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Wisconsin man indicted over $3.75 million Las Vegas gambling debt

Wed, Feb 10, 2010 (3:56 p.m.)

A Wisconsin man has been indicted by a grand jury in connection with gambling markers totaling $3.75 million at two Las Vegas casinos.

Christian Peterson is charged with drawing and passing a check without sufficient funds with intent to defraud, presumptions to defraud and theft, according to an indictment unsealed last week in Clark County District Court.

During an eight-day period in April 2008, Peterson signed three markers totaling $300,000 at the Hard Rock Hotel and a marker for $3.45 million at Caesars Palace, the indictment states. Clark County Deputy District Attorney Bernie Zadrowski said after Peterson failed to comply with a payment plan, a decision was made to move forward with a criminal case.

A lawsuit indicates the method Harrah’s Entertainment used in getting Peterson to sign the marker is being disputed by the company and the gambler.

According to a lawsuit Peterson filed against Harrah’s Entertainment in June 2008, he accuses the company of false imprisonment and inflicting emotional distress, among other charges.

The chain of events started April 20, 2008, when Harrah’s provided Peterson with a jet to Las Vegas, despite the company’s knowledge of his serious gambling problem, the lawsuit claims.

After a few days of gambling at Caesars Palace, Peterson won about $1.5 million, according to the suit. Peterson’s lawsuit doesn't mention the $3.45 million Harrah’s claims he lost during his stay.

Peterson’s Las Vegas attorney, Chris Rasmussen, said his client was heavily intoxicated while gambling and didn’t mean to extend his credit as far as he did.

On the morning of April 22, 2008, Peterson and some friends, including his Wisconsin lawyer, left the hotel casino to board the Harrah’s jet to return home, according to the lawsuit.

Peterson claims in his suit that about 45 minutes into the flight, a flight attendant informed him that the plane was going to have to return to Las Vegas for an emergency landing due to mechanical difficulties. Peterson feared for his life, according to the lawsuit.

When the plane landed, a Harrah’s Entertainment executive and attorney told Peterson he needed to sign a casino marker before leaving. With no other way to return to Wisconsin, the lawsuit claims, Peterson signed the marker.

Rasmussen said Peterson’s Wisconsin lawyer and the waitress on board the plane were witnesses to the claims made in the lawsuit.

Peterson’s June 2008 lawsuit was resolved in November 2009 with a judgment in favor of Harrah’s. Peterson was ordered to pay about $2.6 million — the remainder of his marker after his estimated $1.5 million winnings, plus interest.

Zadrowski, the Clark County deputy district attorney, said a Harrah’s Entertainment vice president testified in front of the grand jury that after repeated calls to Peterson to sign the $3.45 million marker, Peterson left Caesars Palace for the company jet at about 7 a.m. on the day of his departure, hours before his scheduled afternoon flight.

Once the casino realized Peterson had left without signing the marker, a call was made to the pilot to turn the jet around, Zadrowski testified.

When Peterson landed in Las Vegas, he was met with Gaming Control Board agents and Harrah’s executives and was told to sign the marker or he wouldn't be allowed to use the company jet to return to Wisconsin, the Harrah’s vice president said during his testimony.

If convicted, Peterson could face up to 18 years in prison. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 22.

"The people involved in marker cases like these aren’t criminals," Rasmussen said. "They are just people who got too drunk and took out way too much credit."

Harrah's Entertainment spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation. Hard Rock didn't return requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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