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Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Exists for Civil Court
for Lawsuits by Gambling Patrons against Casinos


What do we do if we claim that a casino cheated or otherwise violated its published game rules?

The Hon. Debbie O'Dell-Seneca, President Judge Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania, issued an important ruling that is likely to affect the gambling industry within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and possibly other jurisdictions. 

Denying a motion by The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, the defendant, by Order dated October 7, 2013, Judge O'Dell-Seneca ruled that patron gamblers of casinos are permitted to bring civil lawsuits in the Court of Common Pleas for claims that the casinos violated the published rules of the game. 

The Meadows Racetrack and Casino is claimed to be owned and operated by Cannery Casino Resorts, LLC, of Las Vegas.  The case is Litman v. Cannery Casino, 2012-8149 (Washington County, PA 2012). 

The new ruling is believed to be the first time the Court ruled on the question under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's new gambling industry laws. 

What is the case about? 

According to the plaintiffs, for more than one year (c. May 27, 2011 and August 27, 2012), the Meadows charged a fee, or vigorish, at its craps tables in violation of the casino's published craps table rules.

Plaintiffs initiated a complaint procedure with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board that resulted in an investigation, and The Meadows ultimately paid a civil penalty of $30,000 by Consent Agreement to the Gaming Control Board.  The penalty funds are alleged to be in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania General Fund commingled with citizen tax dollars.  [Additional information is in the Complaint, Exhibit 12]

When the plaintiffs sued The Meadows in civil court, among other things, including to recover their monies -- that is, to recover the vigorish fees that had been taken at the craps tables in claimed violation of the rules -- the casino filed preliminary objections and filed a Motion to Dismiss, to which the plaintiffs filed a responsive brief and Opposition, respectively.  The Court has not yet ruled upon the preliminary objections, but has now ruled on the more universal legal question of subject-matter jurisdiction, which affects casinos operating within the Commonwealth and possibly other jurisdictions.

On October 7, 2013, the attorneys for the parties presented oral arguments.  In its Motion to Dismiss, the The Meadows argued that Pennsylvania trial courts are not legally authorized to hear disputes arising from casino game-rules violations, lacking "subject-matter jurisdiction."  According to the casino, among other things, the right of legal action, if gambling houses violate their own rules of the games -- or even cheat at the games -- is for gambling patrons to let the Gaming Control Board conduct an investigation and to litigate, dismiss, penalize, or fine, as the Gaming Control Board determines.

According to Gregg Zegarelli, counsel for plaintiffs, "Our position was clear and straight-forward.  An investigation by the Gaming Control Board, even with $30,000 in civil penalties, still does not, among other things, return my clients' monies. 

"If a casino is claimed to be violating the rules of the game, then patrons of the gambling houses, including senior citizens, people on fixed incomes, and people of lesser or greater education, experience and financial status, all deserve the equal right to due process in civil court.  They get their day in court.  Those are the rules of the game in America." 

[Document repository at http://www.zegarelli.com/cases/TheCasinoCase]

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