Supreme Court will not hear NM casino dispute

By Sue Major Holmes
Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) October 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a New Mexico case in which a man sued Sandia Resort and Casino over what the tribe characterized as a malfunctioning slot machine that had displayed a $1.6 million jackpot.

Attorney Sam Bregman, who represents retired Albuquerque city worker Gary Hoffman, said recently that the Supreme Court’s refusal to take the case ends Hoffman’s legal battle.

He said his client is disappointed.

“The law of the land in New Mexico is if someone’s not paid at a Native American casino, they have very little recourse,” Bregman said.

Sandia attorney David Mielke said the Supreme Court’s decision “was hardly a surprise, given the clear language” of the state gaming compact with tribes and federal law.

A state district court had dismissed Hoffman’s lawsuit, and the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld that decision.

The rulings supported Sandia Pueblo’s position the tribe can’t be sued because of its sovereign immunity. The state Supreme Court declined to take the case.

Some immunity is waived under New Mexico’s tribal gaming compact but those instances are limited to personal liability, such as slip-and-fall lawsuits, and issues involving damage to property, Mielke has said.

Hoffman’s dispute started in 2006, when he thought he had won $1.6 million on a nickel slot machine at Sandia Pueblo’s casino just north of Albuquerque, only to be told by casino managers the machine had malfunctioned.

Bregman said Hoffman received $385 and two dinner passes.

Mielke has said the particular slot machine offered a maximum payout of $2,500, and a disclaimer mounted on the front panel of the machine told gamblers that.

The Sandia casino “values its customers but that doesn’t mean someone playing a nickel slot machine is going to get a $1.6 million payout when a machine malfunctions,” he said last week.