$20M suit by problem gambler tossed

September 22, 2008 12:09:58 PM PDT
A federal judge has dismissed a $20 million racketeering lawsuit against six Atlantic City casinos by a former attorney who said they had a duty to stop her from gambling. U.S. District Court Judge Renee Bumb on Friday dismissed the lawsuit brought by Arelia Margarita Taveras, a former attorney from Queens, N.Y. who argued that the casinos saw she had a gambling problem yet did nothing to stop it.

The judge ruled that Taveras, who says she lost close to $1 million in less than two years, did not prove that the casinos conspired to act against her, and that gambling is not an inherently dangerous activity.

Taveras said she plans to appeal the dismissal.

"New Jersey does not recognize that casinos have a duty of care to gamblers, and people are dying because of it," Taveras said Monday, moments after learning of the decision.

Taveras said she started gambling to have fun, but her betting quickly spun out of control. She said she would go days at a time at the tables - not eating or sleeping, brushing her teeth, washing with disposable wipes so she didn't have to leave the table, and sometimes passing out.

She lost her law practice, her apartment, her parents' home, and still owes the IRS tens of thousands of dollars. She said she even considered swerving into oncoming traffic to kill herself.

In interviews with The Associated Press, Taveras admitted she dipped into escrow accounts she maintained for clients to finance her gambling habit. She was disbarred last June, and faces criminal charges stemming from those actions, but is trying to work out restitution agreements in order to avoid a prison term.

Judge Bumb said Taveras failed to support her claim that gambling is a hazardous endeavor worthy of special protections.

"Playing blackjack, roulette or the slots bears no likeness to dumping toxic waste," the judge wrote. "She spent money on the bona fide chance that she might win more money. In short, she gambled."

Taveras was frustrated by the ruling.

"Do we have to dump toxic waste on a casino floor to get their attention?" she asked.

Her lawsuit had named Resorts Atlantic City, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, the Tropicana Casino Resort, the Showboat Casino Hotel, Bally's Atlantic City, as well as the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

The casinos denied any wrongdoing, claiming in court papers that Taveras brought her problems on herself. Resorts, where she said she did most of her gambling, had no immediate comment on the dismissal.

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