Downtown Grand Sued When Man Loses $500K in Alleged Blackout State

Posted on: March 8, 2014, 05:30h. 

Last updated on: March 7, 2014, 05:35h.

52-year-old Mark Johnston from Los Angeles is suing the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas, after losing $500K wagering on Super Bowl weekend. Johnston claims he was blacked out and didn’t know what he was doing. (Image: CNN)

Did you have a rough Super Bowl weekend, wagering-wise? Perhaps you bet on the Broncos, or maybe the blowout took all the life out of your Super Bowl party. Whatever the case may be, chances are you didn’t have the kind of issues faced by one serious gambler in Las Vegas, who says he lost $500,000 over that weekend while he was far too inebriated to know what he was doing.

Blackout Drunk Continued to Wager

That man – 52-year-old Mark Johnston, from Los Angeles – says that the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas’ Fremont Street area allowed him to gamble while he was clearly drunk; blackout drunk, according to his own assessment. That lead to him losing half a million dollars at the pai gow and blackjack tables.

“I feel like they picked my pockets,” said Johnston, a retiree from California. “I feel like they took a drunk guy…like a drunk guy walking down the street, and you reach in his pockets and grab all his money.

“I am not a sore loser. I’ve lost half a million. I’ve lost 800,000. I’ve lost a lot of money. This has nothing to do with that. Obviously I can afford what I lost,” said Johnston, who nonetheless refuses to classify himself as a “whale” – the industry term for a high-roller.

Johnston formerly owned a Southern California car dealership, and now owns a Mercedes-Benz worth $250,000; making his modesty regarding his gambling status a tad disingenuous.

Although he claims he has not blacked out previously, he also claims to have been served 20-30 drinks, making one wonder how he can remember that, but not his gambling play per se. But the rich aren’t richer than we are because they don’t know how to play hardball, and Johnston is no exception to that rule; he appears happy to play the victim card in this scenario.

“This is about you almost killing me. What if I had gone to bed that night, with all those drinks in me, and I threw up on myself and I choked and died?” Johnston said, with a dramatic flair that we can only admire from afar. That being said, even he fesses up to having had as many as 10 drinks while traveling to Vegas and in the limo before he even hit the gaming floor.

“My responsibility is, look, I had some drinks at the airport, on the plane. At some point, that’s my responsibility,” the gambler said. “The unfortunate part about it for them is, they have a bigger responsibility than I do.”

According to Johnston’s attorney Sean Lyttle, The Grand is countersuing in an attempt to collect his client’s debts; although other media sources have reported that the casino has offered to settle at a 20 percent discount – $400K – but that Johnston refuses to go that route.  Meanwhile, Johnston has placed a stop-payment order on the debt payments The Grand was trying to collect, and is also suing them for damaging his reputation.

Nevada Law Puts Onus on Casinos

It turns out that – per Nevada law – casinos are, in fact, banned from allowing visibly drunk gamblers from continuing to wager money. They’re also supposed to cut off the free drinks after they can tell someone has had one too many. The grey area here may be who determines what constitutes how many, and by what criteria. After all, if Johnston was able to place wagers – even in a blackout state, as he claims – how was the casino to know what impaired state he might be in?

Nonetheless, regulatory authorities are taking the case quite seriously. So while The Grand does not comment on pending litigation, Nevada’s Gaming Control Board is reportedly investigating the case – one that Lyttle says is quite unusual.

“It’s certainly an extraordinary case,” Lyttle said. “This is not a story that I’ve ever heard before, where someone was blackout intoxicated where they couldn’t read their cards, and yet a casino continued to serve them drinks and issue them more markers. It’s a very heavy-handed and unusual approach that we haven’t seen in this town in a long time.”

According to Johnston, he’s a regular in Las Vegas and was invited to The Grand for Super Bowl weekend along with his girlfriend, though he mostly gambled on his own. His lawsuit alleges that The Grand gave him dozens of free drinks after he had already been drinking at dinner, and that he didn’t realize how much he had lost until Sunday.

While Johnston lost big over Super Bowl weekend, he wasn’t the only one. With most of the public money on the Broncos, the Nevada sportsbooks won nearly $20 million from gamblers on the NFL’s championship game this year after a record amount of betting.