Nevada Supreme Court rejects high roller's appeal over gambling debts owed to 4 Vegas resorts

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CARSON CITY, Nevada — The Nevada Supreme Court has denied an appeal by a high roller accused of failing to pay $384,000 in gambling debts to four Las Vegas casinos.

Harel Zahavi, a former ice cream mogul in Southern California, was ordered to pay $379,000 in restitution after being convicted in 2011 of four felony counts of passing a check without sufficient funds with the intent to defraud.

In his appeal, he challenged a 1995 state law that serves as a model for other states with casinos by allowing Nevada resorts to turn to county prosecutors to collect unpaid gambling debts.

At issue were IOUs Zahavi signed at the Venetian, Caesars Palace, Hard Rock and Palazzo. Written IOUs, known as casino markers, are treated like bad checks under the law.

Zahavi argues casino markers are short-term business loans, not personal checks, because casinos routinely hold them for several months before redeeming them. Loan disputes are handled in civil court, while bad checks can be prosecuted criminally.

But justices ruled Thursday that when Zahavi signed the markers, he guaranteed "there were sufficient funds available such that the markers were payable upon demand and could be executed at any time," the Las Vegas Sun reported (http://bit.ly/1zQHsBy ).

His attorney, Matthew Lay, said during oral arguments before justices in 2013 that Zahavi did not read the fine print and had no intent to defraud the casinos.

Casino executives had access to information about Zahavi's finances and knew about his increasing inability to pay after he lost his ice cream business in a distribution dispute in 2004, he said.

Zahavi, a longtime casino customer who played baccarat, struggled to pay $700,000 in casino debts in 2008. Just weeks later, the Venetian, Caesars Palace, Hard Rock and Palazzo extended him the hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of credit that led to the criminal charges and his conviction by a Las Vegas jury, according to court documents.

Zahavi was spared prison time, but also was banned from casinos and sentenced to five years of probation.


Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com

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