Gambler sues casino over his depiction on reality TV show - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

A professional gambler has filed suit against Green Valley Ranch Station Casino, claiming that he has been banned from other casinos and gambling tournaments because he was depicted as a cheat on a reality show profiling the Henderson property.

Joseph Pane, a retired Brooklyn cop who travels the country playing blackjack tournaments, filed suit in Clark County District Court April 6 seeking "profits connected with the airing of his likeness as well as punitive damages."

The suit centers on a particular episode of the Discovery Channel series "American Casino" that depicted a high-end blackjack tournament at Green Valley Ranch. In an interview about the suit, Pane said he participated in another blackjack tournament for locals that was held the same day as the high-end tournament and was asked to sign a release so that he could be taped for the show.

Pane said he was filmed playing blackjack prior to show producers asking him to sign the release. When producers approached Pane, they told him they wanted to tape the action at the final table.

He was told that the segment would "spotlight the fun and excitement of a blackjack tournament" and that "his play at the table should be boisterous and he should exhibit braggadocio throughout the play," the suit said.

Instead, casino management intended to "paint (Pane) as a cheater, an undesirable, and someone who dirties up games," it said.

Green Valley Ranch operator and half-owner Station Casinos Inc. declined to comment on the suit, which names a host and casino manager employed at the property as well as top executives at the company. "American Casino" producer Pilgrim Films & Television, also named in the suit, declined comment. Defendant Discovery Communications Inc., which airs the show on its Discovery Channel network, could not be reached for comment.

Pane said the show, which is largely scripted, was edited to make it appear as though he had slipped into the high-end blackjack tournament. He said he was labeled as a cheat to spice up what would have otherwise been an ordinary episode about a tournament.

Green Valley Ranch employees call Pane an "undesirable" and a "bad guy" during the episode, the suit said.

Another employee said Pane had been "run out of every place in town, practically."

Pane's features are blurred in the episode to partially hide his identity.

But Pane said that wasn't enough to keep him from getting kicked out of two Las Vegas casinos and barred from blackjack tournaments since the episode aired last June.

"I'm a big buy with curly hair and a distinct accent," he said. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out it was me."

Pane moved from New York to Henderson in 2000 to be closer to major blackjack tournaments. He makes a living playing in tournaments and claims to have accumulated more than $500,000 in winnings.

Pane said he has never cheated, nor has he ever been accused of cheating. He said he was also welcomed as a regular at Green Valley Ranch and played other casino games.

"Since this incident it's been a hell for me out here," Pane said. "Now I'm public enemy No. 1. My whole life has been in law enforcement catching bad guys and now I'm being treated like one.

"Whenever I walk into a casino I'm afraid they're going to throw me out," he said. "If friends call me up to go out to dinner I wonder whether I'm going to have to sneak in through a back door."

Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor consumer newsletter, said local casino-based reality shows have largely been staged and that appearance waivers typically allow producers the flexibility to use the content as they see fit.

Curtis, who was taped for a scene in another casino-based show, said participants generally know where the episode is headed because the activity is scripted.

"They set a basic outline for the situation and then they go free form," he said.

In his suit, Pane called the casino's actions "willful and malicious" as well as "despicable to the extreme."

"I'm accused of being a felon on national television," he said. "I never signed a release to that."

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