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High-stakes Las Vegas gambler commits suicide: Is the casino liable?

High-stakes Las Vegas gambler commits suicide: Is the casino liable?

In this week’s travel law article, we examine the case of Head v. Las Vegas Sands, LLC d/b/a The Venetian Resort Hotel/Casino/The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, Civil Action No. 7:17-CV-00426 (S.D. Texas March 27, 2018) the Court noted that ”This case arises because William Washington Head, Jr.(Decedent) -a high stakes Las Vegas gambler-tragically committed suicide after plunging into debt. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants lured Decedent into debt (and thus into psychological distress and ultimately suicide) by enticing him to gamble in Las Vegas and extending large lines of credit for him in the process. The alleged enticements included: over $1 million dollars of ‘customer retention’ rebates, free first-class travel, luxurious accommodations, luxury items, vacations, food and beverages. Allegedly, Defendants ‘were aware of the amount of money Decedent] had received in casino credit and were aware of his huge gambling losses, and they continued to extend additional credit to him, pushing him further into a newer ending spiral of debt”. Defendants motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction granted.

In the Head case the Court noted that “Decedent’s estate entered probate in the Hidalgo County Probate Court. Defendants thereafter ‘filed suit in the pending probate case seeking to enforce their alleged claims on [Defendant’s] estate. In response, Plaintiffs-Decedent’s heirs-filed the instant suit against Defendants in the Hidalgo County Probate Court, alleging wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress(IIED), employing the Texas survival statute as a vehicle for relief. Defendants subsequently removed and filed the instant motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction”.

No Specific Jurisdiction

“The first manner Due Process ‘minimum contacts’ may be established…is through specific jurisdiction which requires, among other things, that the nonresident defendant ‘has purposefully directed [his] activities at the forum state and the litigation results from alleged injuries that arise out of or relate to those activities. The Fifth Circuit has set forth a three-step analysis for determining whether specific jurisdiction exists: (1) whether the defendant has minimum contacts with the forum state, i.e., whether it purposely detected its activities toward the forum state or purposely availed itself of the privileges of conducting activities there; (2) whether the plaintiff’s cause of action arises out of or results from the defendant’s forum related contacts; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction is fair and reasonable”.

No Purposeful Availment

“Defendants’ contacts with exes were based on the mere fortuity that Decedent lived in Taxsa; they never would have sent jets to Texas for Decedent if Decedent lived in Florida or Alaska. Thus, Defendants did not purposefully avail themselves of the benefits and privileges of Texas. And could not reasonable foresee that they would be hailed into Texas courts for IIED and wrongful death claims arising from Decedent’s subsequent decision to kill himself”.

Insufficient In-Forum Conduct

“Simply put, Plaintiffs allege so many different ways in which Defendants enticed Decedent to gamble, that it is impossible to say jet transportation from Texas to Las Vegas-alone-was a but-for cause of Plaintiffs’ IIED and wrongful death claims. Consider the following alleged enticements that have no expressed connection with Texas (1) My husband was a heavy gambler at the casinos…for many years, (2) Throughout this time, the casinos extended lines of credit on multiple occasions, (3) My husband was repeatedly contacted…The purpose of the telephone calls ranged from soliciting his business, offering rebates and making personal invitations to vacation resorts o blackjack tournaments, (4) Every casino, except MGM, gifted my husband numerous vacation trips…(5) Despite heavy losses, the casinos continued to give my husband additional lines of credit, (6) To retain his business, the casinos often offered ‘customer retention discounts’ which totaled well over ($) 1 million dollars, (7) My husband received a collections phone call from the Venetian…(10)[Defendants failed] to implement policies and procedures regarding extending large amounts of credit to problem gamblers, (11) [Defendants failed ] to properly train and supervise its employees to recognize and determine signs of problem gamblers, (12) [Defendants failed] to enact or enforce adequate and/or reasonable measures to protect customer from becoming financially decimated”.

Air Transportation Only

“Amongst this mass of non-Texas-specific allegations giving rise to Plaintiffs’ claims lies air transportation from Texas to Las Vegas. It is difficult to imagine that Decedent would have ceased to gamble (and thus not gone into debt, become distress, and committed suicide) in the absence of casino-provided air transportation to Las Vegas. No doubt, the aforementioned enticements…would have been enough to attract any gambling addict to Las Vegas. Perhaps Decedent would have purchased his own plane tickets or driver a car”.

No General Jurisdiction

“This is no general jurisdiction in this case. As a starting point, Defendants are not Texas residents…are not incorporated in Texas, and they do not have their principle place of business in Texas…Defendants are not ‘at home’ in Texas by virtue of their residency…Plaintiffs only provide evidence that Defendants ‘sent corporate jets to AcAllen, Texas on numerous occasions…Sheri Head does not indicate how many times jets were actually sent to Texas. Thus, this allegation barely qualifies as a business contact. Even if it was a business contact, it does not constitute a substantial, continuous and systematic business contact”.

Defendants’ Website

“Recent case law within the Fifth Circuit appears to uniformly hold that mere internet presence within a forum does not generate general jurisdiction. The bases for this progeny of related cases is tri-fold. First, the existence of a website falls squarely outside the ‘paradigm’ locations of a corporation’s home-its principle place of business and state of incorporation. Indeed, Daimler, which crystalized this ‘paradigm’ was published in 2014, and easily could have included website presence. It did not…Second, Courts-including the Fifth Circuit-have indicated that websites are ‘not well adapted to the general jurisdiction inquiry…in other words, while it may be doing business with Texas, it is not doing business in Texas…Third, and importantly, at least one district court has indicated that if mere internet presence alone could generate general jurisdiction, then it would produce unacceptable grasping nationwide jurisdiction-directly contrary to the limiting principles found in Daimler”.

Outdated Fifth Circuit Case Law

“Outdated Fifth Circuit case law [see Mink v. AAA Dev. LLC, 190 F. 3d 333 (5th Cir. 1999)(citing Zippo Mfg. Co. V. Zippo Dot Com, 952 F. Supp. 1119(W.D. Pa. 1997); Revell v. Lidov, 317 F. 3d 467 (5th Cir. 2002)] complicates matters a bit (however) Defendants’ alleged website presence in Texas does not give rise to general jurisdiction. Plaintiffs offer no evidence of Defendants’ website presence in other states, making it impossible to determine whether Defendants’ relationship with and contact in Texas is somehow unique…insofar as Defendants’ website presence in Texas amounts to simple advertising, courts have expressly rejected such a basis for general jurisdiction …insofar as Defendants’ website presence in Texas results in contract formation in Texas, post-Daimler district opinions with the Fifth Circuit have expressly rejected such as a basis for general jurisdiction”.

Patricia and Tom Dickerson

The author, Thomas A. Dickerson, passed away on July 26, 2018 at the age of 74. Through the graciousness of his family, eTurboNews is being allowed to share his articles that we have on file which he sent to us for future weekly publication.

The Hon. Dickerson retired as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department of the New York State Supreme Court and wrote about Travel Law for 42 years including his annually-updated law books, Travel Law, Law Journal Press (2018), Litigating International Torts in U.S. Courts, Thomson Reuters WestLaw (2018), Class Actions: The Law of 50 States, Law Journal Press (2018), and over 500 legal articles many of which are available here. For additional travel law news and developments, especially in the member states of the EU, click here.

Read many of Justice Dickerson’s articles here.

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