S.C. high court weighs if gambler can sue to recoup lost money

Reuters News
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Posted: May 18, 2015 3:39 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A South Carolina woman suing to recoup the fortune she lost gambling on video poker in a state where it is illegal will take her case to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Lauren Proctor says lost $700,000 at two restaurants in Columbia, South Carolina, according to court documents. At the time, she was addicted to gambling, she said.

She sued to get her money back under the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act. Courts previously have found that habitual gamblers act on "uncontrollable impulses" and deserve protection from themselves, her lawyers argued in a legal brief.

Her right to sue was upheld by a state appellate court. However, the two establishments where she gambled, Rockaway Athletic Club and Pizza Man, have appealed to the high court.

The issue before the court is whether a gambler can sue for recouped losses on a game that is illegal in the state, said James M. Griffin, a lawyer for the restaurant owners. 

"It's uncharted territory," he said in a telephone interview. "Where do you draw the line? We'll have cockfighters suing each other; people suing over dog fighting."

South Carolina had banned video gambling in 2000, after the state high court ruled that it was illegal. The once multibillion-dollar industry continued illegally in the state despite police efforts to stamp it out.

Proctor lost between $1,000 and $5,000 each week between 1999 and 2005, according to court records. To pay her gambling debts, she began to embezzle money from her employer, TransUnion National Title Insurance Co.

In 2007, she pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to pay back $700,000 in money she stole, according to federal court records.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Doina Chiacu)