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Gambling and the Law: Suing an Out-Of-State Casino in Your Home State8 January 2010
By I. Nelson Rose
If you are injured while visiting a casino in another state, can you file suit when you get home?
The casino's lawyers may move to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. If they win, it does not mean the case is over. But it does mean that you will now have to spend the time and money to start the case all over in a court in the casino's home state.
The decision whether to dismiss involves a multi-step analysis. The overwhelming focus in on whether having the trial in the plaintiff's home state would violate the defendant's due process rights.
Due process is not only a test of fairness. It also tells the casino: you can make a conscious decision to avoid being sued in a state by limiting your activity there.
If a casino sets up an office in another state it almost always can be sued there, even for claims having nothing to do with that office. Courts have decided that having continuous and systematic contacts means it would not be too much of a burden to have to defend any lawsuit there.
A couple claimed they were injured in an elevator accident in the Rio in Las Vegas sued Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. (HEI). The courts ruled that HEI could be sued in California on any claim arising anywhere,"based on HEI's own press release announcing HEI operates and manages an Indian gaming casino near San Diego..." HEI is not going to turn down a California casino just because someone might sue them there on an unrelated claim.
On the other hand, Harrah's lawyers had been careful in setting up the Rio as a separate subsidiary. The Las Vegas hotel was dismissed because it did not do any business in California.
A couple filed a strange case in Louisiana, claiming Harrah's Marina falsely reported to the IRS that they had won money, when they had never made a bet! The suit was dismissed because the parent company and its Louisiana subsidiary had nothing to do with this claim, and the Atlantic City casino had almost no contact with that state.
Although every case depends on its specific facts, there are some rules.
Just having a website alone is not enough. A Missouri court could not hear a slip and fall claim against the Imperial Palace, even though the site allowed reservations to be made and advertised an 800 number. The Las Vegas casino did not direct its advertisements specifically toward Missouri.
Courts are split on how much advertising is too much, and whether they should count patrons. A Kentucky court ruled against Caesars Indiana, noting the casino "earned at least $109 million from Kentucky residents in 2000." An Arkansas court ruled against Harrah's Shreveport, noting the casino has "over 14,380 Arkansas patrons registered."
But, Bally's Claridge Tower did not have to defend an escalator accident claim in Philadelphia, even though Bally's advertises extensively and "thirty-three percent of all people traveling on daily buses to Claridge Tower – 11,300 people – came from Philadelphia and surrounding Pennsylvania areas."
One court, in 1992, even held that Circus Circus and its subsidiary, the Edgewater Hotel, could be sued in California for a Laughlin boating accident, but another subsidiary, the Colorado Belle, could not be sued for the same accident, because it did not advertise enough.
Personal jurisdiction may sometimes be clear as mud. But anyone injured by an out-of-state casino has to check it out, before filing suit in their home state court.
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I. Nelson Rose