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Originally published Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 8:35 PM

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Gambler who lost $500,000 sues, saying casino let him play drunk

The lawsuit says that while Mark Johnston was piling up losses at the Las Vegas casino, he was so drunk that he couldn’t read his cards and was dropping his chips.


Los Angeles Times

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Hmmm, so if you're drunk and win $500,000...the house doesn't need to pay out? MORE
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LOS ANGELES — A Southern California man has sued a Las Vegas casino after he lost $500,000 on blackjack and pai gow over Super Bowl weekend, contending he shouldn’t be responsible for his losses because he was blackout drunk.

In the lawsuit, Mark Johnston, 52, of Ventura, accuses the Downtown Grand casino of plying him with drinks and lending him money so he could keep playing.

Johnston, a longtime gambler, acknowledges that he went on a drinking binge before he reached the casino floor.

On Jan. 30, the lawsuit says, Johnston had two to four drinks at the Burbank airport, one drink on the hourlong flight to Las Vegas, one drink prepared by his limousine driver when he arrived, another drink while riding inside the limo, and then “several more” drinks at dinner shortly after checking into his hotel.

Johnston says he does not remember what happened after dinner.

That’s when he embarked on a 17-hour gambling run at the Downtown Grand, during which time he drank 20 or more additional drinks, the lawsuit says — and lost $500,000, which was made possible by credit the casino extended to Johnston.

The lawsuit says that while Johnston was piling up losses, he was so drunk that he couldn’t read his cards and was dropping his chips.

Nevada law forbids casinos from allowing visibly drunk patrons to gamble and from giving free drinks to obviously drunk customers.

“What we typically see in cases like this where someone’s obviously had too much to drink, a host, a pit boss is stepping in, saying, ‘Hey ,buddy, why don’t you take a break?’ ” Johnston’s attorney, Sean Lyttle, said. “It seems that everyone in the building was perfectly all right with my client bidding for 17 or 18 hours nonstop, just being served drink after drink.”

A casino spokeswoman said Thursday that company policy did not allow her to comment on pending lawsuits.

Johnston, who has reportedly become wealthy from car dealerships and real-estate development, told CNN: “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.”

He added: “This is about ... (the casino) 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?”

Lyttle, his attorney, added: “At the very least, this was negligent; it was careless. At the worst, it was intentional and malicious. … Whatever it was, it was wrong.”

Several gamblers have sued casinos over the years on allegations that they were too drunk to be responsible for their losses — and have encountered mixed success.

In 1989, a federal court in New Jersey ruled that a man who claimed to have lost $250,000 during an intoxicated binge had grounds under state law to sue the Atlantic City casino that gave him drinks and loans during his play.

Despite notching a big procedural win, however, a jury eventually decided that the gambler, Shmuel Aboud, had not proved he was intoxicated enough to not know better.



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