Thursday, April 24, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Caesars still fighting birthday cash lawsuit

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - More than 10 years after a promotion offering $15 in "birthday cash" to patrons resulted in a class-action lawsuit, a casino company is still fighting a multi-million dollar payout it was ordered to make.

Caesars Entertainment lost a court ruling three years ago stemming from the August 2003 promotion, under which a Middlesex County woman tried unsuccessfully to redeem her voucher at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City.

It all started on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2003, when Debra Smerling went to Harrah's Resort Atlantic City clutching a voucher she had received offering $15 for her birthday as part of the casino's "Total Rewards" customer loyalty program. The card was good on Sunday, Aug. 10, although Smerling's actual birthday is Aug. 8.

At 12:30 a.m. Sunday, she tried to redeem the voucher. But the casino refused, saying the offer was not good until 8 a.m. Refusing to wait 7½ hours to claim $15, she left and filed a class-action lawsuit.

The voucher did say it must be presented at the Total Rewards Center, then listed the center's hours of operation as 8 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Friday, and 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. Saturday.

In 2010, a state Superior Court judge in Middlesex County ruled that Harrah's had violated New Jersey's truth-in-advertising laws. The court awarded $5.2 million to thousands of plaintiffs, each of whom stands to get $100.

In a filing Wednesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Caesars said a New Jersey Supreme Court case decided since then has clarified two aspects of the New Jersey Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act. The company said the rulings "support our contention that the existing judgment against us should be vacated and the case dismissed in our favor."

In the securities filing, Caesars said it plans to file an appeal as soon as a lower court formally enters a ruling it made last month denying both sides' request for a reconsideration of the case. Caesars spokesman Gary Thompson declined to comment beyond what was in the filing because the case remains in litigation.

Andrew Wolf, Smerling's attorney, said he is not surprised the casino giant is continuing its fight.

"They've made it clear for years that they're going to appeal," he said. "We believe the court got it right in finding violations of New Jersey consumer protection regulations."

Subsequent rulings have whittled down the size of Caesars' potential liability in the case from nearly $8 million to the current $5.2 million.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

WAYNE PARRY The Associated Press
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