Can I Be Charged With a Crime If I Don't Pay a Casino Marker?
I owe an out-of-state casino $3,750. I had a marker of $5,000, then one evening 6 months ago when I was down $5k, they allowed me to go $2,500 above that. I didn't have enough in my checking account to pay off the $7,500 I lost that evening as they automatically debit my checking account. I originally owed $4,500 as they were able to debit $3,000, which was all the money I had. I have been paying it down from $4,500 and now owe $3,750. What rights does the casino have to go after me for this type of debt? A casino employee threatens to send the matter to the district attorney's office in Louisiana. How do they get involved? I really appreciate any guidance you can provide. I am under water and can only pay them a small amount per month. I live in Georgia.
Let me preface my answer with two important points:
- You ask about an unsettled area of law. The details of your case matter, and your best source of information is a lawyer in your state who has consumer law experience and can learn more details about your circumstances.
- I’m not a lawyer in your state, and therefore am incompetent to give you legal advice. What I share here is general information not intended to be advice.
Who Decides If A Debt Is Criminal?
District attorneys, attorneys general, and federal prosecutors decide who to charge with a crime. They base this decision on local law and the evidence before them. Lenders and retailers, like other private citizens, can share evidence with a DA or prosecutor and ask the defendant to be charged with a crime. DAs and prosecutors have discretion in deciding whether to bother with a case. The DA or prosecutor may be overwhelmed with higher-profile cases, or look at the evidence and decide the case is not worth his or her office’s time. The DA or prosecutor makes the final decision whether to charge someone with a crime, not the person making the complaint.
A lender or merchant saying, "I will send this to the DA’s office" or "I want to press charges" sounds dramatic but it does NOT mean the debtor will be charged with a crime automatically.
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Are Gambling Debts Legal?
Gambling debt is tricky to analyze. In most states, a lender of a debt related to gambling may not use the state civil courts to collect because the state considers it against public policy to enforce gambling-related obligations. The same is true for criminal bad-check cases relating to gambling debt. In some states, no DA would want the appearance of favoring casinos or card clubs over local consumers by pursuing a consumer for a debt owed to a casino for gambling. Doing so would be political suicide in some communities.
In the mid-1980s, however, some states started to change their stances on gambling, and state courts have started to follow their lead. My point here is state court views on gambling debt are fluid and are moving in the favor of casinos.
What’s a Marker?
"Markers" are another tricky issue. A marker is a line of credit at a casino, although that definition is not accurate under law in all states. Some courts see markers as personal loans. Others see markers as a form of negotiable instrument, like a check. As you know, some states make it a criminal offense to pass a check when the check-writer knows he or she lacks sufficient funds in the account. In these states, having insufficient funds to pay a marker may result in criminal prosecution.
You mentioned Louisiana. This state sees markers as negotiable instruments with little distinction from checks. If a gambler lack sufficient funds in his or her financial account tied to the marker, the Louisiana courts will allow the plaintiff (the casino) to use the Louisiana civil courts to obtain a judgment against the defendant (the gambler) and use the state’s Nonsufficient Funds Checks statute to obtain money penalties from the gambler. See the cases Telerecovery of Louisiana v. Gaulon and Telerecovery of Louisiana v. Major to learn more about the marker issue in Louisiana.
Collecting Out-Of-State Debts
Let’s say you live in State A and write a bad check while in State B to a merchant headquartered in that state. The merchant has the right to file a lawsuit against you in State B, and if the lawsuit is successful, obtain a judgment against you from the State B court. The merchant can then domesticate the judgment in your state, State A, and use whatever laws State A offers to collect on the debt.
Some states, however, reserve the right to review the facts of the case that resulted in the judgment. If the judgment resulted from a case that is contrary to State A law, a State A court may choose to not enforce the judgment. More about this issue in a moment.
Your Question About A Louisiana Gambling Debt
I cannot say how receptive a Louisiana DA would be to pursuing a criminal bad-check case for a $3,750 marker debt. For a $1 million fraud or larceny case, or a serial bad-check writer, sure, that’s worth a DA's time. But $3,750 case strikes me as small potatoes. But that’s just an opinion, and the DA may see the facts differently.
You mentioned you reside in Georgia. Georgia has many prohibitions against gambling. The key question I cannot answer is if the Louisiana casino obtains a civil judgment against you, will a Georgia court allow the judgment to be domesticated (i.e., enforced) against a Georgia resident. Here is where we get back to my original point: consult with a lawyer in your state for an analysis of your case.
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