PA Court Overturns Fine for Poker Dealer Who Stole Chips

August 22nd, 2014 | by Brian Corlisse
Rivers Casino, Pittsburgh

Eisenberg stole $200 in chips while dealing at the poker tables at Rivers Casino

The theft of poker chips deserves punishment, but it seems there’s a limit to just how much you can do to a dealer who swipes a couple betting disks off the felt.

And apparently, that limit is well below 375 times the amount you stole.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a mandatory $75,000 fine that was levied against a poker dealer at the Rivers Casino, who was convicted of stealing $200 in chips, was unconstitutional and out of line with how criminals are normally punished throughout the state.

A Strikingly Disproportionate Punishment

“The fine at issue here, both in an absolute sense and in a comparative sense, is strikingly disproportionate to the manner in which other crimes are punished in Pennsylvania,” wrote Chief Justice Ronald Castille in the unanimous opinion. “That the fine is mandatory merely exacerbates the disproportion.”

The case in question involved Matthew Eisenberg, a poker dealer at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.

He was charged with sneaking $1 and $5 chips of the table and sliding them into his tip box a total of 108 times, which resulted in a total theft of $200.

Ultimately, Eisenberg pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of unlawful taking. He received his fine in July 2011, about nine months after he was charged.

Mandatory Minimums Set Fine

That fine was set at $75,000, causing Eisenberg to cry foul.

His lawyer, Michael Santicola, argued that had he pleaded guilty to stealing $200 from any other entity in the state other than a casino, his fine would have been no more than $10,000, and there would have been no mandatory minimum.

That led Santicola, at the time of the sentencing, to argue that the mandatory minimum was excessive.

“What we’re doing here, we’re protecting the rights of the casino,” he said. “We have — the Legislature has placed the casino above everybody else in Pennsylvania.”

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