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COA: Casinos can't ban card counters

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An Indiana casino cannot stop someone from playing regulated blackjack simply because he counts cards, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In its unanimous decision in Thomas P. Donovan v. Grand Victoria Casino & Resort, L.P., No. 49A02-0903-CV-259, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of Thomas P. Donovan, who challenged a Southern Indiana riverboat casino's decision to ban him from playing blackjack there.

A self-taught "advantage player" who uses blackjack to supplement his income, Thomas Donovan played at the Grand Victoria casino in Rising Sun for about three months in 2006 under an agreement with a floor supervisor, saying that he maintain a $25 per-hand betting limit. But when a new supervisor took over, Donovan was told he was no longer welcome to play blackjack there. The 50-year-old, semi-retired computer programmer sued the casino in Marion Superior Court; the casino won earlier this year when Marion Superior Judge Robyn Moberly granted it summary judgment.

Donovan appealed, arguing that he never attempted to hide his card counting and that the practice isn't cheating or prohibited by gaming law or administrative rule. Casino attorneys argued that Grand Victoria is "a private amusement" that doesn't have to accept anyone who visits; attorneys cited a 1994 appeals court decision backing a shopping mall's right to bar a customer and said casinos have the same right.

But the appellate panel disagreed, saying that precedent from Wilhoite v. Melvin Simon & Associates Inc., 640 N.E.2d 382, 385 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994), doesn't apply in this case because of the Indiana Gaming Commission's statutory rule-making authority of casinos.

Siding with Donovan's points, the court granted summary judgment on his request for declaratory judgment to the effect that Grand Victoria may not exclude him from playing blackjack because of his card counting. The judges relied on a New Jersey case, Uston v. Resorts Int'l Hotel Inc., 89 N.J. 163, 445 A.2d 370 (1982), involving a card counter who was also expelled from a casino there.

The General Assembly gave the Indiana Gaming Commission rule-making authority to balance the respective rights of private property owners and the patron, the court wrote, but it didn't outright ban the card-counting practice.

"Grand Victoria may not simply take refuge in the common law right of exclusion, inasmuch as is the public policy of this State that gambling is subject to 'strict regulation'... and the Commission has been given the exclusive authority to set rules of riverboat casino games," the court wrote. "The Commission did not enact a provision against card counting and Grand Victoria did not seek a prohibition by rule amendment. No law, regulation, or duly promulgated rule advised Donovan that the skill of card counting was prohibited."

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  1. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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