La. Supreme Court to Study Casino Suit

September 4, 2009

Louisiana Supreme Court will be asked to review a long-running suit filed by a company that was denied a riverboat casino license in Baton Rouge in 1994, an attorney says.

Capitol House Preservation Co. alleges that Argosy Gaming Co. and Jazz Enterprises Inc. made false statements to the now-defunct Riverboat Gaming Commission about the true ownership of Jazz and that company’s ability to finance portions of the project.

The commission awarded the license to Argosy and Jazz.

In 2007, a state district court jury awarded Capitol House $3.8 million, but that judgment was reduced to $1.3 million by Judge William Morvant. The reduced award was thrown out Aug. 28 by the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, which ruled that the commission’s ability to make an informed licensing decision had not been compromised by the alleged false statements.

“It was a well-reasoned and well-written ruling,” said Fred Tulley, an attorney for the defendants.

Attorney Charles Lambert Jr., whose family owns Capitol House, said he will ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to review and reverse the appellate court. Lambert said Capitol House’s case is buoyed by the state Supreme Court’s recent ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Noerr-Pennington doctrine does not apply to illegal actions.

The doctrine holds that an effort to influence government action — even for the purpose of gaining an anticompetitive advantage — does not violate antitrust laws.

The high court made that ruling on May 22 in reviving a suit filed by Astoria Entertainment Inc., which lost out on a Shreveport riverboat casino license in 1997 that became a key part of the federal government’s extortion case against former Gov. Edwin Edwards.

Astoria said it had been the victim of a plan by Edwards to extort money from Edward Debartolo Jr., then-owner of the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL, in exchange for the license.

But the 1st Circuit said that ruling did not affect Capitol House’s suit because the company did not show that any misrepresentations “subverted the entire decision-making process” for awarding the Baton Rouge license.

The casino is now known as the Belle of Baton Rouge and is owned by Tropicana Entertainment LLC.

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