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Justices hear compulsive gambling arguments

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State gaming regulations prohibit a compulsive gambler from even filing a lawsuit against a casino, a New Albany attorney told the Indiana Supreme Court today.

Justices are considering a case that asks whether casinos have a common law duty to protect compulsive gamblers from themselves, and whether casinos are required to refrain from trying to entice those people into their establishments. The case is Caesars Riverboat Casino LLC v. Genevieve M. Kephart, No. 31A01-0711-CV-530, and today's arguments follow a split Indiana Court of Appeals decision from earlier this year where the majority decided the gambler couldn't recover from a private negligence action against the riverboat casino. Judge Terry Crone dissented because he believed the common law duty should be imposed because the casino likely knew of her condition.

The Nashville, Tenn. woman had filed a private negligence claim against the Ohio River casino she'd visited in March 2006, when she lost $125,000 that had been borrowed from the casino in a single night. She claimed the casino knew about and took advantage of her compulsive gambling history, enticing her with free meals and drinks, hotel rooms, transportation, and entertainment to get her in to gamble.

In arguing before the state's highest court this morning, Caesars' attorney Gene Price from New Albany told justices that the state's extensive gaming regulation set up through the Indiana Gaming Commission provides the only relief Kephart is entitled to, and she shouldn't be allowed to proceed with her claim.

Kephart's attorney, Terry Noffsinger of Evansville, argued that private causes of action are not precluded by the state's regulatory scheme. He said the law is meant to protect those who are sick, and that this type of behavior shouldn't be considered "marketing" allowed by the state statute and gaming regulations.

Justice Robert D. Rucker wondered about how a new policy might go past the compulsive gambler to impact cases involving intoxicated gamblers, or even compulsive shoppers who buy too much at stores and then say the establishment should have known better. He and other justices asked about the comparisons to Indiana's dram shop law, which says that bartenders have a duty to not serve intoxicated patrons or alcoholics. They also wondered if the casino regulation would extend to food poisoning or a slip and fall, which Price said it wouldn't.

When Justice Brent Dickson asked about whether casinos had any duty to provide reasonable care to customers, Price responded," It has a duty to obey the regular framework, and there are steep fines associated with that. That's where the remedy lies here for Ms. Kephart."

The case is one of first impression nationally, as there is no existing caselaw resulting from compulsive gamblers who were victorious on claims that a casino wrongly targeted them, Noffsinger said in response to a question from Justice Rucker. One federal District court in New Jersey held this, but the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned it, Justice Rucker said.

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