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December 17, 2014

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Stratosphere’s refusal to honor expired ticket gives sports books another black eye

It has been an unwritten rule in Nevada sports betting for decades: A sports book will virtually always cash a winning ticket even if the bettor redeems it after its expiration date.

For one thing, it’s good customer relations, plain and simple.

For another, it’s the ethical thing to do. The bookmaker accepted a wager, and he lost. And an even older maxim states that a man who doesn’t pay his gambling debts is not much of a man at all.

Only the sleaziest of sports books would try to pull a fast one on a patron by refusing to cash a winning ticket shortly after it had expired.

Yet that’s what officials with the Stratosphere did to Michael Shackleford of Las Vegas.

Shackleford happens to be a professional gaming consultant, the author of a book on gambling strategy and an adjunct professor at UNLV. In case No. 2008-7136L before the state Gaming Control Board, however, he’s just “Petitioner,” a bettor with a beef. A legitimate beef.

No bizarre or extraordinary circumstances cloud Shackleford’s case. It’s not as if the guy was trying to cash a ticket from the 1971 World Series at a property that had changed hands four times through the years.

Rather, it’s a straightforward example of a casino taking a cheap shot at a customer.

At 7:58 p.m. on Sept. 20, Shackleford wagered $1,000 on Oklahoma State against Texas Tech in a Sept. 22 college football game. The bet was on the money line, meaning on Oklahoma State to win outright regardless of the point spread, at odds of plus-190.

Oklahoma State beat Texas Tech, 49-45, making the winning ticket worth $2,900 (the original $1,000 stake plus $1,900 in profit).

Because Shackleford does not go to the Stratosphere frequently, he waited until Jan. 26 to present the ticket for payment. This was 126 days after the game. The back of the betting slip reads, “Sports tickets are valid for 60 days after the event.”

At the vast majority of Nevada sports books throughout the history of legalized gambling in the state, there would not have been a problem. The ticket would have been honored. Shackleford himself has cashed expired tickets at a number of Las Vegas sports books with no hassles, as have many bettors.

But the Stratosphere sports book manager refused to pay, citing the expiration date of the ticket.

Shackleford filed a complaint with the Gaming Control Board, and the case remains unresolved as it makes its way through legal channels.

At a meeting May 8, the Gaming Control Board referred the case back to its hearing examiner, Richard DeGuise Jr., for further consideration.

“I plan to fight this until the day I die,” Shackleford told me.

The Stratosphere’s official statement on the matter, contained in documents from the Gaming Control Board, is stunning.

Patrick Rethore, the sports book manager, wrote in a prepared statement: “I informed (Shackleford) that the sports tickets are good for 60 days and his ticket was 126 days old and we would not pay him. I showed him the back of the ticket, which clearly states how long the tickets are good for. He asked for the phone number of Gaming and I gave it to him.”

I don’t know whether to laugh (in frustration) or cry (tears of rage).

Remember, this isn’t a remark uttered in a back room. This is a statement for the official record. The arrogance and the contempt for a paying customer of the casino are palpable.

If this is not a new low in the annals of sports books’ treatment of patrons, it’s close to it.

“I think if this gets voted on again (by the Gaming Control Board), it will probably go against me,” Shackleford said. “However, I’m not going to say that I’ll never get paid.

“Maybe I’ll win at some other level. Maybe they’ll just tire of me, I don’t know. I think I will get paid eventually, but it may not be at this point.”

Presumably, if it relies on the letter of the law, the Gaming Control Board might well decide in favor of the casino.

But regardless of the outcome, the Stratosphere bosses should be ashamed of their actions. This episode gives another black eye to Nevada’s legal sports betting scene, which in terms of black eyes lately seems to resemble Floyd Patterson at the end of his second fight with Muhammad Ali.

In an odd wrinkle to the case, it was revealed in an April 2 hearing by the Gaming Control Board that the Stratosphere’s redemption period for sports tickets is actually 120 days, not 60 days. The casino continued to issue tickets with the erroneous 60-day deadline printed on them because “the property has several rolls of ticket stock material on hand, (and) it was not cost effective to reprint new wagering tickets,” according to the board.

“Who knows how many players have come up with a ticket that is past 60 days but before 120 days and they just toss it?” Shackleford said. “I shudder at the value of all those tickets.

“I think passing out tickets that say 60 days when the real policy is 120 is a greater sin than not honoring my one ticket.”

I’m not so sure. In the spectrum of sports book sins, I categorize both as mortal rather than venial.

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