A Columbia woman who had a decade-long video poker gambling compulsion is eligible to sue Rockaway’s and Pizza Man only for losses before the state made the machines illegal, the state’s highest court ruled Wednesday.
Lauren Proctor sued to get back some $700,000 she said she gambled away over six years, including five years when the machines were legal. She says she played at the Rosewood Drive businesses for about a year after the state outlawed them.
The divided ruling by the justices means Proctor is unlikely to recoup any money, said Jim Griffin, the lawyer for the owners of Rockaway Athletic Club and the pizza restaurant owners, Forrest and Paul Whitlark.
“This decision effectively eliminates all of her claim,” Griffin said. Evidence gathered in the lawsuit shows Proctor’s losses occurred before July 1, 2000, when the Legislature reversed state law that permitted video poker machines.
The high court’s decision overturned years of rulings that allowed gamblers to recoup losses under unfair trade practices and other laws.
“We take this opportunity to re-evaluate a line of decisions that implicitly permit one engaged in illegal gambling to recover” losses,” Associate Justice Donald Beatty wrote for the majority. “... If a gambler were permitted to recover under (unfair trade practices) for losses sustained by illegal gambling ... anyone engaged in an illegal activity could allege (a) claim.”
Chief Justice Jean Toal dissented. She argued the court should have stuck to its precedent, which would let Proctor seek damages for the years during which video poker was legal.
Proctor said the Whitlarks gave her cash advances on her credit cards and gave her free food and alcohol to keep her gambling. She said she lost between $1,000 and $5,000 per week.
“I would allow Proctor to pursue her (unfair trade practices) claim in full against defendants, who engaged in deliberate conduct that fed Proctor’s gambling addiction,” Toal wrote.
Griffin said the law that governs Proctor’s remaining claim while video poker was legal has a requirement that a suit must be filed with three months of gambling losses. She did not file within that time, the lawyer for the restaurants said.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.