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US – Drunk player sues Downtown Grand over gambling debts

By - 7 March 2014

Las Vegas’ newest casino; The Downtown Grand, has found itself at the centre of a litigation case that has generated headlines all over the world but could yet see its licence revoked.

Californian businessman Mark Johnston is suing the casino after it granted him credit whilst drunk, helping him amass gambling losses of US$500,000.

Mr Johnston, 52, claims the Downtown Grand contravened Nevada state gaming laws by continuing to serve him drink and lending him money to gamble when he was intoxicated. He wants a judge to rule that the debt is unenforceable.

He is also seeking compensation from the casino, which only opened November 2013, for the damage the incident has done to his reputation. The Downtown Grand plans to counter sue but has so far not made a comment. Nevada legislation prevents casinos from ‘permitting persons who are visibly intoxicated to participate in gaming activity’ and from providing ‘complimentary service of intoxicating beverages in the casino area to persons who are visibly intoxicated.’

Mr Johnston’s lawyer plans to use CCTV footage and eyewitness statements to prove his client was drunk and incapable of making rational decisions as he gambled during the Superbowl weekend. The incident took place January 30 when Mr. Johnston played at the tables for 17 hours. Mr. Johnston claims he had 30 drinks in these 17 hours, many of them complimentary from the casino, that he then blacked out and was only aware of what had happened after he woke up.

“They should have cut me off,” Mr Johnston said to CNN. “I had some drinks at the airport. I had a drink on the plane. At some point that’s my responsibility. But the unfortunate part about it for them is that they have a more, bigger responsibility than I do. Just picture a drunk walking down the street and somebody goes up and just pickpockets him. That’s how I characterise it. It’s like a drunk guy is walking down the street and you just go ahead and reach in his pocket and steal all his money.”

Sean Lyttle, Mr Johnston’s lawyer, said to the Associated Press: This is not a story that I’ve ever heard before, where someone was blackout intoxicated where they couldn’t read their cards, and yet a casino continued to serve them drinks and issue them more markers.”

Mr. Johnston added: “I feel like it’s the days of old Vegas, the way they’ve been extorting me with letters and attorneys. I am not a sore loser. I’ve lost half a million. I’ve lost 800,000. I’ve lost a lot of money. This has nothing to do with that. Obviously I can afford what I lost. This is about you almost killing me. What if I had gone to bed that night, with all those drinks in me, and I threw up on myself and I choked and died?”

The Nevada Gaming Control Board is now carrying out an investigation to see if the Downtown Grand, formerly the Lady Luck Casino, breached gaming regulations.

Karl Bennison, Chief of the Board’s enforcement division, said: “We are investigating this thoroughly. We are aware of this matter. We’ll see if there are regulation violations.”

The Downtown Grand could lose its licence or be hit with fines if found to have broken the laws.

The suit claims: “Mr. Johnston, an experienced gambler, was dropping chips on the floor, confusing chip colours, and slurring his speech badly, and he was unable to read his cards or set his hands properly. To her shock, after sleeping for seven to eight hours, (Johnston’s female friend) found Mr. Johnston still gambling at the blackjack table, and still heavily intoxicated, late in the afternoon of January 31, 2014.”

The suit details how Johnston took out two lines of credit for $100,000 each in the span of 21 minutes after 2 a.m. on January 31. By 10:52 a.m., he had taken out a third marker, for $50,000. Almost two hours later, he signed another marker for $250,000, the suit said.

The money given via the credit line was all lost by Mr. Johnston. The lawsuit also claims that the casino went back on a promise of a 20 per cent discount on repaying the $500,000, which would have reduced the debt to $400,000. The casino then told another venue; the Hard Rock of Mr. Johnston’s situation preventing him from gambling there the next day. The lawsuit claims this demonstrates a ‘sullying’ of ‘Mr. Johnston’s good name in the process.’

Mr. Johnston wants the gambling debts wiped and wants compensation and damages set at an amount ‘to deter the Downtown Grand from similar conduct in the future.’

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