Potential Liability for Ontario Casinos After Loss of Millions

Toronto – The gaming authority in Ontario may be on the hook for a claim by victims of a gambling addict who ripped them off for more than $4 million to finance her gambling addiction.

The Court of Appeal made a split decision and said that the claim that was filed against the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission should proceed to trial after deciding that it was not doomed to fail as ruled by a lower court.

In its ruling, the Appeal Court said that the case is once again an illustration of the catastrophic consequences on society caused by people with gambling problems, those who are not able to resist a casino’s allure.

According to documents, a Hamilton law clerk, Shellee Spinks stole the millions from two estates and others with forged documents and by selling estate assets. Spinks lost roughly $3 million of the stolen money when she gambled at two casinos in Ontario over a period of 14 months between 2006 and 2008.

The two estates in question alleged that they were defrauded of about $1.5 million by Spinks, who lied to the casinos saying that she was a lawyer. They filed a lawsuit against the gaming authority in order to recover their losses, with the argument that the casinos knew that Spinks had a gambling problem and hence should be held responsible and liable for receiving trust funds, negligence and also unjust enrichment.

However, last year, Superior Court Justice Peter Hambly shunned the claim without a hearing on its merits, saying that it was “plain and obvious” that there was no chance of the lawsuit being successful.

Among many other things, Hambly suggested that it was not known by the casinos that Spinks was gambling with trust funds or that she should have been investigated. He noted that a large number of gamers lose money due to gambling, the gaming corporation did not have a “duty of care” to problem gamblers and the casinos had legitimate and valid reasons to keep the money.

In a contradicting opinion that ran longer than the decision made by the majority, Associate Chief Justice Hoy said she would have to dismiss the appeal. According to her, the estates never alleged that the fact that Spinks was a problem gambler was known by the casinos or was willfully blind to that fact.

Hoy also said that it would not be fair for the gaming corporation to have conducted an investigation into the source of the money because Spinks identified herself as a lawyer. She said that there was no prospect of success for the claim and agreed with Hambly that it should be thrown out.

In August 2010, Spinks, 47 years old at the time, was given a four-year sentence after she pled guilty to 16 criminal charges.

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