Man sues Manchin, Lottery Commission after being denied gaming license

WHEELING -- An Ohio County man has filed a suit against the governor and the lottery commission members after his appeal for a table gaming license was denied.

Theodore Tsoras of Wheeling is suing Gov. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Lottery Commission Director John Musgrave and West Virginia Lottery Commission (WVLC) members Michael Adams, Kenneth Greear, Bill Clayton, David McCormick and Don Lucci for injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging that he was not given equal protection or consideration under the law and did not receive due process.

Filed on July 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, the suit states that in 1990, Tsoras was convicted of gambling related offenses and two counts of conspiracy in federal court and served two years in federal prison. In 2005, Tsoras applied for and was hired as a betting clerk and supervisor in off-track betting at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort. At that time, he was granted a license from the West Virginia Racing Commission.

On March 21, 2007, Manchin signed into law the West Virginia Lottery Racetrack Table Games Act (WVLRTGA), authorizing table gaming at four race tracks in the state. In July of that year, Tsoras attended training and received certification as a craps, blackjack and "miscellaneous games" dealer.

The WVLRTGA code states, in part, that "the lottery commission shall issue a license to be employed in the operation of table games" to those individuals who meet the requirements under that section. Tsoras claims he meets all of the criteria.

After completing several months of training, Tsoras submitted his application providing sufficient information to show his fitness to receive a license as required by the WVLRTGA and that he could "conduct all table games activities and functions in a manner which does not pose a threat to the public health, safety or welfare of the citizens of this state and which does not adversely affect the security or integrity of the operation of ... table games." He included a thorough background check and detailed information about his gambling conviction.

On Nov. 13, he received a letter from the WVLC stating that his application for a table games permit could not be approved because of his 17-year-old gambling conviction.

The code cited by the WVLC (W. Va. Code S29-22C-15 (a) (3)) reads "the lottery commission may not grant a license to an applicant who has been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, a gambling related offense, a theft or fraud offense, or has otherwise demonstrated, either by a police record or other satisfactory evidence, a lack of respect for law and order."

However, on Jan. 14, 2008, Tsoras did get an administrative hearing to appeal the WVLC's decision. WVLC's counsel presented "absolutely no evidence that Plantiff Tsoras was presently unfit and relied solely on his 1990 gambling-related convictions."

Tsoras argued that the language of the code -- the use of "may" and "shall" -- conferred the discretion of the WVLC to make individualized determinations about licensing. He presented undisputed evidence proving he met and/or exceeded the WVLC and the WVLRTGA's requirements. He also argued that because he was presumed unfit based on his previous convictions and because the code arbitrarily discriminated against applicants convicted of crimes, his right to due process was violated as was his equal protection under the law.

The administrative hearing examiner made a decision to uphold the WVLC's denial of Tsora's application.

So he tried again.

On April 25, 2008, he presented his case in its entirety to all of the member of the WVLC, and his application was denied again.

Tsoras feels he has basically been barred for life because of his record.

Filed by Ronald Zavolta and Tsoras himself, both of Wheeling, the suit states that Tsoras is seeking injunctive relief regarding the violation of his constitutional rights of due process and equal protection. He believes that if the court finds that his rights were violated, it should grant a preliminary and permanent injunction requiring the WVLC to grant him a license.

Tsoras is also seeking declaratory relief in the form of the court finding that the governor and WVLC have provided no evidence that he is unfit to receive a license. He is also seeking damages for lost wages, attorneys' fees, expenses, mental anguish, impairment of reputation, personal humiliation, and punitive and compensatory damages.

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