By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Half a dozen former employees of a Las Vegas-based gaming company laid off last year say they are still owed about $500,000 in severance pay and other compensation even as the firm continues to receive financial support from high profile investors, including the brother of President Obama’s chief of staff.
One of the former TableMAX Gaming employees, Tyson Wrensch, said efforts to contact current company officials to resolve the compensation issue have not produced any results so far.
Wrensch said he personally is owed about $65,000 for salary and commissions prior to being let go by the firm in August of 2009. Collectively the group is owed an estimated $500,000.
“I keep getting the runaround and that’s not right,” Wrensch said. “A gaming company in Nevada should not be allowed to operate that way.”
TableMAX President and CEO Ron Altbach said today that the company is in the process of offering settlements to the group of former employees.
“We drew up some ideas yesterday,” he said. “We will be contacting each of the employees to come to a resolution. Nobody will be thrilled but I think they will all be satisfied. That’s where we are right now.”
Altbach would not disclose details of the offers, and several former employees say they will reserve judgment. But the former employees also say that the company and its investors have been nonresponsive for months.
“The company has ignored hard working middle class people who worked to make the company a success,” said former employee Sheri Hanks, who is working a temp job in Texas. “That severance pay would have really helped.”
Hanks said that if the offer involves stock in the company it won’t be satisfactory.
“I don’t want stock in a questionable company,” she said.
In response to Altbach’s comments, Wrensch said: “No one at the company has bothered to reach out to me once since I was laid off but it’s just the same story I’ve been hearing about having something soon. TableMAX owes us all our paychecks and we are through being patient.”
TableMAX makes an electronic table game that offers Progressive Blackjack or Caribbean Stud on a large video screen that up to five people can play at one time. Wrensch said the games he placed in several tribal casinos are still in use.
“TableMAX is continuing to make money and earn money off of machines I placed,” Wrensch said. “So there is some frustration in that I’ve been a nice guy but nothing seems to get done.”
One of the major investors in the company is Hollywood powerbroker Ari Emanuel, brother of Rahm Emanuel, who serves as chief of staff to President Barack Obama. An October 2008 Securities Exchange Commission filing identifies Ari Emanuel, who is the model for the fictional Ari Gold on the HBO series “Entourage” as one of the major stockholders in the company.
The filing also shows that TableMAX has a consulting agreement with Ari Emanuel in exchange for common stock.
The TableMAX games are not offered in Nevada casinos and the company does not have a Nevada gaming license. The company let the former employees go at different times during the second half of 2009 and now maintains only minimal staff.
Wrensch’s comments were supported by other former employees, including former Chief Financial Officer Paul Kimmel, who said he is owed about $89,000 for severance pay, accrued vacation and unreimbursed medical costs.
“The company has pretty much stiffed all of us,” he said.
Wrensch said he spoke with Ari Emanuel regarding his situation in July and was referred to the new management that had taken over the day-to-day operations of the firm in late 2009. Wrensch said his calls were never returned.
Ari Emanuel could not be reached for comment.
Altbach said a former company chief executive officer entered into agreements with the former employees that were overly generous by industry standards. The agreements have caused a lot of confusion for the new management. Investors and company officials are trying to get TableMAX back on track, he said.
“We don’t want to be dishonorable,” Altbach said.
Altbach has his own high profile connections as a songwriter and performing member of the Beach Boys dating back to the late 1970s.
The former employees say they are contemplating a lawsuit to recover what they are owed, although that decision will now await a review of the settlement offers. Nevada labor laws cover only unpaid salary and commissions, not severance or other details of individual employee contracts.
One former employee is already involved individually in litigation over his pay.
Wrensch said he has also filed paperwork with the state Labor Commissioner about his back pay and commissions and is awaiting a response.
The company, which is publicly listed, saw its shares worth about $1 in October 2009, but now the company is valued as a penny stock. The stock is not actively traded and was valued at six cents a share as of June 30.
Even so, Wrensch said the company has significant value in its patented intellectual property. Based on those patents, the company is involved in a patent infringement lawsuit with Shuffle Master, another electronic gaming manufacturing company. Filed in April 2009, the lawsuit alleges infringement of patents protecting proprietary electronic devices and system architecture used in TableMAX multiplayer games.
Wrensch and several other employees have found other jobs, although two of the former employees had to relocate out of state to do so. Others have not been as fortunate.
Kimmel said there have been some recent rumors that TableMAX might try to resolve the compensation issue only by offering former employees equity in the company.
But Kimmel, who is still in Las Vegas, though not employed, said that he needs the money owed to him, not equity of questionable value.
“I’m certainly disappointed,” he said. “I think they should make a reasonable attempt to settle with the former employees, with at least a healthy percentage being cash.”
Wrensch said: “It is disappointing that companies like this exist.”
Former TableMAX employee Tyson Wrensch says the company is making money but has not responded to former employees regarding their unpaid compensation:
Wrensch says company executives won’t even return calls: