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Judge Holds Casino Responsible in Challenge to Free-Drink Policy

June 22, 1989

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) _ Casinos can be held liable for money lost by drunk gamblers, a federal judge ruled.

″A casino has a duty to refrain from knowingly permitting an invitee to gamble where that patron is obviously and visibly intoxicated and-or under the influence of a narcotic substance,″ U.S. District Judge Mitchell Cohen said Wednesday.

The judge said casinos should fall under New Jersey’s dram shop laws, which hold taverns responsible for injuries caused by their intoxicated patrons.

Marvin B. Roffman, a gaming analyst for Janney Montgomery Scott Inc. in Philadelphia, said the ruling is a blow to the casinos.

″If it holds up, what that means is anybody who was a big loser can say, ’Look, I had too many drinks. I don’t owe anything,‴ he said.

The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino had sued Schmuel Aboud of New York for $30,000 in losses incurred in 1985 during a two-week gambling visit. Aboud countersued, claiming he lost $200,000 because casino employees plied him with free alcohol.

The Golden Nugget had asked the judge to throw the case out, arguing that no law holds casinos responsible for debts incurred by intoxicated patrons.

The ruling Wednesday allows the court case to continue toward a finding of whether the Golden Nugget was responsible for Aboud’s losses.

″We were saying to the judge that unless these cases are cut off at the pass, there will be a flood of these,″ said Stephen Dratch, attorney for the Golden Nugget. ″Essentially, the judge is saying, ’That’s the price you pay for being in this business.‴

Aboud, whose gambling money came from a $395,000 settlement of an auto accident case, also is suing two doctors the casino supplied when he complained of back pain.

He says the doctors gave him painkillers and that he lapsed into unconciousness after washing them down with cognac offered by casino employees.

At that point, he claims, casino officials told him he would have to wake up and continue gambling or leave his complimentary $1,000-a-night suite.

Atlantic City’s 11 casinos have various promotions that provide free drinks, meals, show tickets, rooms, transportation and coins to gamblers, particularly to high rollers. Cocktail waitresses walk among gamblers at slot machines and gaming tables taking drink orders.

The ruling could halt the serving of free drinks and could force gaming hall operators to forbid drunk patrons from gambling, Roffman said.

″I really don’t think the casinos would win as much money if they didn’t offer drinks on the gambling floor,″ he said.

Aboud’s lawyer, Stephen Goldman, did not return calls Wednesday.

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