Harrah’s Sued Over Casino Promotion
Harrah’s Sued Over Casino Promotion
By Dan Katz - Sep 21st, 2010
In a 2008 article in The Independent, the United Kingdom was dubbed the “litigation capital of the world” primarily as the result of many high profile cases finding their way to British courts. Never fear, Americans, the United States may yet wrest that title away from its kin across “The Pond.” Last week, notices of awards in a class action lawsuit against Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc. were sent out to approximately 350,000 people, awards which will add up to millions.
The suit stems back to 2003, when, on August 10th, Debra Smerling patronized Harrah’s Atlantic City with a special coupon in-hand. The coupon was mailed to her as a Total Rewards (the loyalty program of Harrah’s properties) customer as part of the “Birthday Cash” promotion. The Birthday Cash coupon was redeemable on at the casino on August 10th for $15 cash. It sounds simple enough, but apparently it was a bit more complicated that Smerling had anticipated.
When she attempted to redeem the coupon at approximately 12:30am on August 10th, Ms. Smerling was rebuffed. According to Harrah’s policy, the new casino day did not start until 8:00am, so while it was already August 10th up and down the East Coast of the United States, inside Harrah’s, it was still August 9th. They would gladly accept the coupon as soon as 8:00am rolled around, but Smerling was not about to wait six and a half hours for her $15.
While that may sound like a strange policy, it is not unusual for casinos. For example, the Borgata had a “3x Slot Dollars” promotion over Labor Day weekend, September 4th through September 6th. Part of the “fine print” read, “A gaming day is between 6 a.m. and 5:59 a.m.” Thus, if someone wanted to take part in the promotion at 12:30am on September 4th, they would not be allowed to do so, as the gaming day does not start for several hours. The difference between the Borgata’s promotion and the “Birthday Cash” promotion at Harrah’s back in 2003 is that there was nothing on the $15 coupon defining a gaming day. Therefore, it was natural for Smerling and anyone else to assume that as soon as the clock struck Midnight, a new day had started.
At some point, an understandably frustrated Smerling sought out the law firm of Galex Wolf, LLC in North Brunswick, New Jersey to represent her and the thousands of other Total Rewards customers who received coupons in a class action lawsuit against Harrah’s. The New Jersey Superior Court ruled that Harrah’s had violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act for refusing to honor the coupons before 8:00am without disclosing its definition of a gaming day.
As a result, 80,000 Total Rewards customers who successfully redeemed their $15 coupons will be awarded $100 each as part of the penalties put in place by the New Jersey Truth in Consumer Contract Warranty and Notice Act. In addition to those 80,000 people, an additional 270,000 who did not redeem coupons will receive notices of the class action lawsuit, informing them that if they did attempt to cash in the coupons and were denied, they can file a separate lawsuit against Harrah’s.
Harrah’s Entertainment, led by CEO and President Gary Loveman, owns approximately 40 casino hotels in the United States, including Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Paris, Planet Hollywood, and Rio in Las Vegas and Showboat and Caesars in Atlantic City. Harrah’s also owns the World Series of Poker brand, acquired in 2004 when it purchased the renowned Las Vegas institution Binion’s Horseshoe. It sold the hotel and casino, but kept the World Series of Poker, which it moved from Binion’s to the Rio. The 2010 Main Event final table will resume on November 6th as the “November Nine” reunite to fight for the almost $9 million first prize.