Harrah's in Hot Water

This promo could turn out to be expensive

Land casino operator Harrah's Entertainment could be in legal hot water following a promo that has triggered a New Jersey Superior Court order affecting approximately 350 000 gamblers.

A press release from the legal firm Galex Wolf LLC say that, commencing this week, the gamblers will receive a court-ordered notice advising them that they are class members in a class action lawsuit against Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. for violations of New Jersey advertising laws, with 80,000 of them being advised that they have been awarded $100 each.

The remaining class members will be advised that they may be entitled to relief if they suffered damages from Harrah's violations.

The lawsuit, Debra Smerling, et al. v. Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc., filed in New Jersey Superior Court in New Brunswick, involves a promotion called "Birthday Cash" in which Harrah's mailed its Total Rewards card customers coupons for $15 cash redeemable at its Atlantic city casino.

The Court ruled that Harrah's violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and related advertising regulations by listing specified dates on which the coupon was redeemable at the casino, without disclosing Harrah's policy to not honour coupons presented after midnight and before 6:00 a.m. on the date specified for redemption.

The court ruled that Harrah's violations entitled the 80,000 "Birthday Cash" class members who redeemed their coupons $100 each in statutory penalties under the New Jersey Truth in Consumer Contract Warranty and Notice Act, which prohibits businesses from giving notices to consumers that violate other laws.

The court also ruled that the "Birthday Cash" class members who did not redeem their coupons must be provided with notice that if they attempted to redeem their coupons and Harrah’s refused that they can file a separate lawsuit against Harrah’s for any damages they sustained.

Debra Smerling, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, was a Harrah's customer who attempted to redeem her $15 Birthday Cash award on August 10, 2003, which was the date listed on her coupon, at around 12:30 a.m. Harrah's staff refused to honour the coupon, claiming that it was still August 9th under the casino's (undisclosed) policy and that it would not be August 10th until the casino closed later that morning and reopened at 8 a.m. Ms. Smerling did not intend to stay at the casino until 8 a.m. and so left without the promised $15 Birthday Cash award.

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