California Slots Player Sues Astin Martin Dealership over Casino Drawing

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018 | Written by April Bergman
California Slots Player Sues Astin Martin Dealership over Casino Drawing

Merida Manipoun won a $134,000 Aston Martin Vantage GT in a May 2016 drawing at the Viejas Casino & Resort in Alpine, California. Or at least that’s what Merida Manipoun’s lawyers contend in an ongoing lawsuit.

Lawyers for the Aston Martin dealership of San Diego claim Manipoun did not win the luxury car fairly. Viejas Casino claims she violated terms of the contest, so when the drawing turned up her name as the winner, she did not deserve her prize.

Manipoun filed a lawsuit against the dealership in November 2016, claiming they did not honor the terms of the raffle. She could not file a lawsuit against the casino, because tribal casinos are protected from such legal action.

The plaintiff also claims damages, because the way the Viejas Casino handled her paperwork. Despite the casino not handing over the case, the casino issued a 1099 tax form with the IRS that she won the contest – so the IRS wants Manipoun to pay taxes on the car she never received.

Though the Viejas Casino since has withdrawn the form with the IRS, the federal tax collectors still demand that Manipoun pay taxes on her winnings.

Aston Martin Vantage GT Drawing Rules

That final twist of the knife led Merida Manipoun to file civil lawsuit against Viejas Casino for “promotion for fraud, conspiracy and breach-of-contract damages”. The terms of the Aston Martin Vantage GT contest said customers who played the slot machines at the casino would receive entry into the drawing.

Advertisements for Viejas Casino (pictured above) said players who spent more money would receive more entries into the drawing. Based on the advertisements, Merida Manipoun spent a lot of money playing the slots at the casino. Her name was the one drawn.

As soon as she won the drawing, Manipoun claims she was skirted to the backrooms of the casino, where staff members pressured her not to accept the Aston Martin. Instead, they offered her lesser competition. When she refused, casino staff claimed Manipoun had violated terms of the contest and said she would receive no prize whatsoever.

Merida Manipoun Used Slots Rewards

According to Viejas Casino’s lawyers, Merida Manipoun used her casino club’s rewards to fund her slots machine play leading up to the drawing.

The contest rules stated in the fine print that slots card rewards could not be used to qualify for the drawing.

Do Obscure Terms of Use Constitute Fraud?

Merida Manipoun claims such a rule constitutes fraud. Those who’ve played slots at a land-based casino know that the slots card is pushed heavily by management. Gaming experts advise players to use their slots card every time they push “Spin”. They’re throwing their money away if they do not.

For that reason, almost anyone playing the slots in order to qualify for the Aston Martin Vantage GT drawing would have violated the terms of the contest – unless they read the rules’ fine print. Casino management would know that, so according to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Lonnie Vining, the Viejas Casino drew up contest rules designed to fool customers. Many would pour money into the slots in hopes of winning the car. When the drawing happened, the proverbial rug would be pulled from under the winner’s feet.

Viejas Casino Wants Lawsuit Tossed

Phillip Samouris, the lawyer for Aston Martin of San Diego, asked U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia of the Southern District of California to toss the lawsuit, but Battaglia refused to do so on procedural rules. Samouris plans to ask the judge to toss the case as “baseless”.

Samouris claimed in court that Manipoun “failed to identify any evidence that supports her fraud claim against the casino and the dealership.”

The dealership’s lawyer later told Automotive News that the plaintiff “admitted at her recent deposition that the dealership and the casino employees made no substantive statements to her, let alone any fraudulent statements.”

Merida Manipoun’s Side of the Story

Lonnie Vining claims Merida Manipoun was “escorted into a back room and subjected to a high-pressure sales pitch” to convince her to “forego her entitlement to the car”. At the time, she was not told she had violated any terms and conditions, but instead treated as if she had won the contest fair and square.

Instead, Vining says her client was pressured to accept minimal cash compensation “on the apparent theory that would afford her appreciable tax benefits.” When Manipoun declined the offer, the plaintiff claims management then declared her contest win null-and-void and sent the paperwork to the IRS to punish her with tax liability.

Unconcerned about any legal liability for fraud, the casino simply told their formerly loyal customer they would not pay up. They produced video evidence of Manipoun playing with her slots card, which they said violated the rules. When Manipoun went to the car dealership, she was told by Aston Martin of San Diego they had no proof she had won the contest – so they did not hand over a car.

How Rogue Casino Sites Works

Given that the plaintiff cannot sue the party which set up the underhanded rules or who refused to pay the winnings, it seems likely that Manipoun’s case eventually will fail in the US District Court. It’s hard to sue one party for the fraud perpetrated and damages caused by another party.

It is unfortunate that Astin Martin of San Diego faces such a lawsuit. As long as sweepstakes and drawings are held that have one-sided terms, legal cases like this one are inevitable. As an Autonews article pointed out, the decisions which led to the lawsuit represent a “broken bond”.

The terms of this contest, while technically legal, are the kind of scenario online casino players complain about. Rogue and blacklisted casinos offer some kind of bonus, reward, or prize if players reach a certain benchmark of play. If the player wins, then their winnings are flagged by the rogue operator – who opens an investigation into “suspicious activity”.

Beware One-Sided Terms of Use

Inevitably, the internal probe reveals that the player violated some arcane terms and conditions. Using their own hard-to-find terms of use, the black hat operator voids the winnings. In such a way, a casino can advertise huge winnings, collect raised stakes from all the customers who participate, and then void winnings when it’s time to pay.

In the online gambling industry, word gets around through player review sites and authority sites. The fraud goes on, but with diminishing returns over time (see: RevenueJet). In the offline casino world, customers who feel ripped off must file lawsuits. Even if the suit fails — which it usually does — the resulting bad publicity gives the operator pause in using similar promotions in the future. It does so by warning other potential customers they might not be able to trust a casino to pay winnings. In such a way, even a failed lawsuit performs a public service.