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Law School Case Brief

Donovan v. Grand Victoria Casino & Resort, L.P. - 934 N.E.2d 1111 (Ind. 2010)

Rule:

An owner of an Indiana business has long had the absolute right to exclude a visitor or customer, subject only to applicable civil rights laws. This long-standing common law right of private property owners extends to the operator of a riverboat casino that wishes to exclude a patron for employing strategies designed to give the patron a statistical advantage over the casino. The Riverboat Gambling Act, which gives the Indiana Gaming Commission exclusive authority to set the rules of licensed casino games, does not abrogate this common law right.

Facts:

Grand  Victoria Casino & Resort, L.P. (Grand Victoria), was the owner and operator of a riverboat casino located in Rising Sun, Indiana. One of the games offered by Grand Victoria was blackjack. Thomas P. Donovan supplemented his income by playing blackjack in casinos. For a time, Grand Victoria allowed Donovan to play blackjack and card count if he wagered no more than $25 per hand. However, on August 4, 2006, Grand Victoria's director of table games advised Donovan that Grand Victoria had decided to ban Donovan from playing blackjack, though Donovan would still be allowed to play other casino games. After Donovan indicated that he would not comply with Grand Victoria's request, he was evicted and placed on Grand Victoria's list of excluded patrons. Donovan filed suit against Grand Victoria, alleging breach of contract and seeking a declaratory judgment that Grand Victoria could not exclude him from playing the game of blackjack for counting cards. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the casino on both counts. Donovan appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for Grand Victoria on the breach of contract claim, but it reversed summary judgment on the exclusion issue, holding that Donovan was entitled to a declaratory judgment that Grand Victoria had no right to exclude Donovan from blackjack for counting cards. The appellate court reasoned that Indiana has implemented a comprehensive scheme for regulating riverboat gambling which partially abrogated a casino's common law right of exclusion. Grand Victoria challenged the decision of the appellate court.

Issue:

Does Grand Victoria have the right to exclude Donovan from blackjack for counting cards?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court noted that one of the time-honored principles of property law is the absolute and unconditional right of private property owners to exclude from their domain those entering without permission. According to the Court, the comprehensive scheme for regulating riverboat gambling under Ind. Code §§ 4-33-3-1 to 4-33-3-12 and Ind. Code §§ 4-33-4-1 to 4-33-4-23 did not abrogate the owner's common law right as the owner of a private amusements to exclude patrons as it so chose because the regulation of the industry did not change the character of the business from a private to a public one. 68 Ind. Admin. Code 6-1-1(d) specifically did not preclude a patron from being evicted from a casino gambling operation for any lawful reason.

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