A gambler at a tribal casino in Alpine, Calif., bottom, contends she won a 2016 Aston Martin Vantage GT in a drawing. The casino says she broke the contest rules.
Send us a LetterHave an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.
Suppose you thought you won a $134,000 car in a casino drawing, but the dealership involved in the competition refused to turn over the keys? And to make matters worse, you still got hit with possible tax liability based on the vehicle’s value.
That’s what Merida Manipoun, a gambler at a tribal casino in Alpine, Calif., contends happened in May 2016 when she didn’t get the 2016 Aston Martin Vantage GT she believes she won. The following November, she sued the Aston Martin store that participated in the promotion for fraud, conspiracy and breach-of-contract damages.
But Aston Martin of San Diego and contest organizer Viejas Casino & Resort, which is owned by the Kumeyaay tribe, say Manipoun was disqualified because she disobeyed the rules of the competition.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia of the Southern District of California declined to dismiss the suit against the store and its salesman on procedural grounds, but their lawyer said he’ll ask to have it tossed out as baseless.
Manipoun “failed to identify any evidence that supports her fraud claim against the casino and the dealership,” dealership lawyer Phillip Samouris, of San Diego, told Automotive News. “She admitted at her recent deposition that the dealership and the casino employees made no substantive statements to her, let alone any fraudulent statements.”
Viejas Casino wasn’t sued because its tribal ownership protects it from liability, Lonnie Vining, Manipoun’s lawyer, told Automotive News.
Samouris said the casino reversed its mistaken issuance of the 1099 tax form, and Manipoun “should not have experienced any tax liability.”
But Vining said the IRS still considers the taxes “due and owing.” Here’s Manipoun’s version of events as laid out in court filings:
She said she spent a large amount of money playing various slot machines. Doing so, she thought, would increase her odds in the car drawing.
When Manipoun’s name was drawn, she was publicly congratulated and posed for promotional photos, according to her account in the court documents.
But she claims she was then “escorted into a back room and subjected to a high-pressure sales pitch” in an effort to persuade her to “forego her entitlement to the car” and to accept minimal cash compensation instead “on the apparent theory that would afford her appreciable tax benefits.” She refused to give up her claim on the car, and when she went to the dealership to pick up the vehicle, dealership associates said they did not have paperwork that proved her entitlement to the car and could therefore not give it to her.
The defendants offer a contrary version:
Manipoun broke the rule requiring entrants to use the casino’s loyalty club card and only their own betting on the slots to earn more chances to win.
Samouris said Manipoun’s “companion played on her casino rewards card in clear violation of the casino’s rules, thereby improperly gaining entries in the drawing.” Surveillance footage corroborated that, according to a court filing.
The dealership wasn’t involved in the disqualification decision, Samouris said. He said dealerships make money in promotions only when cars are given away. “Thus they have no reason to prevent casino patrons from winning cars — they certainly have not done so.”