Friday, March 24, 2006

Compulsive Gambling Linked To Parkinson's Drug

As reported in

Ever since Las Vegas has been in the business separating people from their money, there have been customers who have tried to get their money back. Of course, it almost never works. However, a recent complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas, claims that a man who suffers from Parkinson's disease took a drug that caused him to lose $10 million at the tables here. And based on early clinical studies of the drug prescribed for his disease, he may have a chance to recoup his losses.

Austin resident Max Wells, who suffers from Parkinson's, lost those millions gambling between September 2005 and January 2006. Most, if not all, of it right here in Las Vegas. At the end of January, his wife found out. In fact, she discovered that prior to the $10 million he lost here, he had already lost a few million dollars more. On Feb. 27, Wells filed a civil action in Austin seeking $21.5 million from six Las Vegas casinos and a drug company he claims were responsible for his losses. "Obviously, you can always go to Nevada and sue a casino, but you get a completely different jury and atmosphere," gaming law expert I. Nelson Rose, professor at Whittier Law School, said. "People in Texas are going to say, 'This guy lost $12 million and was taken advantage of.' People in Nevada might say, 'Oh, come on. Just because you lose money doesn't mean you can sue and get it back.' "It's not a frivolous claim by any means, but he's got a few steps he's going to have to show to get the connection there," he added.

The complaint against the casinos hinges on four crucial points: * Is there sufficient correlation to draw a link between a prescription drug that Wells was taking and compulsive gambling? * Can Wells prove negligence because the drug company was obliged to properly alert him about the possible side effect? * Can he prove that the casinos knew about the compulsion? * Was there sufficient interaction between the casinos, the state of Texas and Wells in his home state so that Austin is the proper venue to hear the case?

The plaintiff names the parent companies of the Wynn Las Vegas, Venetian Resort Hotel-Casino, Mandalay Bay Resort-Casino, Treasure Island, Harrah's Las Vegas hotel-casino and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Wells is suing the casinos under provisions of the Texas Theft Liability Act for "unlawfully appropriating his property." Wells' attorney, Tom Thomas of the, declined to comment on the case.

The lawsuit makes two separate claims: First, it targets Pennsylvania-based drug company GlaxoSmithKline over its prescription drug Requip. Wells asserts the company failed "to give adequate, proper and nondeceptive warnings" that the medication could "cause its users to develop an irresistible impulse to gamble." Requip, which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is a dopamine agonist that can help ease symptoms associated with Parkinson's. Similar to another Parkinson's drug, Mirapex, both drugs have been linked to compulsive behavior, including gambling, in two separate studies. According to the complaint, Wells was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2000. Over time, he was first prescribed Mirapex, which is produced by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals. He then was switched to Requip in November 2004 after "Wells became aware that he was developing an irresistible compulsion to gamble" while taking Mirapex, according the complaint. The court papers describe the behavior as "contrary to (Wells') pre-Mirapex habits, practices and routines."

A 2003 report in the academic journal "Neurology" showed that out of 529 patients, eight who took Mirapex developed gambling addictions. The study was done by the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona. The study was followed in July 2005 by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, stating that 11 patients developed gambling problems while taking "Mirapex or similar drugs" from 2002 to 2004 and an additional 14 also were later identified as having the same problem.

Calls seeking comment from GlaxoSmithKline had not been returned by press time. However, neither drug's Web site lists problem gambling as a possible side effect when taking their medications. WARNING SIGNALS? The complaint alleges that the drug company "could reasonably foresee" that Parkinson's patients on Requip "could develop an irresistible gambling compulsion" by mid-2005 and that the company was negligent because it "failed to warn the public or physicians." "The claim ... is that Wells was, by reason of intoxication, unable to make reasonable property dispositions," said University of Texas Law School professor George Dix via e-mail, after reading the complaint. "We do not let an accused rely on 'irresistible impulse' caused by mental illness to escape liability, but I am unaware of an absolute bar to relying on it as the plaintiff does here." After being confronted by his wife, Wells stopped taking Requip and he no longer gambles, according to the complaint.

The second part of the claim argues that the casinos were aware of Wells' condition, and that "in some instances" knew he was on either Mirapex and Requip. It also tries to lay claim to jurisdiction. The question arises to what the casinos knew, when they knew it and were they expected to know it and does it violate Texas penal code? That state defines theft as unlawfully appropriating property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property and that appropriation is unlawful if it is without "effective consent" of the owner. Texas Penal Code, Chapter 31.01(3) (C) says consent is not effective if "given by a person who by reason of youth, mental disease or defect, or intoxication is known by the actor to be unable to make reasonable property dispositions." "The weakest part of the case is not the connection that the drug caused compulsive gambling, which is still going to have to be proved," said Rose, who has also read the original complaint, "but that the casinos knew about it. They have to know that he is drugged and taking a medicine that has been shown to cause this."

The complaint against the casinos seems to rely on a belief that the casinos were "specifically aware" of the drugs' addictive side effects due to "heavy publicity surrounding the publication" of the 2005 Mayo Clinic study. Rose, who has written on compulsive gambling for 20 years and lost a family member to Parkinson's, says he only became familiar with the possible connections between Requip and Mirapex and problem gambling in the "last few months." Wells claims he was soon recognized by the properties as a heavy gambler and given a casino host whose job it was to induce gambling. The casinos also provided free first-class airfare to Las Vegas, free suites, meals, entertainment, expensive gifts, extension of a credit line and even a free Alaskan cruise. The properties also paid for Wells' wife to go shopping. The hosts also solicited him in Texas, even offering to discount his losses. The complaint attempts to set up jurisdiction by claiming the losses were paid out of accounts located in Texas and that $1.2 million worth of markers were sent to him in Texas, in addition to the gifts and phones calls sent to Texas by the casinos. "He may have trouble proving all this," said University of Texas Law School professor Douglas Laycock via e-mail after reading the complaint. "But if I were representing a casino, I would be inclined to settle before taking this one to a jury." The Mirage and Harrah's declined comment on pending litigation; the Venetian and Hard Rock Hotel did not return inquiries for comment by press time. A spokesperson for the MGM/Mirage, parent company for Treasure Island and Mandalay Bay, described the complaint as being "without merit."