Vietnamese American wins $55 mil casino jackpot case

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Vietnamese American Ly Sam's representatives and witnesses cheer after the District 1 People's Court decided that he has won US$55 million in a controversial casino jackpot case

Ly Sam put ten cents into the slot machine and hit the jackpot.

In fact, he broke it several times over.

The machine, which the casino owners say was designed to deliver maximum winnings of US$46,000, flashed $55,542,296.73 on the screen. If this is finally decreed legitimate, it would be a world record for a slot machine payout, beating the biggest casinos in gambling hubs like Los Angeles and Macau.

However, the Vietnamese American restaurant owner is still to get his hands on any money more than three years after filing a lawsuit demanding payment of his winnings that the machine owner insists was a glitch.

This week, however, Ly Sam had some good news.

The District 1 People's Court in Ho Chi Minh City on January 7 decided that the casino has to pay him the winning money of nearly VND1.55 trillion.

However, a representative of Dai Duong Joint Venture, which owns the Palazzo Club at the luxury Sheraton Hotel in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, said it would appeal the verdict in the coming days.

On January 8, lawyer Ngo Thanh Tung, who represented Dai Duong Joint Venture in the case, said: "We are very disappointed with the decision of the Court of First Instance because Ly Sam won the case despite not providing any evidence for his winning of the game.

"I am surprised because the court issued the decision without having an independent agency assess Ly Sam's evidence. But I believe that the Court of Appeal will have a more accurate decision."

Tung said Dai Duong will request that an independent assessment agency specialized in the field [of gaming machines] get involved in the case.

 "The reason for our appeal is that the machine is programmed to give a maximum winning amount of $50,000 each (game). Thus, it is unimaginable to have a winning amount of $55 million," he said.

Bare facts

In Vietnam, it is illegal for a Vietnamese to gamble in any form. However, foreigners are allowed to enter the casino at a few five-star hotels. Sam had been a patron of the Palazzo since 2005.

On October 25, 2009, Sam was playing at the club's slot machine number 13 when the screen flashed $55,542,296.73. He continued to play another time and his final credit was deducted by $5.

The club manager refused to give Sam the winning money or sign a paper approving the result. He only said Sam could collect his winnings within three days.

Sam took a picture of the screen displaying the winning amount and asked other visitors at the club to sign a paper as witnesses.

According to his lawyer, Sam contacted the casino many times to collect his winnings, but he was told that it was a machine glitch.

A VietNamNet report said that 20 days after the incident, the club manager came to meet Sam and it would agree that the result is $20 million on the condition that Sam takes only 40 percent of the amount.

Soon after, a club representative contacted Sam and lowered the amount to $10,000, the report said.

Sam rejected all offers and filed a lawsuit against Dai Duong Joint Venture on January 20, 2010 to reclaim the full amount.

He also demanded $3.517 million in interest on the winning money and asked that the club's operations be suspended for between 3-6 months.Vietnamese American Ly Sam, 60, at the court on December 28, 2012

Heated debate

During the trial proceedings that local media reports described as stormy, the lawyer for Dai Duong Joint Venture said Sam's demand was unreasonable.

According to the slot machine's settings, the screen will pause after a player wins $50,000 and higher to save the image of the winning amount and inform the player to contact the casino staff to get the money, he said. It would not be possible to play further on the machine.

He said Sam is a lucky player who has won up to $95,000 earlier at the club (in 2006), and thus was aware of this fact; but he continued to play instead.

Furthermore, slot machine number 13 has the maximum winning amount of about $46,000, he said.

But Sam's lawyer rejected the arguments, saying that the machine was operating normally and deducted exactly the $5 that Sam lost in the game succeeding the jackpot-winning one.

The lawyer also said the company can afford to pay the winning amount because the club's net income in 2009 was $68 million.

According to the court, the club has a regulation saying that all results will be canceled if the machine is found to be in error. However, it does not define what kind of error this has to be, and the club did not warn Sam that the machine was faulty.

After the incident, Dai Duong had the machine's electronic board examined by a company, but the court said the result did not carry any value because it was done without the consent of Sam or a court order.

The court also said the company did not seal the machine immediately after the incident and wait for it to be examined by concerned authorities.

After five days of consideration, the judges' panel accepted parts of Sam's petition and decided that Dai Duong has to pay him the amount he won.

It said Sam can file another lawsuit to claim interest on his winnings because he had not paid a deposit as required on that amount. It refunded Sam the deposit of more than VND500 million he had made against the  winning amount (without the interest).

In Vietnam, petitioners are required to pay a deposit based on the value of the property under litigation. If the petitioner loses the case, he automatically forfeits the deposit, and if he wins, the deposit is refunded.

The court also ordered the Dai Duong Joint Venture company to pay more than VND1.1 billion in trial fees after losing the case.

The court rejected Sam's request to suspend the club saying it did not have the authority to make such a decision.

His lawyer also said if the verdict takes effect, Sam would keep his promise of donating part of his lucky money for charity. However, he did not reveal what Sam would have to pay the lawyers who have represented him on the case for more than three years.

In Vietnamese law, a verdict issued by the court of first instance only takes effect if the parties involved do not appeal it within 15 days.

The judges noted that this was the country's first gambling trial.

The court had delayed the trial twice, in 2010 and last June exceeded the statutory six months by which a petition has to be heard or rejected. It said it was forced to extend the period because it is a complicated case involving a huge sum of money and several foreigners.

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