Indiana Supreme Court Affirms Time Honored Principle

On September 30, 2010, the Indiana Supreme Court, in the case of Donovan v. Grand Victoria Casino & Resort, L.P. — N.E.2d —, 2010 WL 3823132 (Ind. 2010), affirmed “one of the time-honored principles of property law” which is “the absolute and unconditional right of private property owners to exclude from their domain those entering without permission.” Thomas P. Donovan was an accomplished “card counter” in the game of blackjack. He supplemented his income by successfully using his skill to win in blackjack games in casinos. Apparently the Grand Victoria allowed him to gamble at its blackjack tables. However, the Grand Victoria thought better of its decision and decided not to permit Mr. Donovan at its blackjack tables, although still permitting him access to other games within its casino. Because Ms. Donovan would not agree to be so restricted, the casino evicted Mr. Donovan and placed him on its list of excluded patrons.
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Mr. Donovan sued the casino, seeking declaratory judgment that he could not be excluded from playing blackjack. The trial court granted summary judgment for the casino and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed holding that because Indiana has implemented a comprehensive scheme for regulating riverboat gambling, the casino’s right to exclude patrons was partially abrogated. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court and held that the time-honored principle of an absolute and unconditional right of private property owners to exclude others from its property was not changed by the Indiana legislature permitting gambling. This right is may be exercised arbitrarily and without offering any reason. The only limits on the exclusion right are “statutorily imposed prohibitions on exclusions for characteristics such as race and religion.

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