A recent episode where a New York State Seneca Niagara Casino worker may have asked a disabled woman to leave a restaurant after her service dog possibly became unruly has led to many recommendations from noted lawyers.
Last month, Bella, a three-year-old Pomeranian, accompanied Maryellen Jurczak to the Niagara Falls tribal casino. The woman has an implant and the dog routinely is by her side.
On that day, the dog apparently was given a treat while the owner was seated in a casino restaurant. There is a dispute over what happened next.
Jurczak claims a security officer told her to leave because the dog was unruly. But Seneca Gaming Corporation denies she was ordered to depart.
In turn, the owner denies the dog was ever disruptive and claims this was not the first time she was asked to exit with the animal.
The initial facts surrounding the incident, as reported by WKBW, appear sketchy. But they do provide an opportunity to show how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies in casinos for service dogs.
In general, the casino needs to accommodate patrons with service animals,” Robert D. Dinerstein, director of the Disability Rights Law Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law, told Casino.org.
Service dogs also must be kept under control. But what that means can be unclear.
For instance, Dinerstein said giving the dog a treat — which perhaps took place — “shouldn’t by itself be evidence of the dog being out of control.
“And even if the dog ‘ate off the table’ — which the owner denies, though she says the security person accused her dog of doing so — I don’t think that would be enough to establish the dog was out of control.”
Even if control was an issue, the focus should be on whether the person took action to bring the animal back under control, Dinerstein said.
He finds it “curious,” too, that the owner said she was giving the dog a treat “for having performed a trick. I wouldn’t think that performing tricks is part of a service animal’s work.”
Overall, service dogs should not pose problems for casinos, Dinerstein said.
“I don’t think that the activities in which a casino patron would typically engage — sitting at gaming tables, playing slot machines, moving from one venue to another — would be particularly likely to cause trouble, assuming others in contact with the animal respect the fact that the animal is working, should not be petted or played with, etc.,” Dinerstein added.
Because Seneca Niagara is a tribal casino, there is the additional question of whether the ADA even applies to the property. Michael A. Schwartz, director of Syracuse University College of Law’s Disability Rights Clinic, told Casino.org, “A federal court has held that the ADA could apply to a place of public accommodation run by an Indian tribe.” But he advises questions of sovereign immunity protecting an Indian tribe from a private lawsuit is still “unsettled law.”
Casino Officials Need to Know ADA Requirements
When asked for basic advice for casinos, Dinerstein recommends officials are familiar with requirements in Title III of the ADA. The Department of Justice has posted a frequently asked questions document on the topic.
That is a starting point. If a patron and/or the service animal is indeed “out of control,” document the incident, “in case there is a later claim that your effort to exclude the animal … violated the statute,” Dinerstein said.
Also, post signs that say service animals are welcome. He additionally cautions against asking lots of questions to guests that imply a casino employee doubts whether the animal is a real service animal. Limited questions can be asked if the dog begins jumping on other guests or barks inappropriately.
Similarly, Anthony Cabot, Distinguished Fellow of Gaming Law, UNLV Boyd School of Law, warns casinos to “use caution” before excluding a service dog.
“What is ‘out of control’ varies between the places like lecture halls and busy casinos,” Cabot told Casino.org. “Before security undertakes to exclude a service dog, they should raise it with in-house counsel, if available, or the person assigned by the casino to deal with ADA issues to make sure their actions are appropriate.”
Advice for Disabled Guests
As far as disabled guests who want to bring a service animal to a casino, they may want to have the DOJ’s FAQ document with them, Dinerstein recommends.
“It is not a bad idea to call in advance and let the casino know that you plan to go to the casino and will be bringing your service animal,” Dinerstein additionally advises. “Get the name of the person with whom you have spoken.”
The law is typically on the side of the disabled guest with the dog. “Federal and state laws require casinos to allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all public areas, including restaurants,” agrees Cabot.
But he adds a caveat. “The right to have a service dog is not absolute, however, and generally, a casino owner can ask that the dog be removed if the dog is out of control and the owner does not take effective action to control it,” Cabot said.
Chris Diefenthaler, executive director of Assistance Dogs International (ADI), a coalition of non-profit programs that train and place service dogs, explained to Casino.org that eating off a table “is very inappropriate behavior” for a service dog.