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Aztar Wins Court Case

6 March 2003

by Rod Smith

INDIANA -- Aztar Corp., parent company of the Tropicana, won a summary judgment on Wednesday, dismissing it from all claims in a federal lawsuit that many gaming foes heralded as possibly being the industry's Achille's heel.

The case, filed last year in Indiana by David Williams, 52, an unemployed Indiana Department of Revenue auditor, differed from other suits filed by problem gamblers against casino companies by claiming Aztar was aware of Williams' gaming addiction.

The case documented Williams' "long and embarrassing spiral downward through the (addictive) circles of Hell," the U.S. District Court Judge John Tinder wrote.

"(But) despite his counsel's creative efforts and regardless of Williams' sympathetic plight neither federal nor Indiana law provides him any refuge or reward," Tinder said.

Williams, who lost an estimated $175,000 at the casino and ultimately lost his home and had to file for bankruptcy, had sought unspecified damages based on claims that Aztar violated federal and state racketeering laws and had committed tortious breaches of duty and fraud.

But Tinder ruled he would find for Aztar whether Williams' case was viewed as a claim for just compensation or "an effort to hit the jackpot in litigation that he couldn't achieve on the riverboat casino."

His attorney, Terry Noffsinger, expressed disappointment and said it was too early to know if he would appeal.

"The problem of pathological gambling is still here. What the courts will do about it and what the companies will do to address it is still up in the air," he said.

Gambling foe Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, told the Review-Journal in September this case was the kind of "black eye" some governors or attorneys general are likely to jump on, much as they did when the United States and several states teamed up against the tobacco industry.

A court source said Wednesday it would be difficult to persuade an appeals court to overturn the trial court.

Aztar spokesman Joe Cole said: "We are gratified by the court's ruling which simply upheld the law. Patronizing a casino is a matter of personal choice and individual responsibility and the court recognized that."

On the surface, David N. Williams vs. Aztar Corp. resembled several lawsuits filed before it. The claimant said he was lured to a riverboat casino, became addicted to gambling and lost everything.

What made the Evansville, Ind., case different was that Aztar was alleged to have known Williams was addicted to gambling, accepted responsibility by banning him from its Casino Aztar riverboat in Evansville, Ind., then still lured him back, according to Noffsinger.

In September, Grey said the casino companies "are on the horns of a dilemma. Because government has given them a seal of approval, they want to be treated with respect. But the more they've expanded, the more problems are created, and the clearer it becomes they are not like another business.

Grey could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Aztar also operates the Tropicana in Atlantic City, the Ramada Express in Laughlin, and the Casino Aztar, a Caruthersville, Mo., riverboat.

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