Donato “Dan” Dandreo III, the man who owned and operated the now-closed Cheers Poker Room and Casino is suing Carl and Anthony Berni, his former landlords who evicted him from the Salem property in January 2019.
The civil complaint, filed in Rockingham County Superior Court on April 28, alleges the Bernis enriched themselves unjustly at Dandreo’s expense, committed fraud and deception and unfair business practices. Dandreo is seeking more than $170 million in damages, plus the casino property.
The filing is 174 pages with multiple exhibits including the lease, photos and multiple emails and text messages. Dandreo wrote and filed it himself.
It lists Carl Berni and his brother Anthony Berni as individual defendants, along with their commercial real estate management company CMAB Associates II, LLC. A summons was issued by the court on April 30.
The Bernis are co-owners of Canobie Lake Park, something Dandreo alludes to in the complaint repeatedly. He alleges he is the victim of a “bait and switch.”
Dandreo says he spent millions building, permitting and opening the casino at 286 N. Broadway.
Carl Berni testified in August 2018 in Salem District Court that the building’s lease stated improvements are the responsibility of the tenant, and that such improvements do not excuse the tenant from paying rent.
Berni said he believed Dandreo was making about $6,000 a day and the monthly rent was roughly $10,000. Dandreo signed a 15-year lease in August 2016. Carl Berni testified that Dandreo hadn’t paid rent since September 2017, four months before the business opened to the public.
At the conclusion of the 2018 hearing, Judge Robert Stephen awarded the Bernis $126,000 in costs and gave Dandreo 90 calendar days to comply with the lease.
During the rent dispute, the New Hampshire Lottery Commission suspended Dandreo’s game operator employer license and his facility license over issues with the operations at the casino, such as discrepancies with the licensing paperwork, late financial reports, allegations of Dandreo playing at his own poker tables, and the apparent deletion of surveillance footage.
In an email to the Union Leader this week, Dandreo wrote: “My goal was to raise money for charity, move to a home on Canobie Lake and be in the amusement park all summer while the business did great work for charity and provided real jobs in a modern first-class facility. I wanted to be treated equally and fairly, unfortunately it will be up to the judge and jury to decide in this lawsuit and the ones coming right up.”
The Bernis have until July 6 to respond.
Requests for comment sent to the Bernis’ lawyer were not returned by press time.