Pit Boss

Casino lawyer Nick Casiello’s clients always seem to hit the jackpot

Published in 2005 New Jersey Super Lawyers — May 2005

They’re old stories, but they say a lot. They’re two anecdotes that have made a legal career that continues to exert a gravitational pull on casino gaming in New Jersey.

Story number one: A young attorney, fresh from a Superior Court clerkship, lands at a firm in Atlantic City as the gambling industry is trying to find its legal and social legs. Said attorney is practicing commercial litigation and real estate, but when a casino client walks in, the partners look at the new guy and say, “You figure it out.”

He puts his head down and helps prepare the client, and the firm, for a licensing hearing before the Casino Control Commission (CCC). When it comes time for the hearing, the partner who was going to take the lead has a conflict. The new guy doesn’t just make the appearance, he handles it with style.

That’s how it started for Nicholas Casiello Jr., a partner at Fox Rothschild in Atlantic City. Some 25 years later Casiello is The Man when it comes to casino law. He’s made hundreds of appearances before the CCC, probably more than any other attorney. He’s an authority on gaming not just in New Jersey but around the globe, advising companies in Australia, in the Caribbean and across the United States.

Casiello’s impact is difficult to overstate. Clearly, New Jersey’s casino law bears the imprint of his efforts and thoughts.

Story number two: A client wants to run a gaming tournament in Atlantic City. The CCC and the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) think it’s flat-out illegal. The odds are against him, but the client wants a hearing. During preparation, he says to Casiello, “When I’m in a fight, I like my attorney to have an interest in the outcome.”

Casiello says, “You’d better believe I have a stake in this. It’s important to me.”

“No,” replies the client. “I mean a real interest. How about double or nothing? For the fee.”

He’s serious.

“But … I’m only an associate,” Casiello says. “I can’t make those kinds of deals.”

Casiello takes it to his supervising partner. The partner approves it. The morning of the hearing that would decide the outcome, as he’s walking out of the office, the partner looks at him and says, “Good luck. And if you lose, don’t come back.” Then he smiles.

Casiello won.

Though Casiello travels the world for clients, in some ways he never really leaves the sand dune known as Absecon Island. He found a home, and he stayed.

“I liked the area, and with casino gaming, it looked like an exciting place to be,” he says.

Casiello handles all aspects of gaming law — licensing, acquisitions and financing — and has represented three companies in their initial casino license applications in New Jersey. Always good at the hard sciences, he spends a lot of time working on the approvals of new slot machines, which are technically complicated compared to the old days.

“Things have changed a lot,” he says. “The regulations are better. Mundane matters are left to the [CCC] staff now. On the other hand the work can be more technical when it comes to things like getting new slot machines approved. The equipment is so much more complicated now, and security and operational issues are much more complex.”

In person Casiello is straightforward and personable. He acts just how he likes the casino regulations to be: practical and reasonable. He wants the regulations to be true to gaming’s charter to help the community, but also fair to companies. He says other venues could learn a lot from New Jersey.

“The DGE and the CCC — they’re the best I’ve seen, hands down,” he says.

He’s not big on gossip but does tell a story about TV personality Merv Griffin, former owner of Resorts International Hotel & Casino and creator of “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.”

He recalls prepping Griffin for a hearing — or trying to. Griffin was ordering room service and talking on the phone and gabbing with aides and simultaneously doing a few other things. Finally Casiello looked at him and said, “Merv, this is important! You have to listen to me.”

Griffin stopped everything, looked at Casiello and said, “Nick, I have been listening.” Then he repeated, word-for-word, everything Casiello said in the last two minutes.

“An absolutely wonderful guy,” says Casiello. “Very down to earth. Extremely smart and extremely funny.”

Stay tuned. Casiello will no doubt be involved in more memorable stories in the coming years. And if you’re a client of his, you’ve got to like your odds.

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