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Too drunk to gamble? Man sues Las Vegas casino after losing $500,000

Guests gamble at the Sahara Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on May 6, 2011.
Guests gamble at the Sahara Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on May 6, 2011.

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A California businessman who filed a lawsuit against the Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino says he's not being a sore loser after leaving a hefty $500,000 behind on the casino's blackjack tables.

Mark Johnston says he was served 20 free drinks by the casino, which he claims used the alcohol as a tactic to part him from his cash. Johnston says he shouldn't have to pay his debt to the casino - including the $250,000 the casino loaned him - because its employees gave him so much alcohol that he blacked out and could not be responsible for his actions.

Johnston describes himself as a veteran gambler who's lost his fair share of cash in casinos, so why should he not be held responsible this time around?

It turns out that casinos do bear some responsibility for the free drinks they dole out to gamblers. The Nevada Gaming Control Board is now investigating the Downtown Grand to determine whether it violated gaming regulations that prohibit casinos from "permitting persons who are visibly intoxicated to participate in gaming activity" and from providing "complimentary service of intoxicating beverages in the casino area to persons who are visibly intoxicated."

Does Johnston have a legal case that he was too drunk to gamble? Should casinos be responsible for over-serving alcohol to gamblers?


Sean Lyttle, lawyer in Las Vegas representing Mark Johnston, the plaintiff, in the case

Joseph M Kelly, a professor of business law at SUNY College at Buffalo and an associate of the Catania Consulting Group, a gaming consultancy in New Jersey. He is licensed to practice law in Illinois, Nevada, and Wisconsin. He is also co-editor of Gaming Law Review. He has represented many major casinos, but not in the area of debt collection.