MADISON - A high-flying Madison-area businessman plans to plead not guilty Monday in Las Vegas to running from $3.75 million in gambling debts, a criminal charge brought last week in an indictment that stems from a gambling spree in 2008.
Christian Peterson, of Verona, once involved in restaurants, a hotel, an indoor golf dome and development of property for a Target store in Fitchburg, operates the Pancake Cafe, also in Fitchburg. He was named in a criminal indictment in Clark County (Nev.) District Court on Feb. 3.
Peterson's Las Vegas lawyer, Chris Rasmussen, said Thursday "there are a lot of facts in dispute" in the indictment, which accuses Peterson of signing markers - credit from the casino in the form of check, a "pay on demand" note - at the Hard Rock Hotel for $300,000 and at Caesars Palace for $3.45 million. Not paying a marker is treated as a bad check in Las Vegas, Rasmussen said.
Peterson would not comment, and referred a reporter's call to his Madison lawyer, Dean Strang, who said Peterson "is taking this very seriously. It is just one of those Las Vegas things," he said.
Peterson was in the news last year showcasing what he called the "American Dream" reality TV show at one of his restaurants, Good Times in Fitchburg. Contestants came from across the Midwest to run the restaurant, with the winner supposedly becoming part owner as a prize. The show was never broadcast.
The indictment accuses Peterson of signing markers totaling $3.75 million during an eight-day period in April 2008, according to a Las Vegas Sun report Feb. 10. That spree was also the topic of a civil lawsuit, filed by Peterson against Harrah's Entertainment, which owns Caesars Palace.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in June 2008 that Peterson said he was a gambling addict who routinely plays blackjack for $25,000 a hand, and claimed he won $1.5 million at Caesars Palace. The casino, however, contended Peterson ran up a $3.45 million gambling debt and refused to sign markers for that amount. After Peterson left - on a casino-owned jet back to Wisconsin - the plane turned around and returned to Las Vegas, where Peterson claims he was told he had to sign the $3.45 million marker.
That lawsuit, in which Peterson accused Harrah's of false imprisonment and other charges, was resolved in November 2009, in favor of the casino, and Peterson was ordered to pay $2.6 million, according to the Feb. 10 article in the Sun.
Neither Strang nor Rasmussen would comment on the earlier lawsuit, but Rasmussen said Peterson signed the markers in question "under duress."
"He did not receive credit in that amount," Rasmussen said, adding that Peterson didn't have a history of playing such large amounts.
"In fact (the casino) still has over a million on account that belongs to Mr. Peterson," he said.
Clark County Deputy District Attorney Bernie Zadrowski, who heads the bad check unit, said Thursday that facts of the civil case are reflected in the criminal charges, with an added "intent to defraud."
"Part of the evidence is that he tried to get out of town without signing his markers after repeatedly being requested by the casino to sign his markers," Zadrowski said. "He tried to move the time of flight up to avoid further requests from the casino.
"He thought he was home free but the pilot turned the (casino's) plane around and brought it back," he said.