Lawsuit blames gambling habit on casinos
A woman's $20 million suit says casinos should have noticed her compulsion and cut her off.
The Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — She was an ambitious lawyer and TV commentator who starting going to Atlantic City casinos to relax, and soon was getting high-roller treatment that included limousines whisking her to the resort.
Arelia Margarita Taveras says she was even allowed to bring her dog, Sasha, to the blackjack tables, sitting in her purse.
But her gambling spun out of control: She said she would go days at a time at the tables, not eating or sleeping, brushing her teeth with disposable wipes so she didn't have to leave.
She says her losses totaled nearly $1 million.
Now she's chasing the longest of long shots: a $20 million racketeering lawsuit in federal court against six Atlantic City casinos and one in Las Vegas, claiming they had a duty to notice her compulsive gambling problem and cut her off.
"They knew I was going for days without eating or sleeping," Taveras said. "I would pass out at the tables. They had a duty of care to me. Nobody in their right mind would gamble for four or five straight days without sleeping."
Experts say her case will be difficult to prove, but it provides an unusually detailed window into the life of a problem gambler.
"It's like crack, only gambling is worse than crack because it's mental," said Taveras, 37, a New Yorker who now lives in Minnesota. "It creeps up on you, the impulse. It's a sickness."
She lost her law practice, her apartment and her parents' home, and owes the IRS $58,000. She said she even considered swerving into oncoming traffic to kill herself.
Taveras admits she dipped into her clients' escrow accounts to finance her gambling habit. She was disbarred last June and faces criminal charges stemming from those actions but is trying to work out restitution agreements in order to avoid a prison term.
Her lawsuit names Resorts Atlantic City, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, the Tropicana Casino Resort, the Showboat Casino Hotel and Bally's Atlantic City, as well as the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
The casinos deny any wrongdoing, maintaining in court papers that Taveras brought her problems on herself.
Joe Corbo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said casino workers undergo extensive training on spotting problem gamblers and referring them to help, including a self-exclusion list the state maintains. Gamblers can voluntarily bar themselves from casinos, either for a few years or for life. While they're on the list, casinos cannot solicit them.
Paul O'Gara, an attorney specializing in Atlantic City gambling issues, said it will be difficult for Taveras to prove that the casinos knew she had a problem but ignored it.
"How are you supposed to know whether this was a woman who was just having a good time, or had money and was just lonely, as opposed to someone who couldn't control themselves?" he said.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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