MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday blocked a complaint over an unpaid, $1.4 million jackpot at an Indian tribe’s casino but allowed two suits against the tribe over car wrecks to go forward.
The split decisions involved Alabama’s Poarch Band of Creek Indians — the state’s only federally recognized Indian tribe — which argued it was shielded from state court action in each case because of tribal immunity laws.
Jerry Rape sued the tribe and two workers in 2011 claiming he won a $1.4 million jackpot after inserting $5 into an electronic gambling machine at the tribe’s Wind Creek Casino in Montgomery. One casino worker said “don’t let them cheat you out of it,” according to Rape’s suit.
But rather than being paid, Rape said, he was detained in a back room for about 24 hours, threatened and refused any money after workers told him the machine had malfunctioned.
A judge dismissed the suit after the casino claimed it was shielded by tribal immunity provisions in federal law, and the Supreme Court agreed. There was no evidence that the gambling was illegal, the justices said, and Rape had no way to win the case.
Separately, the justices let two other lawsuits against the tribe involving car wrecks go forward.
In one case, Amanda Harrison sued after her son Benjamin died in a car crash in 2013. She alleged the driver of the vehicle wrecked after being served too much alcohol at the Poarch Creek casino in Atmore. The justices reversed a lower court that dismissed the case, ruling that state laws governing alcohol sales could come into play.
The justices also overturned a ruling that threw out a lawsuit filed by Casey Marie Wilkes and Alexander Jack Russell in 2015 after they were hurt in a crash involving a tribe-owned truck that was driven by worker at the tribe’s casino in Wetumpka. Tribal immunity doesn’t extend to personal injury cases involving non-tribal members, the justices ruled.
First granted federal recognition in 1984, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians is best known for its gambling operations in south Alabama.