Gambler says Borgata took him on limo ride back to debt - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

Four years ago, Donald Carroll asked state regulators to prohibit Atlantic City's casinos from giving him credit. It was one of the few safeguards compulsive gamblers like Carroll had at the time to help keep them from losing big money in case of a relapse.

Early last year, Carroll said a casino host invited him to the Borgata casino in Atlantic City. When he got there, however, the host told Carroll he couldn't give him any credit until he had his credit privileges restored, according to court records.

The host was more than willing to help him out. He arranged for a limousine to take Carroll from Borgata to the Boardwalk offices of the N.J. Casino Control Commission to have his credit privileges reinstated, court records say. After a ride back to the casino, Carroll, 65, was able to obtain $150,000 in credit to fuel a gambling binge that earned him a free hotel suite, meals and drinks worth $3,000, the court records show.

Along the way, Carroll lost $130,000. When he didn't repay the money, Borgata won a default judgment for the $130,000, plus $2,524.32 in interest.

Carroll, who lives in Red Bank, declined repeated requests for comment. But his account of what happened during the gambling trip was included in his motion to vacate the judgment because he said he was never served with a summons. Instead, Borgata served the papers to his ex-wife in Colts Neck, where Carroll said he hasn't lived for more than a decade.

On Friday, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee ruled in favor of Carroll. Borgata can still go after Carroll for the money he owes. But Carroll's lawyer, Chris Franzblau, said he will fight it.

"They did a lousy thing," Franzblau said. "Don't you think they took advantage of this guy?"

Rob Stillwell, a spokesman for Borgata co-owner Boyd Gaming, said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The state Division of Gaming Enforcement may be looking into the matter, according to a source familiar with the case.

Advocates for compulsive gamblers said the case puts a spotlight on an industry that has at times tried to help addicts, but often has fallen short.

In recent years, casinos have attempted to avoid the mistakes of the tobacco industry by posting help lines in their gambling parlors, funding studies on gambling addiction, training employees to help addicts and maintaining lists of people who want to be banned from casinos.

But critics say the effort has been uneven from state to state, even among casinos owned by the same company.

"Some are much more aggressive, others are just giving lip service," Ed Looney, executive director for the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, said.

For example, Boyd, which operates Borgata, has been lauded for its efforts to help addicts. The company said it has committed $1 million during the past 10 years to fund addiction research, and it is active in problem-gambling councils in Nevada and Mississippi. Its chairman and chief executive, Bill Boyd, founded the National Center for Responsible Gaming, which oversees the industry's compulsive gambling efforts.

But Borgata isn't a member of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, Looney said. One of the perks of becoming a member is the council offers free training to casino employees to deal with suspected addicts, such as encouraging them to take breaks, questioning large lines of credit and tactfully asking if a gambler has a problem, Looney said.

Some states, including New Jersey, maintain so-called self-exclusion lists, allowing gamblers to ban themselves from casinos. Casinos can be fined if they are caught allowing people on the list to gamble.

But the lists are not foolproof. Casinos still send marketing information to gamblers, often inadvertently, officials said. And they usually spot self-excluded people only if they try to apply for credit or after they win a jackpot.

Across the country, some addicts have sued casinos for taking their bets when they've asked to be banned. While not many have been successful, industry observers say it may be just a matter of time before the tide turns.

"The casino should be held liable if they know a person has a gambling problem and they still let them gamble," said Arnie Wexler, a recovered compulsive gambler who trains casino employees to recognize signs of addiction. "One of these lawsuits is going to hit."

Although Carroll said in court papers he signed up for New Jersey's self-exclusion list in 2001, there is no way to confirm that because the list is confidential. However, court records show he did ask the Casino Control Commission to order the Atlantic City casinos to suspend his credit privileges in May 2001 -- four months before the state's self-exclusion list existed.

Before the self-exclusion list, a credit suspension was one of the few measures available to addicts. But gamblers could easily get those privileges back by signing the proper papers at the commission's office. And there is nothing to prevent them from gambling with cash, which Carroll had been doing before he was approached by the Borgata host, according to the court records.

Today, the self-exclusion list allows addicts to sign up for one-year, five-year and lifetime bans. And they can only get off the list when the ban expires.

Carroll said in court papers he is a compulsive gambler who has "lost very substantial sums of money" to the Atlantic City casinos, a fact he said was "well known to the personnel" at Borgata. A check of business and court records shows no other liens against Carroll or his business, the Auto Exchange in Sayreville, by any other casino except for the recent Borgata judgment.

Carroll said when he came to Borgata at the invitation of the host early last year, the host told him if he wanted to obtain credit and earn comps, he would have to go to the offices of the commission and "have my name removed from the list," court records show.

According to Carroll's account, the host provided him with a limo. Another Borgata employee accompanied him to the commission's Boardwalk offices and waited while Carroll signed the waiver reinstating his credit privileges. Then the limo took him back to Borgata.

There, the host met Carroll and arranged the $150,000 line of credit.

"I believe this enticement was conduct in bad faith," Carroll said in court papers. "I was induced to obtain credit and gambling when they knew of my gambling addiction."

Carroll said the host knew of his addiction "because he had acknowledged knowing I had gambled at the casino even though I had been barred on previous occasions."

Ex-gambler Wexler and others said it doesn't matter whether Carroll was on the self-exclusion list. The credit suspension should have been enough.

"They knew this guy had a problem; otherwise, they wouldn't have sent him to the commission," Wexler said. "How stupid they are."

 

SELF-DISCIPLINE

 

The New Jersey self-exclusion list, created in September 2001, allows gambling addicts to ban themselves from the Atlantic City casinos. They have to forfeit their winnings if they are caught gambling, and casinos also face fines. People can sign up for one-year, five-year or lifetime bans. Here's how it has worked:

 

  • A total of 351 people have signed up; of them, 305 remain on the list

     

     

  • Three self-excluded people have had to forfeit a total of $68,410 in winnings.

     

     

  • Two casinos -- Resorts and Trump Plaza -- were fined $10,000 each for failing to deny check-cashing privileges to a self-excluded person. The Trump Taj Mahal was ordered yesterday to pay a $10,000 fine for letting a self-excluded person play and win $2,028.30.
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