Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008 | 2 a.m.
In one corner is an art-collecting casino mogul and in the other is a millionaire soft-porn outlaw, and at stake are millions of dollars and the reputation of a Strip casino.
Steve Wynn’s lawsuit to collect a $2 million gambling debt from “Girls Gone Wild” promoter Joe Francis turned into a no-holds-barred legal donnybrook this week, as Francis alleged in court papers that the casino mogul used a variety of tactics to run up the gambler’s losses, including providing prostitutes at his Strip resort.
Wynn hit back with a defamation lawsuit just three hours after Francis’ filing.
Francis alleges Wynn was with Francis and the prostitutes in his hotel room and that Francis was told the women were Wynn’s “personal gift to you.”
Francis also claims Wynn Las Vegas deceived him into gambling large sums of money and forged casino credit documents to show that he’d gambled more than he did. Francis lists other tricks he alleges Wynn and his hotel used to keep him playing blackjack last year.
Wynn Las Vegas denies all of the allegations.
“The claims made in the counter suit by Joe Francis are not only false but scurrilous beyond imagination,” the resort said in a statement. “Mr. Francis obviously felt secure making such defamatory statements under the protection of a judicial pleading.
“However, he has recently made other false and defamatory public statements. We not only intend to press the proper charges for collection of his gambling debts, but we will also pursue Mr. Francis for damages resulting from those incredibly damaging and libelous statements. Each and every statement made by Mr. Francis is an outrageous falsehood and he will be held accountable for those statements.”
In Wynn’s defamation suit, his attorneys, Todd Bice and James Pisanelli, charge that Francis published those statements “with knowledge of their falsity” or “reckless disregard” for the truth.
The defamation lawsuit says Wynn has “suffered injury to his reputation, shame, mortification, hurt feelings and emotional distress,” and that Francis should be forced to pay for the damage he has done.
Wynn was recently in other news stories featuring the word “prostitution” — but in a very different context. On July 25, he got into a scuffle with two sisters who had been banned from Wynn Las Vegas in connection with alleged prostitution. Metro Police reported that Wynn was slapped in the face by one of the sisters as he was attempting to have them removed from the casino.
Francis’ credibility can be questioned. He is, after all, the guy who earned a fortune producing videos of drunken, stripping college girls, and he has been in trouble with the law in recent years. He is free on $1.5 million bail while facing tax evasion charges in Reno. This year, he pleaded no contest to felony child abuse and misdemeanor prostitution charges in Florida.
Wynn Las Vegas initially sued Francis in late June to recover $2 million in gambling debts the casino claims he incurred in February 2007. Last week, as the suit began to heat up, the casino asked the district attorney’s bad check unit to open a criminal case against Francis.
Francis’ response, Wynn’s attorneys say, has consisted of statements that “falsely imply that the hotel did not keep contractual agreements with Francis, and (that) the hotel did not do business with Francis in a fair and ethical manner. The statements falsely imply that Francis possesses some undisclosed facts that show that Wynn deceives customers.”
Francis alleges Wynn Las Vegas “intentionally miscalculates markers and forges the high-rollers’ signatures in order to change a high-roller’s win to a loss.” He goes on to claim that the resort also changes computer records to match the altered markers and destroys surveillance videotapes of the gambler’s play at the casino to make it more difficult for the gambler to dispute his losses.
Francis says Wynn Las Vegas offered him a number of perks during his junket, including the use of Wynn’s private jet, a posh hotel suite, player chip discounts, and the right to gamble alone at a table and select a dealer.
The casino, Francis claims, also promised to give him control over how many times a dealer would shuffle a deck of cards and the ability to bet up to $30,000 a hand, and said it would limit his credit line to $200,000 to minimize his losses.
But, he alleges, the casino switched dealers when he started to win and shuffled the deck without his approval, using a shuffle machine under the table outside of his view.
As his gambling debts piled up, Francis claims, Wynn and his casino created an effective diversion to distract him from thoroughly reviewing his markers — alcohol and prostitutes. Francis says Wynn plied him with wine from his private wine cellar.
Reno attorney Marie Mirch, who filed the countersuit for Francis, is hoping it attracts the attention of state gaming regulators.
“These are serious allegations,” she said. “They should be interested in looking into this conduct, but I’m skeptical that they will because the industry protects itself.”
Jerry Markling, chief of enforcement for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, plans to get a copy of the counterclaim.
“Once we get our hands on it, we certainly will look into the allegations,” Markling said.