Everybody loves to get casino freebies. Gamble for high enough stakes and you wind up with a hotel suite and dinner at the joint’s fanciest restaurant. Really fire it up, and the casino covers your airfare and may even send a private jet.

At rock bottom, though, anyone in action gets offered free alcoholic beverages. Sit at a casino bar, drop $20 into a video poker machine mounted on the bar’s surface and the drinks will flow your way as long as you keep playing.

High rollers may get bottles of Louis XIV cognac and tumblers of fine single-malt scotch while the rest of us content ourselves with well drinks of vodka and tonic. And if we get drunk with $20 at risk in a game of chance that we’re unlikely to win anyway, who cares?

But the Louis and scotch guys? They’re betting table max and complaining loudly (as well as legally) if they believe that the casino encouraged them to get drunk, or worse, with knowledge that it will increase the likelihood of six- to seven-figure beatings. Here are four big bettors who lost the plot via alcohol and/or pills, woke up with hangovers way worse than mere headaches, and blamed the casino for what went down.

Spiked Drink?

A former sports agent, Dwight Manley had no trouble handling frisky client Dennis Rodman. He elevated Rodman’s career in the 1990s. But in 2021, Manley claims that losses spun out beyond his control, with more than a million dollars in credit getting extended by the casino. Somebody, Manley maintained in court documents, drugged him while he was in action. 

According to Daily Mail, in a federal lawsuit filed against MGM Resorts International, Manley alleges fraud and negligence. He maintains that things went awry after someone slipped ketamine into his cocktail while he was gambling at a high-limit blackjack table.

Through it all, according to the lawsuit, 57-year-old Manley, who has a 30-year-long relationship with the casino company, dropped more than $2 million. In the lawsuit he alleges being so out of it, after just three hours of gambling, that he “could not stand or walk without assistance.” 

As per the complaint, Manley ordered an old fashioned, which he said tasted “bitter.” Soon after, the legal document alleges, he broke an ashtray that caused his hand to bleed. But the gambling did not stop and Manley was given additional markers as losses mounted.

In the complaint, he maintains that hair samples taken in Los Angeles showed that there was ketamine in his body. The drug, according to the suit, is “well known as a tranquilizer commonly used by veterinarians.”

Whatever the outcome of the legal action, playing blackjack has not been all bad for Manley: It was at the tables where he met his one-time superstar client Dennis Rodman.

Mega Losses

The big whale of this story is Terrance Watanabe. He ran through a mind-blowing $127 million at Caesars Palace and the Rio, both in Las Vegas. 

In court documents, Watanabe claims that the casino’s representatives gave him loads of booze and prescription drugs in order to keep him out of his head and in action. Caesars Entertainment denied this. Watanabe sought $20 million in damages. Attorneys for Caesars insisted that the casino won its money fair and square. Ultimately the two parties settled out of court.

In 2022, Watanabe sold the right to his whale of a tale to a company called Foundation Media. Rights purchased include those for a book, scripted film and documentary. In terms of how it all went down, there is speculation that Watanabe will reveal details on screen.

Casino gambling trips

Black-Out Blackjack

After dropping $500,000, in a state that he describes as “complete blackout,” high roller Mark Johnston likened his financial drubbing at Downtown Grand Casino, in Las Vegas, to something akin to being pickpocketed. 

“Picture this,” he told CBS News. “You’re walking down the street, you’re drunk, and somebody reaches into your pocket and steals your wallet …” 

Asked if that is what he thinks the casino’s employees did this to him, Johnston replied, “Yes.”

As a result, Johnston filed litigation to get out of paying some $500,000 in markers. He claims that the casino served him 20 to 30 drinks, that he was smashed to the point that he couldn’t read his cards, but he continued to get hands and alcohol.

“If you’re intoxicated,” he told CBS, “you’re not allowed to gamble. They’re supposed to stop you.”

The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, according to casinos.us. One person who is not surprised is CBS News legal analyst Rikki Kleinman.

“He said he shouldn’t have to pay his losses because he was so drunk” she said on the network’s website. “Well, then my next thought is, well, what if he’d won?”

Perils of Drinking, Gambling and Driving

London-based nightclub boss Lester Hui and representatives from Aspinall’s casino in London agree on one thing: over the course of a night, 54-year-old Hui dropped nearly £600,000 while gambling there. 

In contention during a hearing in London High Court are questions as to whether or not he had the faculties to make reasonable decisions at the gaming table. As reported in the Daily Mail, he claims to have been playing “liar’s dice” with a casino executive and wound up on the losing end of that game.

As a result, Hui alleges, he was made to drink a 54 percent proof alcohol that is officially known as Maotai. Hui refers to it as “firewater.”

“I was so drunk they should not have allowed me to gamble,” Hui claims.

A lawyer for the casino, a private member’s club, told the court that Hui “embellished” his drunken claims.

At stake: a £589,724 marker that the casino wants paid off, and which Hui says he should not have to make good on because of the condition he was in. 

Hui, who is said to have driven his Bentley home that night without incidents, did not win in the casino or in the court room. According to casino.org, the judge found him liable for the six figure sum.

The takeaway from these four high stakes mishaps? If you want to gamble for large sums of money, leave the drinking to low rollers.

Michael Kaplan is a journalist based in New York City. He has written extensively on gambling for publications such as Wired, Playboy, Cigar Aficionado, New York Post and New York Times. He is the author of four books including Aces and Kings: Inside Stories and Million-Dollar Strategies from Poker’s Greatest Players.

He’s been known to do a bit of gambling when the timing seems right.