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Lomonaco v. Sands Hotel Casino and Country Club

February 7, 1992


Holston, J.s.c.


Plaintiff, by way of declaratory judgment action, seeks to have $285,000.00 in casino markers*fn1 which were signed by him, declared void as having been obtained by duress or as unconscionable and therefore against public policy. The defendants move for summary judgment against plaintiff, asserting that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This motion raises issues of first impression in this State. Plaintiff asserts that defendants acted in such a manner and exhibited such psychological pressure as to induce plaintiff to incur debt in the form of casino markers by compulsion sufficient to overcome his free will. The issue to be decided by this court is whether the common law defenses of duress and unconscionability are available to render void or voidable the financial debt evidenced by the signing of casino markers.

The facts presented in the light most favorable to plaintiff are as follows. On January 19, 1990, plaintiff began a "marathon" gambling session at the Claridge Casino. After a few

hours, plaintiff told a casino employee that he was not feeling well and was given some pain reliever. Plaintiff continued to play until he stopped to eat dinner. During his dinner, a casino employee approached plaintiff and stated that he had arranged for plaintiff to stay in a suite in the hotel for the entire weekend. Plaintiff declined, quickly finished his dinner, and returned to the casino to play blackjack. He continued playing until the casino closed at 6:00 a.m. By that time, plaintiff had lost $5,000.00 in cash and had signed $45,000.00 in markers. At that time, plaintiff went to the suite and remained there until 10:00 a.m., when the casino reopened.

When plaintiff returned to the casino, he recounted the evening's activities to the pit boss, and told the pit boss that he was hoping to recoup his losses. Plaintiff continued to play blackjack until 3:00 p.m., at which time he had lost a total of $105,000.00.

At 3:00 p.m., plaintiff went to the Sands Hotel and Casino. Plaintiff went to the "special" blackjack tables in the baccarat pit and was greeted by several casino employees who knew plaintiff. When they asked plaintiff how he was, he told them that he had been gambling non-stop since the night before and had lost $105,000.00. In less than one hour at the Sands, plaintiff had signed markers for an additional $50,000.00.

Plaintiff states that during the time he was in the Claridge and the Sands, he became very abusive, cursed, accused the dealers of cheating him, threw cards, smashed an ashtray and "made a spectacle" of himself. After the casino changed dealers and plaintiff lost more money, he demanded that the dealer be replaced with a new dealer. When the Sands refused to replace the dealer, plaintiff left in a condition which plaintiff describes as "livid . . ., obscene, loud, and totally out of control." At that point, plaintiff left the Sands and went across the street to Bally's Park Place.

At Bally's, plaintiff was again greeted by casino employees who asked how he was. Plaintiff responded by telling the

employees that he was in a "dead heat," that he had been playing continuously since the day before, and that he had lost $105,000.00 at the Claridge and $50,000.00 at the Sands. At that point, Bally's gave him chips and a private table with a minimum bet of $500.00. In minutes, plaintiff lost $10,000.00. Casino employees continued to give him chips and plaintiff continued to sign markers. Plaintiff stated that he also believes that Bally's employees had him sign papers to increase his credit limit beyond what plaintiff had requested. Plaintiff continued with the same abusive, erratic behavior as before, and continued gambling at Bally's, and then back at the Sands, until after midnight.

The crux of plaintiff's argument is that plaintiff, through his words and actions, specifically advised casino employees that he was a compulsive gambler. Additionally, defendants had information readily available to them that Caesar's Hotel and Casino had cancelled plaintiff's line of credit at Caesar's because plaintiff had been identified as a compulsive gambler.*fn2

Plaintiff asserts, and defendants agree that a violation of the credit provisions of the Casino Control Act, N.J.S.A. 5:12-101(b), would render an extension of credit unenforceable. Plaintiff further argues, however, that the circumstances surrounding plaintiff's request of credit contracts represented by the markers is entitled to be voided based on the common law contractual defenses of duress and unconscionability because the ...

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