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What professional poker player Scott Robbins describes as an attempt at levity fell flat and got him banned for life from the Borgata in Atlantic City.
Robbins allegedly made comments to hotel staff about jumping from a hotel room window, which he claims were not intended to be taken seriously. Now, he’s suing the casino for more than $1.25 million. However, guests who find themselves banned from casino properties rarely if ever have much luck fighting back.
As gamblers know, casinos are private companies. Banning individuals from accessing their private property is within their rights. In Borgata’s case, the owner company is MGM Resorts International, which also owns the BetMGM online gambling brand. Robbins may find himself excluded from using those products as well.
Update (09/22/2021): Robbins and MGM have resolved the suit ‘amicably,’ with all claims dropped. It’s not clear whether Robbins got anything out of the agreement, such as having his ban reversed.
According to Robbins’ version of things, he arrived at the Borgata in September 2019 for a poker tournament.
In what is normally a routine matter, he says he approached the hotel check-in desk.
At that point Robbins, whose Twitter bio currently reads “poker pro hoping to travel the world stacking fish,” made the comments which led to his ban and ultimately to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states that the front desk clerk asked if he preferred a room on a higher or lower floor. After that, it says the following conversation took place:
Robbins’ complaint contends that he and everyone around the desk with him were still laughing when the desk clerk handed him the key to a room on the 30th floor.
He claims that he was later relaxing in his room when an “armed security force” appeared at his door and told him he’d have to go to the hospital and be examined by a psychiatrist to ensure he wasn’t “a danger to himself.”
Returning to the Borgata after being cleared by the psychiatrist at the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Robbins says he discovered his room had been cleared of his belongings. He claims that members of Borgata’s security team told him to leave and that he was “banned for life.”
Robbins’ claims against the Borgata include defamation, as well as immediate loss of a sponsorship and expected poker winnings. He is also seeking compensation for future earnings he says are impacted by the ban. In total, he’s seeking damages of $1,253,368.75 from Borgata and MGM. On Monday, the case moved up to New Jersey’s US District Court.
Precedent has this looking like a difficult task for Robbins and his attorney, Frederic C. Goetz.
In general, lawsuits related to retail casino bans go the other way, with the casino company as the plaintiff. These cases are usually pursuing the return of allegedly ill-gotten gains. For example last year, Borgata settled a lawsuit it had filed in 2014 against gambler Phil Ivey for $10 million. Borgata’s attorneys had claimed that Ivey won nearly that amount in 2012 by using “edge sorting” in baccarat.
Casinos have succeeded at barring gamblers from their buildings for what might arguably be called free speech if it happened in a public place. In other, more extreme cases, the infractions have been things that could easily have resulted in criminal charges. For instance, Adele Belizaire likely won’t ever be allowed back in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa. Newsweek reported in May 2021 that she phoned in a bomb threat to the casino after losing $380 at the slot machines there.
In fact, it’s more common that casinos lose cases for failing to bar a player. These cases typically involve self-excluded players who have sued when casinos or other gambling operators allowed them to play, but then attempted to withhold winnings. For instance in 2014, a judge awarded $77,000 for jackpots Hamidreza Haghdust and Michael Lee won after the British Columbia Lottery Corporation failed to enforce its self-exclusion program.
A BetMGM representative, asked by Online Poker Report if Robbins will be banned from its online gambling platform, declined to comment on the matter.
However, the BetMGM New Jersey site makes it clear that a ban at one of MGM’s land-based casinos applies online, too.
BetMGM’s rules showed that individuals who couldn’t create accounts included “any individuals who have been banned from gaming activities at any MGM Resorts International subsidiary or affiliate.” The operator can also remove or suspend accounts at “our sole discretion with immediate effect and without notice, so long as such change does not affect pending play on the services.”
These are generally absolutes.
However, it appears as though Caesars Entertainment Corporation may have paid a banned player who tricked officials by changing his name. In 2019, the brand that also owns online gambling platform William Hill ended its court battle with Joseph Stiers.
Stiers was banned from all Caesars-owned entities in 2015, when he admitted to counting cards at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.
Instead of adhering to that ban, Stiers entered 2016 and 2017 World Series of Poker events under different names. In 2016, Conorstiers won $18,714. In 2017, Conor fared even better. Conor is Stiers’ middle name.
As our sister site USPoker reported in 2018:
“He actually managed to run up his starting stack to around 630,000 in chips heading into the dinner break on Day 3. Then WSOP brass figured out who he was. They kicked him out on the break and pulled the chips from play.”
In his complaint, Robbins asserts that the ban will cost him $850,000 in earnings from Borgata alone.
The defamation portion of the suit stems from his claim that Borgata employees then spread the word that Robbins was banned for life “because of a suicide attempt.”
That’s when he allegedly lost his sponsorships, which he says were worth $200,000.
In his 28-count complaint, Robbins also requests an additional $200,000 for pain and suffering.
Robbins’ attorney, Frederic C. Goetz, spoke to the New Jersey Law Journal‘s Charles Toutant about the suit seeking compensation for alleged false imprisonment, interference with prospective economic advantage, libel and violation of federal civil rights laws.
“Big corporations can’t just treat people the way they want because they’re big corporations. Their actions were arbitrary and capricious.”
The Hendon Mob database shows Robbins never stopped playing poker. During his most recent event, Robbins competed in the World Poker Tournament‘s April 2021 showdown at the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. To date, the poker pro’s live-play winnings total $417,325.
However, Robbins’ lawsuit contends he could be earning a lot more. Whether a judge sees it the same way is another question, still to be determined.
Here is the complaint filed by Robbins and his attorney, in full.Scott Robbins v. Borgata et al