|Cy Ryan reports in the Las Vegas Sun newspaper that the Nevada Supreme Court has ruled that Nevada law protects the hosts of gambling venues from lawsuits for libel or defamation of character. The proprietors of gambling venues, because they have a duty to their customers to warn of any illegal activity in others which they might suspect, are virtually immune from retribution from the innocent parties they may harm, provided that the information, true of false, which had led them to making the accusations was investigated by state regulators. |
The Court ruled that lawsuits of libel or defamation would be barred from courts even if the information supplied “was made with malice and contains allegedly fraudulent accusations.” The one-sided decision came about after the Court heard the appeal of Stephen Hampe, owner of the Lake Mead Lounge in Henderson, Nevada, who sued Elizabeth Foote and Betty Boal, owners of his competing venue, Our Place, over accusations the ladies made that he had been cheating on a machine in their establishment. Hampe won $4,000 in a Royal Flush jackpot on a video poker machine. Foote and Boal charged that the winner had procured a repairman to illegally fix the machine, enhancing Hampe’s chances of winning.
An investigation by state regulators found no evidence supporting the claim of the hosts against their customer and competitor. The complaint was dismissed. Hampe sued for “libel, defamation, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” alleging as well that he had been harmed by the allegations made against him because they will remain on his state gaming license, though the complaint was dismissed.
But his suit was dismissed by District Judge Gary Redmon, and the state Supreme Court upheld that decision. “Regardless of the motivation behind the respondents' (Foote and Boal’s) letter [to the state gaming commission], or any allegedly fraudulent assertions, therein, the letter cannot form the basis of any civil liability,” the court said, for the law gives “broad absolute privilege in these cases”.
The law that may be in question comes from a 1985 decision, where the Court decided: “In certain situations it is in the public interest that a person speak freely. Where this is so, the law is willing to assume the risk that from time to time the privilege will be abused ... An absolute privilege is an immunity, which protects against even the threat that a court or a jury will inquire into a communication.”