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Casinos Ponder Liabilities From Drunken Gamblers

June 22, 1989

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ Casino executives reacted warily Thursday to a judge’s ruling that casinos may be held liable for money lost by drunk gamblers. Some worried that it could give losers a way to recoup their money.

″Maybe we have to put Breathalyzers at the door,″ said Roger Wagner, president of the Claridge Casino Hotel, only half-joking.

U.S. District Court Judge Mitchell Cohen ruled Wednesday that casino operators, like tavern owners, have a responsibility to their customers. The judge’s decision stemmed from a lawsuit between the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino and a customer who lost $200,000.

Schmuel Aboud, of New York City, said casino officials plied him with free alcohol and pain killers for his aching back. The ruling will allow a court case to continue toward a finding of whether the casino was responsible for Aboud’s losses.

Some observers believe the ruling could mean casinos will stop serving free drinks to gamblers and could force the gaming halls to forbid drunk patrons from placing bets for fear of liability claims.

Some casino executives believe the decision only reinforces what the gaming halls already do. Jim Wise, a spokesman for TropWorld Casino and Entertainment Resort, said, ″The judge uses such terms as ‘obviously’ and ‘visibly’ intoxicated. We already follow those guidelines. Anyone in that state is neither allowed more alcoholic beverages or the opportunity to gamble.″

An intoxicated gambler poses problems for a casino, Wise said.

″If someone does not have all his facilities, they have viable reasons to complain afterward that they were treated unfairly,″ he said.

Stephen Hyde, chief executive officer for Donald Trump’s two casinos in Atlantic City, said, ″It is not in our best interests to have a drunk sitting at a gaming table making a fool of himself.″

Trump’s casinos will stop serving an intoxicated customer, he said.

″When you stop serving him, the patron usually does not go on much further,″ Hyde said. ″He usually gets a little obnoxious and ends up leaving the gambling floor.″

But a liberal interpretation of the ruling could give customers an easy way to reclaim large losses, Wagner said.

″Every idiot in the world will be suing us,″ he said.

Likewise, casino executives in Nevada were worried about the judge’s decision. Roy Galyean, president of the Union Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, said, ″Are they suggesting that we administer a drug-alcohol test to a patron before we let him gamble?″

Wagner said cocktail waitresses who stroll casino floors have a scripted question: ″Would anyone like any complimentary coffee, juice or soda?″

″We do not solicit free alcoholic beverages,″ he said. ″But if a customer says he wants a beer instead of juice, he can have it.″

Many gamblers will not drink alcoholic beverages ″because it dilutes the decision-making process,″ Wise said.

Lois Szabo of New Brunswick, sipping a pina colada at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino on Thursday, agreed. She said most casino customers ″are more interested in gambling than drinking. You get so caught up in the slots that you actually forget to take a drink.″

Some customers might take advantage of the decision ″because some people would do anything to sue,″ she said. ″Personally, everybody should be able to control themselves with liquor. When some people drink excessively, they should be responsible for their own actions.″

Judge Cohen’s ruling probably would attract the ″little guy,″ said Anna Krommer of Washington, relaxing with a beer at a casino bar on Thursday.

″The casinos are a big attraction for the poorer people who imagine they can become richer,″ she said.

Gus Sunday of Philadelphia, who visits Atlantic City’s casinos about twice a month, said he has never seen a fellow gambler intoxicated.

″Anybody who would get drunk has his own problems. It’s not the casino’s problem,″ he said. ″People who come to Atlantic City are not kids. They should have enough sense to know when to say no.″

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