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Vegas Casino Loses House Edge on Blackjack Debt

(CN) - A California gambler got a lucky break from the 9th Circuit on Tuesday in his fight against the Venetian casino in Las Vegas, which has been trying to collect on a $500,000 gambling debt that the man rang up in one day of blackjack.

Amine Nehme signed a casino marker for a $500,000 loan at the Venetian on Labor Day 2005. By the end of the day, Nehme had exchanged the entire marker for chips and lost them all playing blackjack.

Several months later the Las Vegas Sands dba Venetian Resort Hotel Casino billed Nehme for the loss, and filed suit in 2007 when Nehme refused to pay.

The district court received evidence from Nehme that suggests the casino should not have extended Nehme's line of credit, but the judge ruled to exclude the evidence and granted summary judgment to the Venetian.

Nehme's motion for summary judgment, which was rejected by the trial court, included an unsigned letter that predated the unpaid marker by seven months.

The Feb. 5, 2005 letter, which is attributed to Leon Bennett, a purported attorney for Nehme, directed the Venetian to cancel Nehme's credit account - which had been paid in full since Nehme opened it in 2004 - and not to renew it under any circumstances.

Along with the letter, Nehme presented a return receipt from the U.S. Postal Service suggesting that the Venetian had received the letter.

Since the casino extended the $500,000 credit to him in 2005, Nehme said it had breached the parties' credit application agreement. He argued that he should be released from the debt because the Venetian was legally obligated to cancel his line of credit after receiving the letter.

On appeal, the three-judge federal appeals panel in San Francisco chided the district court for refusing to consider the letter or the postal receipt, which the lower court deemed were not properly authenticated.

"Because the district court excluded the unsigned Bennett letter and its return receipt under an incorrect legal standard, and because under the correct legal standard those two items might be received in evidence - and if so, raise triable issues of material fact - as to Nehme's affirmative defense against the Venetian based on an alleged material breach of their credit application agreement, we reverse and remand to the district court to apply the correct legal standard," Judge Carlos Bea wrote for the panel.

The district court excluded the letter and receipt because they could not be authenticated by "a competent witness with personal knowledge of their authenticity." But Nehme was not required to authenticate the documents in this way, the panel found.

"The Bennett letter was attached as an exhibit to Nehme's opposition to the Venetian's motion for summary judgment, and the return receipt for that letter was attached as an exhibit to Nehme's cross-motion for summary judgment," Bea wrote. "Neither was attached as an exhibit to an affidavit of a person offering his personal knowledge of how the document was prepared as the basis for the court to find the document is authentic. Thus, the district court applied an incorrect legal standard because ... the Bennett letter and its return receipt could have been authenticated by review of their contents if they appeared to be sufficiently genuine."

The panel remanded the case to district court to determine, "whether the Bennett letter and its return receipt are admissible ... and if so, whether Nehme can prevail on his affirmative defense against the Venetian based on an alleged material breach of the credit application agreement."

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