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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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