A Massachusetts semi-pro poker player who was banned for life by the Borgata in 2019 is suing New Jersey’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, alleging that he is owed at least $850,000 in poker profits he would have earned in tournaments over the next decade. Scott Robbins filed his lawsuit in June in a New Jersey state court, though it was transferred this week to the U.S.’s federal court system this week.
Robbins’ case against the Borgata is interesting and unusual. In September of 2019, according to a complaint obtained by Poker.org, he arrived in Atlantic City to play a $3,500 buy-in poker tourney. He’d won a $400 satellite entry to the event, but the trouble began when he checked into the Borgata’s hotel on September 14, 2019.
A series of off-key quips led to Robbins soon being removed from his 30th-floor room by an “armed security force.” He was placed in an ambulance and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation. Only if he passed that, the lawsuit asserts, would he then be able to stay in a Borgata room and play in the tourney. When he passed that test and returned to the casino, they denied him entry anyway, banning him for life instead.
Suicide-themed quips versus misinterpreted banter
The complaint details how Robbins engaged the clerk in what he thought was light-hearted banter. Was a high-floor or low-floor room in the Borgata’s 42-floor hotel tower the better choice? According to Robbins, “If I had to jump from a high floor window [meaning, in case of fire or earthquake], would I make it?”
The clerk responded with “NO, don’t do that.” He then responded with “I won’t.” Accordingly, in keeping with the conversation, he asked, “Would I make it if I had to jump out of a lower floor?” She also responded with “NO, don’t do that.” Again, he said clearly, “I won’t,” and then, again, in keeping with the conversation, laughingly said: “But since I wouldn’t survive either, I guess it doesn’t matter what floor you give me.”
Robbins also claims to have been joking with others about the exchange as it occurred. The “in case of fire or earthquake” is his and his lawyer’s explanation of events, but the clerk likely took the conversation more seriously. Shortly after he went to his 30th-floor room, an armed security team arrived. They escorted Robbins from the room and told him he couldn’t return until he passed a psych exam. The suit notes the room had shatterproof windows, so in jest or not, jumping wasn’t an option.
Complaint reaches far beyond Robbins’ expenses
The lawsuit offers a long list of alleged actionable conduct by the Borgata and its staff. Robbins’ immediate losses from the lifetime ban included the tourney entry he’d won, with a $3,500 face value. His expenses also included more than $2,000 for the forced ambulance ride and medical exam. Add in $500 in travel expenses and more for a replacement hotel room, and he was forced to spend over $6,000.
The complaint filed on Robbins’ behalf makes a good case for him being owed that much, but the allegations spread deeper. They claim false imprisonment and a violation of New Jersey’s civil-rights statutes, among nearly 30 different allegations. The forced ambulance ride and medical exam form the basis for this portion of the lawsuit.
The action claims that Borgata staffers also talked about Robbins’ lifetime ban to other poker players and patrons, committing libel, slander, and defamation. It also claims that the Borgata “published untrue statements” about Robbins. The complaint does not, to date, include corroborating evidence.
Loss of poker opportunities largest part of claim
In financial terms, the largest portion of the lawsuit is its assertion that the Borgata’s ban will cost Robbins over a million dollars over the next decade. This includes $850,000 in actual poker winnings, at $85,000/year over the next decade. The lawsuit also claims that Robbins has lost up to $200,000 in potential sponsorship opportunities.
These and other claims form the foundation for several other alleged torts. They include unjust enrichment, breach of contract, and interference with prospective economic advantage. These speak to Robbins’ assertion that his ban from the Borgata will cost him $85,000 a year.
Whether Robbins is a frequent and profitable cash-game player is unknown. However, he has logged dozens of tourney cashes since 2018, at venues in Nevada, Florida, and at Connecticut’s Foxwoods Casino, which is much closer to his Massachusetts home. However, online databases don’t show that he’s ever cashed in a single event at the Borgata.
It would also be difficult for a tourney pro to generate $85,000 a year in profit while playing mostly in events with buy-ins under $1,000. That describes Robbins’ previous tourney history. His largest tournament score, just over $130,000, came in a 2019 Florida tournament where he got the shortest slice of a three-way chop. He’s only had two other tournament cashes over $20,000.
Gambling law likely stacked against earnings claims
As a tool to get the Borgata’s lifetime ban removed, Robbins’ lawsuit could succeed. To win a million-dollar settlement or judgment is on a different level. Poker players and other gamblers have attempted such “lost opportunity” claims in previous cases, and none of note have succeeded.
Robbins’ case against New Jersey will be tried in a New Jersey federal court. Such courts have ruled against gamblers’ prospective claims of future profits in similar matters when any element of luck is involved. Those cases include one involving a Maryland poker player who broke the WSOP’s rules in entering the 2018 main event.
The same principle even worked against the Borgata in one previous matter. In the high-profile “edge sorting” mini-baccarat case involving Phil Ivey, the same Borgata attorney who will be arguing this battle, Jeremy Klausner, asserted that the Borgata was entitled to many millions more. That claim was based on the Borgata’s expectations of how the game of mini-baccarat should be played.
The presiding judge in that case tossed out Klausner’s assertion, but found cause to nullify all of Ivey’s profitable gaming action. That still left Ivey officially owing the Borgata over $10 million in those illegally-won “profits.” Appeals dragged on for several years until the two sides reached an undisclosed settlement about one year ago.
Robbins and his attorney, Frederick Goetz, might be eyeing a similar settlement. No hearings have been scheduled in the matter to date.
Featured image source: foxwoodspoker.com