Casino ATM operators sued amid questions about plaintiffs’ motives

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two patrons of the Grand Victoria Riverboat Casino play slots next to one of several ATMs in 1999 in Elgin, Ill.

Even as questions swirl about their validity, more lawsuits were filed Friday over Nevada casino ATMs that may have lacked notices about surcharges.

Three lawsuits seeking class-action status were filed in U.S. District Court against Las Vegas-based casino ATM operator Global Cash Access Inc.

Each of the suits involved a different ATM at Planet Hollywood hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

The suits were filed by attorneys Joseph Gutierrez in Las Vegas and Mark Golovach in San Diego. The plaintiffs are Steve and Sandra Klemetson and Damon Terrell, all of Riverside County, Calif.

The suits say the plaintiffs used separate ATM machines at the casino and were each charged a $4.99 surcharge for withdrawing cash. They allege violations of the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act since, according to the plaintiffs, notices weren’t posted on the machines warning consumers of the surcharge.

The suits seek unspecified damages on behalf of the three proposed classes of plaintiffs who used the three machines as well as costs and attorney’s fees.

The same attorneys filed two lawsuits on behalf of Steve Klemetson in April against the Golden Nugget Laughlin and ATM operators there targeting the same alleged violations involving two ATM machines.

In those lawsuits, the Golden Nugget is fighting back and has claimed Klemetson lacked standing to sue because it believes the only reason he used its ATMs was to incite lawsuits.

''Plaintiff initiated the alleged ATM transaction with actual knowledge that a fee would be charged and engaged in the transaction for the non-consumer purpose of creating a class action claim for statutory penalties and attorney’s fees,'' said May 24 court filings by attorney Kara Hendricks of the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP in Las Vegas, representing the Golden Nugget.

Hendricks also argued Klemetson’s suits are barred by his ''unclean hands'' since he paid surcharges only after he was warned of them by on-screen notices and pushed a button to voluntarily proceed with the transactions.

A request for comment on these assertions was placed with Klemetson’s attorneys.

Global Cash Access, in the meantime, said in a statement Friday about the new lawsuits that it will be looking into them.

"At this time, we are reviewing the allegations in the complaints and intend to vigorously defend these lawsuits. We take our compliance obligations very seriously, and we routinely survey our ATMs to ensure that the appropriate physical labeling and notices are affixed to the ATMs that we operate," the company said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time GCA has had to deal with a lawsuit over the fee disclosure issue. In 2010 it or its insurers spent $500,000 to settle a class-action suit filed by a patron at the Meadows Casino in Pennsylvania. The company didn’t admit liability in that case.

And Terrell, one of the plaintiffs in Friday’s lawsuits, is also a plaintiff in seven lawsuits filed last year in California — including two against Global Cash Access. The GCA cases involve separate ATMs at the Pechanga casino in Temecula, Calif.

One of his suits, not involving GCA, was against the Commerce Casino in the Los Angeles area. Golovach represented Terrell in all seven lawsuits.

Friday's lawsuits are on top of 17 suits filed in federal court in Las Vegas last October by a Los Angeles County man, Thomas Chayra, alleging ATM fee disclosure violations at casinos and other businesses around Southern Nevada.

Most of those suits are still being litigated. He's represented by Las Vegas attorney Mark Henness.

The ATM industry, in the meantime, is hoping Congress will this session pass a bill ending what the industry calls ''frivolous'' ATM lawsuits.

In a statement last month, the House Financial Services Committee said it had approved bipartisan legislation eliminating ''a redundant fee disclosure requirement.''

''The current law, which requires a sticker or sign about transaction fees to be attached to the ATM in addition to an on-screen notice, has spawned lawsuits by enterprising plaintiffs and vandals who remove the sticker or sign so they can then sue the ATM operator for being in violation of the law,'' the committee said, adding consumers would still be protected since they can still decline to execute transactions involving surcharges by following on-screen prompts.

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  1. This is like saying the coffee was too hot that I just dumped on my lap. Coffee as suppose to be hot. The same for ATM machines there is a fee unless your bank or credit card pays you back. You get a notice on the screen which tells you what it cost and a selection Yes or No to proceed. If you choose NO then the process is not completed. How much more plain is that it is not like when the gas companies held your card hostage after using it at the Gas Pump. That was illegal and they posted nothing. I think the lawyers involved in this ought to have a warning sticker on them.

  2. IMO, the mere presence of an ATM, anywhere but on issuing-bank property, is adequate warning that a fee is likely to be charged.

    If our legal system provided for "loser pays"--especially when the merits of the action are questionable--such actions would be a lot less frequent.