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State Supreme Court declares fine against casino employee unconstitutional

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 5:21 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday called a $75,000 fine that an Allegheny County judge dealt to a former Rivers Casino poker dealer “unconstitutionally excessive,” considering he stole $200 in poker chips, and sent the case back for an “appropriate fine.”

Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams III ordered Matthew Steven Eisenberg, 27, of Shadyside to serve a year on probation and pay the $75,000 fine in July 2011 after Eisenberg pleaded guilty to stealing chips off his table at the North Shore casino.

The count to which he pleaded guilty, unlawful taking, is covered under the Pennsylvania Gaming Act and requires the fine.

A spokesman for Rivers Casino declined comment as did Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Investigators said Eisenberg was seen on video surveillance cameras taking chips off the table and putting them into his personal tip box. They said he'd take a $1 or $5 chip from the pot and slide it into the pile of discarded cards. When the hand was over and the pot pushed to the winner, they said Eisenberg would clear the cards from the table — taking the chip from the pot with them — and put the chip into his tip box. Police said he used the sleight-of-hand trick 108 times over a five-day period in November 2010.

Eisenberg's lawyer, Michael Santicola, could not be reached. At the time of sentencing, Santicola told Williams that he believed the fine was unconstitutional.

“There's nothing that comes close to imposing a fine that we have here,” he told the judge. “For example, we could steal, you know, $10,000 from a church. We could steal $20,000 from a mom-and-pop store down the street. We could steal $10,000 from this courtroom or from anybody in this courtroom. The fine is not $75,000.”

Williams told Santicola he believed the case “will not end today” and that he “agreed in large part” with him but had no discretion on the fine.

The Supreme Court decision, authored by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, says although “mandatory fines are not unheard of ... they are unusual.”

“In our view, the fine here, when measured against the conduct triggering the punishment, and the lack of discretion afforded the trial court, is constitutionally excessive,” he wrote.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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