David Williams' gambling addiction cost him his life savings — almost all of it dumped into the slot machines at Casino Aztar (search) in Indiana.
Williams decided to take action. He sued the casino.
"Casinos cannot come into this state and just take advantage of a bunch of sick people," said his attorney, Terry Noffsinger.
The first judge to hear the case sided with the casino, but Williams has appealed the decision. His claim is among a growing number of lawsuits that aim to hold the gaming industry responsible for exploiting compulsive gamblers.
The Rev. Tom Grey of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion (search) said slot machines are "delivery systems" for gambling addiction.
"The more available and accessible we make it, the more addiction it delivers," said Grey, who predicts the eventual success of lawsuits that target casinos.
The industry says it tries to spot compulsive gamblers. It has "been very proactive to help out that 1 percent who can't help themselves," said Frank Fahrenkopf of the American Association of Gambling (search).
But that didn't happen in Williams' case. When his gambling got out of control and a worried friend asked the casino to intervene, Williams was banned from entering Aztar. But early in 1999, after 11 gambling-free months, the casino began luring him back — mailing him tickets for complimentary hotel stays and meals.
Williams returned to the casino.
"It starts out as an adrenaline rush," he said. "But in a period of about seven days, I lost $38,000."
When it was all over, he had squandered about $175,000 and had to file for bankruptcy.
Williams' lawsuit claims the casino should have done more to keep him out. The casino counters that Williams was the cause of his own problems.
"You shouldn't sue McDonald's claiming they're responsible for your obesity problems," said Patrick Shoulders, Casino Aztar's lawyer. "Fundamentally, problem gamblers have to take responsibility for their own actions."
The U.S. District judge in that case agreed, ruling that under state and federal law, Aztar had no duty to protect Williams from his gambling habit. His attorneys have appealed the decision.
The Indiana Coalition Against Legalized Gambling has been monitoring the case and hopes it will be the first step in requiring more responsibility from casinos.
Meanwhile, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would authorize a statewide list of self-proclaimed compulsive gamblers who want to be barred from casinos. If they do try to enter a casino, they would be charged with trespassing. Casinos would be prohibited from sending them coupons or cashing their checks.
The bill is now before the state Senate.
Fox News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans contributed to this report.
Steve Brown is an author, radio broadcaster and seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.