version of the events could not be squared with the eye witness accounts from Gottlieb and the two women from Brooklyn. “It smells bad,” Feldman said of the casino’s claim. “It kind of makes you want to take a shower.” The casino was represented by attorneys Roberto A. Rivera-Soto and Heather D. Disque of Fox Rothschild O’Brien & Frankel. The insurer, Redland Insurance Co., was represented by J. Vincent Roche of Margolis Edelstein.

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