Man sues drug company, casinos after losing $14 million
In federal suit, Austin retiree claims Parkinson's drug caused his compulsive gambling.
By Claire Osborn
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
When the retired doctor from Austin suddenly began spending big money in Las Vegas, the casinos assigned him a "host" and gave him first-class airfare, hotel suites, meals and shopping trips for his wife, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Austin.
The casinos even gave him an Alaskan cruise, the lawsuit says.
The retired doctor, Max Wells, kept coming back, the lawsuit says — and kept losing money. By the fall of 2005, Wells had lost $7 million, the lawsuit says. By January, another $7 million.
Now Wells is suing the casinos and a major drug company, claiming that the prescription drugs he was taking for Parkinson's disease set off a compulsive gambling spree.
Wells, 55, wants his money back. He declined to comment Tuesday.
His lawsuit, filed Friday, says the drug company didn't warn patients that Requip could cause compulsive behavior. And it cites a 2005 Mayo Clinic study that documented 11 Parkinson's patients who developed compulsive gambling habits while taking Requip or a similar drug called Mirapex.
The gambling ceased for eight of the 11 when they stopped taking the drugs; test results were not available for the other three patients, the study said.
GlaxoSmithKline, which is referred to as SmithKline Beecham in the lawsuit — the companies merged in 2000 — said Tuesday that it had not yet been served with the lawsuit.
"We will certainly investigate the allegations when we receive the complaint," said Mary Anne Rhyne, a company spokeswoman. "We believe the drug is appropriately labeled."
The lawsuit claims the casinos knew that Wells had Parkinson's, a degenerative disorder that damages nerve cells and causes shaking, slowness and difficulty with balance.
Wells told the casinos he had Parkinson's and "was taking the medication while he was gambling," said his lawyer, Tom Thomas with Winstead Sechrest & Minick in Dallas.
The lawsuit says the casinos should have been aware of the Mayo study, which Thomas said was heavily publicized in Las Vegas last summer.
None of the seven casinos named in the lawsuit returned calls Tuesday. They are Mandalay, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas, Las Vegas Sands, Harrah's Las Vegas and Hard Rock Hotel.
Wells, a retired pathologist, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2000, according to the lawsuit.
After taking Mirapex for several months in 2004, Wells "developed an irresistible compulsion to gamble," the lawsuit said, and lost several thousand dollars gambling in Las Vegas and on the Internet.
Thomas said Wells had previously been an occasional gambler.
After he told his doctor that he thought Mirapex was causing him to gamble, the doctor switched him to Requip and increased the dosage, the lawsuit said.
As Wells was losing $14 million — which included about $1.2 million in IOUs called markers that Wells hasn't paid — his wife was unaware of his losses because she wasn't gambling with him, Thomas said.
The last week of January, Wells' wife began to question him, and he confessed to the losses, the lawsuit said.
When his doctor took him off Requip, his gambling compulsion stopped, Thomas said.
Despite the losses Wells claims, he's not bankrupt, Thomas said.
"I would say he hasn't lost the farm, but he's lost the ranch," he said.