California Man Sues Vegas Casino for $500K Gambling Debt, Couple Keeps $10 Million Gold Coin Find

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 11, 2014

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Two high dollar stories coming from California this week feature a $500K gambling debt accrued under suspicious circumstances, and a fortunate couple cashing in on their unlikely $10 million find. 

Drunk Gambler Sues Casino over $500K in Losses

California native Mark A. Johnston has filed a lawsuit against the Downtown Grand Las Vegas hotel in an effort to nullify a $500,000 gambling debt he accrued while he was allegedly intoxicated.  Claiming that he suffered an alcohol induced blackout during a 17-hour gambling binge, Mr. Johnston and his attorneys argue that his debt was accrued unfairly and in violation of Nevada law.  In response to those who would dismiss his suit as the cry of a sore loser, Mr. Johnston insists that the reason he is taking legal action is because the Downtown Grand continued to serve him alcohol until his intoxication reached dangerous levels, and took advantage of his condition by permitting him to continue gambling.  Equating his situation to a drunk victim of a pickpocket, Mr. Johnston claims that he can absorb the $500,000 losses, but will not tolerate the casino’s failure to satisfy the responsibility it has to its patrons.

Under the regulations that Nevada casinos must follow, Mr. Johnston may have a legitimate claim.  Nevada law prohibits casinos from “permitting persons who are visibly intoxicated to participate in gaming activity,” and from providing complimentary alcohol to persons who are clearly under the influence of alcohol.  According to Mr. Johnston, he was noticeably drunk as evidenced by his slurred speech, his inability to keep a hold of his chips, and his unusual gambling behavior.  Witnesses to his evening have stepped forward to verify his condition, and the Downtown Grand now faces an investigation from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which will determine if the casino employees failed in their duty to prevent a clearly drunk patron from causing harm to himself.

Nevada’s law holding the casino responsible for drunk patrons is nothing unusual within the legal community.  In some states, bars can be held legally responsible for damages if employees continue to serve visibly drunk customers, or allow them to drive home upon leaving the establishment.  It is not uncommon for the law to hold businesses responsible for the actions of drunk customers, providing employees had an opportunity recognize the level of intoxication and either continued to serve the patron, or did nothing to prevent them from taking obvious risks.  Establishments that serve alcohol have a heightened standard of responsibility to their customers, and Mr. Johnston hopes that the Downtown Grand’s failure to cut him off will not only eliminate his $500,000 gambling debt, but send a message to Las Vegas casinos that the rules regarding treatment of drunk patrons must be followed.

Couple’s $10 Million Coin Find a Case Study for Finders-Keepers Law

Earlier this year, a California couple came forward with a claim to coins found on their property worth over $10 million.  The coins were discovered over a year ago by the couple while walking the family dog on their property, and the pair spent the last year working with lawyers and rare coin experts to determine the value of the find and the legal issues of who held claim to the prize.  Time Magazine produced a comprehensive write up on the law of found property, but in general the law rewards the finder of lost property with ownership, but where the property was found and the circumstances of its abandonment will influence the legal claim.

In the California case, the couple’s path to legal ownership was made significantly easier by the fact that is was found on property they owned, and the coins could not be traced to another owner.  Had another potential owner come forward with a claim to the coins, he or she would have to clearly prove their claim and demonstrate that the prize was not intentionally abandoned – a legal hurdle that is not easy to jump over.  When property is found on a public space, or when another party has claim to either the land the property was found on or the property itself, cases involving found property become very complicated and require difficult determinations of whose claim is the strongest.

Worth noting in the case of the $10 million coins – the IRS will certainly exercise its claim to a large percentage of the value, proving that no matter who ends up with found property the government will always get its share.

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