CAMDEN, N.J. — Casinos that feed patrons alcoholic drinks can be held responsible for losses rung up by drunk gamblers at the betting tables, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Mitchell Cohen in Camden could have far-reaching impact on the gaming industry, gaming industry analysts and officials said. The ruling marks the first time New Jersey's laws holding drinking establishments responsible for the acts of intoxicated patrons have been applied to include liability on the casino floor.
"In sum, 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," the judge said in his written ruling.
The ruling could mean that casinos will stop serving free drinks, and it could also force gaming hall operators to forbid drunk patrons to gamble for fear of liability claims, said Marvin B. Roffman, a gaming analyst for Janney Montgomery Scott Inc. in Philadelphia.
"It really is another blow to the casinos," Roffman said. "I really don't think the casinos would win as much money if they didn't offer drinks on the gambling floor."
Cohen's decision stemmed from a court case being heard by Cohen in Camden that involves Schmuel Aboud of Queens, N.Y.
The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino sued Aboud for $30,000 for debts he incurred at the gaming hall in 1985. Aboud countersued, claiming casino officials plied him with free alcohol and painkillers and told him to continue gambling or to leave the establishment. He claims he eventually lost $200,000.
Cohen ruled on a motion by Golden Nugget's attorney to throw the case out. They argued the case should be dismissed because no law holds casinos responsible for debts incurred by intoxicated patrons.
Cohen disagreed, saying the state's "dram shop" laws should apply to casinos. Dram shop liability traditionally has held tavern owners and employees responsible for personal injuries caused by their intoxicated patrons.
The ruling did not hold the Golden Nugget responsible for Aboud's losses. It said only that the Golden Nugget and other casinos could be held responsible in such cases. Aboud's case is scheduled to continue today.
Free Drinks Are Common
In Atlantic City's 11 operating casinos, free drinks are among the most common form of complimentary services offered. Cocktail waitresses, often clad in skimpy outfits, walk among gamblers both at slot machines and gaming tables taking drink orders.
Roffman said, "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.' "
Aboud's funds to gamble came from a $395,000 settlement of an auto accident case.