Friday, November 13, 2009

Preying on the Addicition of Gamblers

Yesterday the Indiana Supreme Court heard the unique, for Indiana, issue of whether casinos have a responsibility to prevent compulsive gamblers from hurting themselves. The Star reports:

A lawyer for a Tennessee woman who says the former Caesars Indiana took advantage of her gambling addiction told the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday that Hoosier casinos have a responsibility to prevent compulsive gamblers from hurting themselves.

"The law protects the sick. It protects the helpless," Evansville attorney Terry Noffsinger told the justices.

Casinos have an implied duty not to prey upon players who can't control themselves, he told the justices in Indianapolis, even though court rulings elsewhere have held that casinos don't have to shield compulsive gamblers.

As a result, the casino industry and gambling law experts are watching the Indiana case closely.

The court heard about 45 minutes of arguments by casino lawyer Gene Price, Louisville, and Noffsinger, who is representing Jenny Kephart, an unemployed suburban Nashville resident.

The justices appeared skeptical of arguments, with some questioning why the casino doesn't have an obligation to customers, while others asked how far the courts should intervene in casino business practices.

A ruling is expected next year.

During a night of gambling in March 2006, Kephart said she lost $125,000 at the Harrison County riverboat, now renamed Horseshoe Southern Indiana. The casino sued Kephart after she failed to repay the money it loaned her to play blackjack.

Kephart countersued, claiming the Harrah's-owned boat aggressively pursued her with meals, limo rides and classy lodging, knowing she was addicted and had a $1 million inheritance.

There is nothing I believe in more than personal responsibility. However, that does not give a license to businesses, which are well aware of a person's problems, to try to exploit those problems for financial gain. The law takes a dim view on scam artists conning our elderly out of their life savings. We don't give bars a pass on liability when bars continue to serve someone who the bar knows is intoxicated.

It is a tough question and, for me, would turn on whether the casino managers knew about Kephert's gambling addiction when they began pursuing her business. If they knew Kephert had a gambling addiction, had inherited a $1 million dollars, and then intentionally went out and pursued her to gamble while armed with that knowledge, to me that would take the issue outside of personal responsibility and place at least some liability on the shoulders of the casino. I realize this won't be a popular position with my conservative friends, but I have a low tolerance for businesses which, for financial gain, target and prey on an individual's problems.

3 comments:

Bill said...

"Implied duty"? Please. We don't go around finding "implied duties" because we don't like the consequences of what some one has done. Imagine the run away litigation that would cause. Restaurants are not liable for serving patrons who are drunk because they have an implied duty. They are liable because there is a Dram Shop Act passed by the legislature.

Downtown Indy said...

I wonder how they knew about her inheritance or her gambling problem. I also wonder how you get a casino to just lend you $125 G's one night without being a long-standing, in-good-standing, highroller. And I wonder how someone with a million dollar inheritance was unable to repay a $125K loan.

Had Enough Indy? said...

"but I have a low tolerance for businesses which, for financial gain, target and prey on an individual's problems."

Like the credit card companies and the house builder/mortgage lender industry?

This lawsuit isn't sitting well with me, and I haven't pinpointed exactly why. Certainly there is the out for problem gamblers that they can put themselves on the 'don't let me gamble' list (sorry, I don't remember the real name). She did not do so.

As for limos and such to her house, that is nice, but unless they showed up unexpectedly and tried to pursuade her to go gambling, I'm not sure that is enough that she should be able to escape repaying the $125,000.

I do think there should be a review of the effectiveness of problem gambling remedies and a constant attempt to improve them. But, this case does provide a look at the gray area between whether she should have been looking out for her best interest or whether the casino should have taken a paternalistic turn and looked out for her best interest at some point.

Since she did not apparantly gamble beyond her means, I'm going to guess that the Court will rule in the casino's favor.