Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2005 | 10:55 a.m.
The company that produces the Griffin book claims it's broke.
Griffin Investigations Inc., which distributes lists of suspected cheaters and card counters to casinos, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing a defamation lawsuit filed against the company by gamblers who said they were improperly detained at the Caesars Palace and Imperial Palace casinos, called cheaters and arrested.
Griffin, a security company widely used by Las Vegas casinos that sells lists of "undesirables," cited as its largest creditor the company's attorneys in the case, who are owed $106,868.15 in legal fees.
The company's second-largest creditors are the gamblers who sued Griffin. Gamblers Michael Russo and James Grosjean are owed a court judgment of $105,000, according to Griffin's bankruptcy filing.
Griffin's co-owners, Beverly and Robert Griffin, are each owed $74,000 and $50,000, respectively, in loans.
The company lists assets of $100,000 to $500,000. Its 20 largest unsecured claims total $368,482.
Griffin officials could not be reached by press time, and the company's Reno attorney could not be reached for comment.
In July, a $45,659 judgment against Griffin was entered in Clark County District Court in favor of the two gamblers. Russo was awarded $25,000 in damages and $15,000 in punitive damages and Grosjean was awarded $25,000 in damages and $10,000 in punitive damages.
Griffin distributes a list of suspected cheats and skilled gamblers, often called advantage players, called the "Griffin book" and also has an online service.
The company has many enemies among advantage players, who say they have been falsely labeled as cheaters in the Griffin book. Card counters, unlike cheaters, aren't breaking any laws but casinos don't want their play.
State gaming regulators have often said that card counting is absolutely legal but that casinos can refuse to allow card counters to play on their tables.
In the lawsuit, Russo and Grosjean claim that Griffin published fabricated information that Russo was part of a team of blackjack cheaters and that Grosjean was associated with a person who bent cards.
Filed in November 2001, the suit said Caesars Palace used information in the Griffin book to detain and arrest the gamblers after a gambling session in 2000. Caesars claims the two were bending cards. Several months after the Caesars incident, Grosjean entered Imperial Palace and was detained by casino security. The Imperial Palace claimed Nevada regulators were on the lookout for Grosjean.
The case was later divided into two separate cases. The case involving Imperial Palace resulted in an October judgment of almost $400,000 against the casino. In June, a jury awarded damages of $50,000 against Caesars Palace.
Critics say the cases marked the first judgments against Griffin, which has risked lawsuits over the years for further blurring the line between cheaters and skilled players.
"You're on such thin ice there. You're talking about people's associations and reputations," said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter and a skilled blackjack player who has been listed in the Griffin book. "I don't think they're malicious in any way. I think they're just doing their job. But they've hurt people with the mistakes they've made."
In spite of the company's outsized reputation in the casino industry, Griffin was basically a small, mom and pop operation, Curtis said.
"They probably couldn't make their fees keep pace with the new technology," he said.
The suit and judgment has opened the door to other critics and potential lawsuits, which might make the Griffins reconsider their business, he added.
"A precedent has been set. Maybe they will say, 'We've had enough,' " he said.
Bob Nersesian, who represented Russo and Grosjean in court, said Griffin "cried poor at trial" and showed tax returns with three years of losses.
MGM Mirage is among the many casino companies that use Griffin's services.
"The Griffin system has been very effective in tracking individuals who are known slot cheaters, advantage players and other undesirables," company spokeswoman Yvette Monet said. "This is one of many tools that we use to protect our properties and the integrity of our games."
The company, Nevada's largest casino operator, also uses an internal database it has created on cheats and card counters.