A casino marker is a line of credit that gaming establishments lend to players to use for gambling at the property. Patrons who fail to repay the marker may face civil action to collect the debt, as well as criminal charges for check fraud or passing bad checks.
In Nevada, debtors face criminal charges under NRS 205.130. Nevada law presumes people to have an “intent to defraud” if there are insufficient funds in their bank account when the casino attempts to redeem their markers.
Nevada’s statute states:
[A] person who willfully, with an intent to defraud, draws or passes a check or draft to obtain … [c]redit extended by any licensed gaming establishment … when the person has insufficient money, property or credit with the drawee of the instrument to pay it in full upon its presentation, is guilty[.]
Not paying back a marker of at least $1,200 is a category D felony in Nevada. It carries:
- 1 -- 4 years in prison, and
- Up to $5,000 in fines, restitution, and administrative fees
Defendants who leave the state to escape charges face extradition to Nevada.
Common defenses to casino marker charges are:
- The marker was invalid, or
- The defendant had no intent to defraud
Nevada casino marker debts may not be discharged through bankruptcy unless the D.A. drops the charges.
Below our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. How do casino markers work?
- 2. What are the criminal penalties under NRS 205.130?
- 3. What are common defenses?
- 4. Can bankruptcy discharge casino marker debt?
- 5. Can casinos sue for unpaid markers?
- 6. Can the criminal record be sealed?
- 7. What if defendants live out of state?
- 8. Can immigrants get deported for unpaid casino markers?
Casino markers are zero-interest loans that casinos extend to patrons as an incentive to gamble. Legally, these lines of credit are treated like checks. Patrons are expected to pay them back within 30 days (usually).1
Practically speaking, casino markers make gambling more convenient. Without these cash advances, patrons would have to carry large amounts of money on their person. Or rely on ATMs and pay extra fees.
Customers wishing to take out markers must fill out a credit line application first.2 For examples in Nevada, see:
- Caesars casino credit application
- Cosmopolitan casino credit application
- Encore credit application
- Mandalay Bay marker limit application
- MGM marker limit application
- Wynn credit marker application
1.1. Casino markers as a crime in Nevada
Nevada makes it a crime under NRS 205.130 to default on casino markers. The offense consists of two elements:
- The defendant willfully and with an intent to defraud took out a casino marker, and
- The defendant had insufficient money in the bank to pay for it3
Nevada law presumes defendants had an intent to defraud if there were insufficient funds in their bank accounts when casinos tried to redeem markers.4 So if a person’s bank account overdrafts, that person is essentially guilty until proven innocent in Nevada.5
The only evidence Nevada courts need to convict someone of unpaid casino markers are the following two slips of paper:
- A copy of the original marker, and
- A copy of the marker once the casino tried unsuccessfully to redeem it (stamped NSF for “not sufficient funds”)
Nevada is the only state where allegedly not making good on casino markers subjects the person to criminal penalties.6
1.2. What happens with unpaid casino markers
Before the state can prosecute for unpaid markers, the following must occur:
- If a casino believes a patron has not paid back a marker in time, then the casino may go directly to the patron’s bank and take the money from the account.
- If the patron’s account has insufficient funds (“NSF”), the casino then sends the patron a certified letter. It gives the patron 10 days since the mailing date to pay. (See an example of a 10-day notice letter for unpaid casino markers.)
- If the patron does not make good on the alleged debt, the casino submits a bad check complaint to the D.A. (See an example of a bad check complaint form.) At this point, the patron may no longer pay any outstanding debt to the casino directly. From now on, the D.A. serves as the middleman between the patron and the casino. And the D.A. must receive any payments the patron may later make. And once the case is in the D.A.’s hands, the D.A. tacks on collection fees to the debt amount.
- The D.A. decides whether to prosecute the patron for allegedly defaulting on casino markers. If so, the D.A. will send the patron another notice by certified mail. It gives the patron another 10 days from the date of the letter to pay. Any restitution must be paid by money order, cashier’s check, or wire transfer. And it should be made payable to the appropriate District Attorney’s office.
- If the 10 days pass with no payment, an arrest warrant will issue.7
1.3. Arrest warrants in casino marker cases
Once an arrest warrant issues for a Nevada casino marker defendant, the police probably will not go searching for the defendant. But there are exceptions. Such as if the defendant is a flight risk. Or has a long criminal history.
In most cases, the D.A. will mail the defendant a summons with notice of the warrant. The summons will contain instructions to appear in the appropriate Nevada court on a specified date. But during this time while the warrant is outstanding, the defendant is still vulnerable to arrest. This typically occurs during traffic stops after the police run a warrant check.
It is important that the defendant arrives at court on the summons date with an attorney. An attorney may be able to persuade the judge to waive bail. This is called an O.R. (own recognizance) release. Otherwise, defendants who show up without an attorney are more likely to get booked at jail. And the bail amount will be the total sum of the alleged casino marker debt.
If the defendant misses the scheduled court date on the summons, the police might then make more of an effort to locate and arrest the defendant. And because the defendant missed a court appearance, the judge would be less likely to grant the defendant an O.R. release later on.8
Unlike in other states, failing to pay a casino marker in Nevada is a crime. The punishment turns on the amount of the marker.
Nevada casino marker
Penalties for non-payment
|Less than $1,200||Misdemeanor:|
|$1,200 or higher|| Category B felony:|
Suspects face separate charges for each unpaid casino marker. Not just one charge for the entire debt.
Example: John defaults on a $5,000 marker and a $20,000 marker from Bellagio. Neither marker is for less than $1,200. So the Clark County D.A. prosecutes John for two felonies. If John gets convicted, a judge may sentence him to:
- Up to eight years in prison -- up to four years for each marker,
- $25,000 in restitution (the total value of both markers),
- Up to $10,000 in fines (up to $5,000 for each marker), and
- $2,250 in administrative fines (5% of the smaller marker plus 10% of the larger)
Nevada D.A.s understand that defaulted markers are non-violent offenses. And they realize that incarcerated defendants cannot earn money to pay back the casinos. Therefore, prosecutors are usually willing to resolve casino marker cases.
If the defendant has no prior casino marker cases and behaves cooperatively, prosecutors may be willing to set up a monthly payment plan. Once the casinos get reimbursed in full, the D.A. may dismiss the charges.
However, repeat casino marker offenders may not be able to escape prosecution even if they pay everything back. The D.A. may request that the defendant remains on probation for a few years and be barred from entering Nevada casinos to gamble.
Another option D.A.s may consider is this plea bargain: The defendant pleads guilty to a gross misdemeanor and signs a civil confession of judgment. This is a legal admission that the defendant owes the casinos money. This way, the only way casinos can pursue their money is through suing the defendant in civil court.
The advantage of this approach is that the defendant forgoes prison by being on probation. And the casino may decide not to take the trouble and expense of suing the defendant after all. Especially if the defendant is judgment-proof.
Two common ways to fight Nevada casino marker charges are to argue that:
- The marker was facially invalid, or
- There was no intent to defraud
3.1. Invalid marker
Sometimes casinos issue markers that do not qualify as checks under Nevada law. In those instances, courts should not convict people for neglecting to pay them. Markers are invalid if they:
- Do not show: The payee (the casino). The date. The amount of money. Or the defendant’s signature;11
- Are pre-dated or post-dated.12 Or an agreement was made to hold the check for later payment;
- Are unclear as to the identities of the defendant or the casino;
- Have been altered. Or look like forgeries; and/or
- Are for preexisting debt.13 And the casino suffered no monetary injury14
If the defense attorney can show that the markers fall outside of Nevada’s bad check laws, the D.A. should dismiss the case.
3.2. No intent to defraud
Nevada courts should not convict defendants of unpaid casino markers if they had no intent to defraud. However, this is a difficult defense strategy. The law presumes that defendants had the intent to defraud if their bank accounts had insufficient funds when the casino tried to redeem the markers.15
But it may be possible to overcome the presumption of intent to defraud. The following circumstances are not full defenses. But they may chip away at the state’s argument that a defendant intended to defraud the casino:
- The defendant had a long, harmonious history of reimbursing casino markers;
- The defendant fell ill after having taken out the markers. And the defendant was physically unable to repay them;
- The casino intoxicated the defendant with alcohol. This compromised the defendant’s judgment when taking out the casino marker;16
- The defendant’s bank records show that the defendant had sufficient funds to pay the marker at the time the casino granted the marker;17 and/or
- The casino knew the defendant had insufficient funds18
Various defendants in past casino marker cases have challenged whether markers are indeed “checks.”19 They argued that NRS 205.130 violates equal protection.20 And they argued that it creates an unconstitutional debtor’s prison. So far Nevada courts have rejected these positions.
It depends on the state and circumstances.
In Nevada, a casino marker debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy unless:
- The criminal charges get dismissed; or
- The D.A. never prosecutes the case21
Therefore, filing for bankruptcy in Nevada will not cause a casino marker criminal case to go away. And as long as a criminal case is pending, filing for bankruptcy does not eliminate the debt.
In other states where unpaid markers are not a crime, people might be able to discharge their debt in bankruptcy. But the trustee will have a large say in this.
Yes. In Nevada though, most casinos do not sue. They allow the District Attorney to be their debt collector. One exception is Sands casinos (including Las Vegas’s Venetian). They do sue defendants for:
- Breach of contract; and
- Unjust enrichment22
However, Sands typically withdraws these lawsuits if the criminal case resolves.
Nevada permits record sealing of casino marker cases. If the charge gets dismissed, defendants can pursue a seal right away.23 If the defendant gets convicted, there is a waiting period:
Felony convictions are sealable five years after the case ends. And misdemeanor convictions are sealable one year after the case ends.24
Defendants usually must appear in Nevada court for felony arraignments. This is true even if they hire local counsel.
If defendants do not appear, courts will issue a warrant. Then they are vulnerable to arrest in all other states -- even though those states do not criminalize unpaid markers.25
Nevada takes casino marker cases very seriously. State police work with out-of-state police to effectuate arrests.
Every state has its own extradition laws. Some states may release fugitives on bail pending extradition. (Like Florida and Hawaii.) But other states may not. (Like California).
Negotiating marker cases is easier when defendants are out of custody. Therefore, defendants should retain counsel as soon as possible. And they should try to appear in person at all required court hearings.
Yes, especially if the conviction is for a felony. Non-payment of markers is a crime involving moral turpitude. This is because it involves intent to defraud.26
Non-citizens facing charges should consult with an attorney. A lawyer can negotiate with the D.A. Perhaps they can work out a financial settlement. And the D.A. may agree to drop the case. This way, aliens could avoid removal.
People struggling with a gambling addiction may want to look into joining Gamblers Anonymous.
Our attorneys serve our clients’ throughout: Clark County. Washoe County. Las Vegas. Henderson. North Las Vegas. Mesquite. Boulder City. Laughlin. Searchlight. Moapa. Carson City. Reno. Pahrump. And elsewhere in Nye County.
- Fleeger v. Bell, 2001, 23 Fed.Appx. 741, 2001 WL 1491252 (Under Nevada law, a marker is a check.). In the 1990s, the Nevada legislature changed the law to give casino markers the same legal status as checks. Therefore, casinos could now draw on a patron’s bank account if they did not repay their casino markers in time.
- Nguyen v. State, 116 Nev. 1171, 1172-1173 (2000).
- NRS 205.130.
- NRS 205.132.
- Nguyen v. State, 116 Nev. 1171, 1173 (2000) (“The practice of allowing a customer to pay gaming debts with a second check is a matter of courtesy and convenience to the customer.”).
- In 1995, the Clark County District Attorney began criminally prosecuting bad check cases. The rationale was that debtors would be more likely to pay up if they were threatened with prison. It is now standard practice for Las Vegas casinos to seek repayment first through the Clark County D.A.’s Bad Check Unit. The D.A. is basically the casino’s debt collector. Instead of hiring their own lawyers, casinos use the D.A. to recover private funds. Some federal courts in other states do not consider unpaid casino markers to be “bad checks” at all. Therefore, the only recourse casinos in other states use to recover casino marker debts is the civil court system. Christina DiEdoardo, “Gambling Markers: A convenience for some, and a nightmare for others,” Las Vegas Review-Journal (January 14, 2001). Nelson Rose, “In Nevada, It’s Pay your Markers or Go To Jail,” Gaming Law Review, Vol 5, Issue 5, p. 425 -- 426 (October 2001).
- Clark County D.A. Bad Check Unit.
- Id. A criminal defense attorney may also be able to persuade the judge to forgo having the defendant booked at jail to get fingerprints and a mug shot in favor of doing a quick walk-through at a sheriff’s office.
- NRS 193.150.
- NRS 205.130.
- Nguyen v. State, 116 Nev. 1171, 1175-1176 (2000).
- Nguyen v. State, 116 Nev. 1171, 1177 (2000).
- State v. Jarman, 84 Nev. 187, 189 (1968) (“we hold that NRS 205.130(1) does not apply to checks given for pre-existing debts.'”).
- Hoyt v. Hoffman, 82 Nev. 270, 272 (1966).
- Nguyen v. State, 116 Nev. 1171, 1176 (2000).
- NRS 463.368.
- Burke v. State, 96 Nev. 449, 452 (1980).
- Zahavi v. State, 131 Nev. Advance Opinion 2 (2015).
- Nguyen v. State, 116 Nev. 1171, 1175 (2000).
- Nguyen v. State, 116 Nev. 1171, 1178 (2000); Parkus v. State, 88 Nev. 553, 554 (1972) (“We therefore hold that NRS 205.130(1) is not vague and unconstitutional.”).
- Vernon Nelson, “Casino debtors will not find a haven from Nevada’s bad check statute in bankruptcy,” Nevada Gaming Lawyer (September, 2013)
- NRS 179.245.
- NRS 179.255.
- Anthony N. Cabot, “Casino Collection Lawsuits: The Basics,” Gaming Law Review, 4(4): 319-331 (2000).
- See, e.g., Nguyen v. State, 116 Nev. 1171 (2000), and Fleeger v. Bell, 2001, 23 Fed.Appx. 741, 2001 WL 1491252. Both defendants were extradited from other states on a Nevada arrest warrant for unpaid casino markers; U.S. Constitution, Article. IV., Section. 1. (“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”).
- 8 U.S.C. § 1227 (a)(2)(A)(iii); 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43); 8 U.S.C. § 1227 (a)(2)(A)(i); INA § 237(a)(2)(A); 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2)(A).