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Addicted gamblers who voluntarily bar themselves from casinos are beginning to pursue novel theories of liability against the betting establishments. So far, the court’s response can be reduced to four words: Don’t bet on it. A handful of suits claim that casinos have failed to protect problem gamblers who voluntarily barred themselves from casinos through contracts. But the odds of convincing the courts are slim, as many of the lawsuits are being dismissed. A strong opinion by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lets casinos off the hook. The litigation is fallout from “dissociated persons” lists that some states are enacting, including Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan and Louisiana. Most casinos have always maintained informal exclusion lists. Now state gaming commissions are using them to help addicted gamblers stay away. If a gambler elects to be on the dissociated persons list, the gaming commission sends his name and photograph to casinos. A casino is expected to evict the gambler and seize any winnings if the person is caught on the premises. The evictee can be prosecuted for trespass. To date, no plaintiff has been successful in suing a casino for failing to keep him or her out, according to David O. Stewart, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Boston’s Ropes & Gray who advises casinos and the American Gaming Association. Lawsuits have pursued a variety of tort claims, including negligence and even Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act claims, Stewart said. “We think they are bad lawsuits, but we do take them seriously,” Stewart said. The leading case is one reviewed last year by the 7th Circuit, Merrill v. Trump Indiana Inc., No. 02-2523. A man convicted of robbing a bank to cover his gambling tab sued the riverboat casino Trump Indiana. The plaintiff, Mark Merrill, had placed himself on the casino’s self-exclusion list. He sued for $6 million for willful and wanton misconduct for allowing him to gamble in the casino. NO DUTY TO GAMBLERS A trial court dismissed the claims and was upheld by the 7th Circuit. The appeals court said that the casino does not owe a statutory or common-law duty to compulsive gamblers. “Indiana law does not protect a drunk driver from the effects of his own conduct,” the court noted, “and we assume that the Indiana Supreme Court would take a similar approach with compulsive gamblers.” The decision has not deterred plaintiffs lawyers like Blaise Repasky, a solo practitioner in Woodhaven, Mich. He filed two recent suits against the industry over self-exclusion contracts. Suing the casinos will be a “dogfight,” but so were the tobacco and handgun suits in their earliest stages, Repasky said. Repasky sued three casinos and the Michigan Gaming Control on behalf of two women who signed self-exclusion contracts after their gambling debts rose to six figures. They allege breach of contract, negligence and other torts. The first suit was dismissed by the state Court of Claims on Feb. 11 after the Gaming Control invoked government immunity. Ormanian v. Michigan Gaming Control, No. 03 220 MZ (Mich. Ct. Cl.). A class action against casinos is pending in a Detroit state court. Ormanian v. Detroit Entertainment, No. 03 334-304 CZ (Wayne Co., Mich., Cir. Ct.).

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