A professional gambler ousted from an Atlantic City casino can sue its successor in federal court for battery and false imprisonment, an appeals court said, reversing a judge who found the case fell short of the threshold amount in controversy for diversity jurisdiction.
But plaintiff Previn Mankodi can’t pursue fraud claims over a blackjack dealer taking his bet and then not allowing him to play the hand, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held.
Mankodi, known in casinos for his prowess at mathematical betting methods, placed a bet of $3,700 at a blackjack table at Trump Marina — now the Golden Nugget Atlantic City — on Aug. 3, 2009. The dealer dealt an ace, which led Mankodi to believe he would profit by $1,865. A supervisor then told the dealer to shuffle the deck and rescind the hand. He also called for security to remove Mankodi from the casino.
Mankodi returned to the casino later that day to protest to the manager on duty. Instead, he was tackled, placed in handcuffs, searched and held in a private room for about an hour before being ejected again and told to not return.
Mankodi complained to the Casino Control Commission, which later ruled Trump Marina’s actions improper and levied a $5,000 fine.
Mankodi filed a 13-count complaint against Trump Marina in 2011. U.S. District Judge Joseph Rodriguez dismissed it on summary judgment, agreeing with the casino that Mankodi could not meet the $75,000 damages threshold for diversity jurisdiction.
U.S. Circuit Judges Thomas Hardiman, Thomas Ambro and Robert Cowen held Monday that Mankodi could make the threshold. They reviewed four cases from New Jersey and other jurisdictions in which plaintiffs won verdicts of between $264,750 to $1.15 million for being ejected from a bar or casino after being briefly detained.
To boot, under New Jersey law, punitive damages are available for both battery and false imprisonment.
"Thus, even though Mankodi’s physical injuries may be slight, depending on the proof at trial, a jury might award him punitive damages and we cannot say that such an award could, under no circumstances, exceed $75,000," Hardiman wrote for the panel in Mankodi v. Trump Marina, 12-3067.
The panel reinstated the battery, false imprisonment and breach of duty of public accommodation claims.
Trump Marina argued that New Jersey law allows casinos to eject or exclude anyone who is a security threat, disruptive or intoxicated. But Mankodi’s complaint did not indicate that he was disruptive, threatening to security, disorderly or intoxicated, Hardiman said. It is for a jury to decide whether the casino acted unreasonably, he found.
The panel said Rodriguez properly dismissed claims of fraud, conversion and intentional infliction of emotional distress, finding them too vague.
The casino’s attorney, John Donnelly, says he and casino officials are reviewing the decision, but added that he believes Mankodi has no claim.
The remedy for the casino’s error in withdrawing the hand after the ace had been dealt was the fine issued by the Casino Control Commission, says Donnelly, of Atlantic City’s Levine, Staller, Sklar, Chan, Brodsky & Donnelly.
Mankodi’s lawyer, Robert Nersesian, of Nersesian & Sankiewicz in Las Vegas, declines to comment.
Mankodi has written articles on playing card games at casinos and uses what is known as the Kelly Criterion, a complex mathematical formula that reduces the number of hands played while increasing winnings.
Michael Booth is a reporter for the New Jersey Law Journal, a Legal affiliate.