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Uston v. Resorts International Hotel Inc.

Decided: May 5, 1982.

KENNETH S. USTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
RESORTS INTERNATIONAL HOTEL, INC., APPELLANT, AND NEW JERSEY CASINO CONTROL COMMISSION, INTERVENOR-APPELLANT, AND ATLANTIC CITY CASINO HOTEL ASSOCIATION, INTERVENOR-APPELLANT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 179 N.J. Super. 223 (1981).

For affirmance -- Justices Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber, Handler and O'Hern. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Pashman, J.

Pashman

[89 NJ Page 165] Since January 30, 1979, appellant Resorts International Hotel, Inc. (Resorts) has excluded respondent, Kenneth Uston, from the

blackjack tables in its casino because Uston's strategy increases his chances of winning money. Uston concedes that his strategy of card counting can tilt the odds in his favor under the current blackjack rules promulgated by the Casino Control Commission (Commission). However, Uston contends that Resorts has no common law or statutory right to exclude him because of his strategy for playing blackjack.

We hold that the Casino Control Act, N.J.S.A. 5:12-1 to -152 gives the Commission exclusive authority to set the rules of licensed casino games, which includes the methods for playing those games. The Casino Control Act therefore precludes Resorts from excluding Uston for card counting. Because the Commission has not exercised its exclusive authority to determine whether card counters should be excluded, we do not decide whether such an exclusion would be lawful.

I

Kenneth Uston is a renowned teacher and practitioner of a complex strategy for playing blackjack known as card counting.*fn1 Card counters keep track of the playing cards as they are dealt and adjust their betting patterns when the odds are in their favor. When used over a period of time, this method allegedly ensures a profitable encounter with the casino.

Uston first played blackjack at Resorts' casino in November 1978. Resorts took no steps to bar Uston at that time, apparently because the Commission's blackjack rules then in operation minimized the advantages of card counting.

On January 5, 1979, however, a new Commission rule took effect that dramatically improved the card counter's odds. N.J.A.C. 19:47-2.5. The new rule, which remains in effect, restricted

the reshuffling of the deck in ways that benefitted card counters. Resorts concedes that the Commission could promulgate blackjack rules that virtually eliminate the advantage of card counting. However, such rules would slow the game, diminishing the casino's "take" and consequently its profits from blackjack gaming.

By letter dated January 30, 1979, attorneys for Resorts wrote to Commission Chairman Lordi, asking the Commission's position on the legality of summarily removing card counters from its blackjack tables. That same day, Commissioner Lordi responded in writing that no statute or regulation barred Resorts from excluding professional card counters from its casino. Before the day had ended, Resorts terminated Uston's career at its blackjack tables, on the basis that in its opinion he was a professional card counter. Resorts subsequently formulated standards for identification of card counters and adopted a general policy to exclude such players.*fn2

The Commission upheld Resorts' decision to exclude Uston. Relying on Garifine v. Monmouth Park Jockey Club, 29 N.J. 47 (1959), the Commission held that Resorts enjoys a common law right to exclude anyone it chooses, as long as the exclusion does not violate state and federal civil rights laws. The Appellate Division reversed, 179 N.J. Super. 223 (1981). Although we interpret the Casino Control Act, N.J.S.A. 5:12-1 to -152 somewhat differently than did the Appellate Division, we affirm that court's holding that the Casino Control Act precludes Resorts from excluding Uston. The Commission alone has the authority to exclude patrons based upon their strategies for playing licensed casino games. Any common law right Resorts may have had to exclude Uston for these reasons is abrogated by the act. We therefore need not decide the precise extent of Resorts'

common law right to exclude patrons for reasons not covered by the act. Nonetheless, we feel constrained to refute any implication arising from the Commission's opinion that absent supervening statutes, the owners of places open to the public enjoy an absolute right to exclude patrons without good cause. We hold that the common law right to exclude is ...


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