Joliet Man Handed 100-Year Sentence For Brutal Murder at Harrah’s Casino

Written By Dave Briggs on August 1, 2023

A man convicted of a brutal murder at the Harrah’s Joliet Hotel and Casino in Joliet has been sentenced to a maximum 100-year prison sentence.

Robert Watson, 29, of Joliet, was sentenced Monday in a Will County courtroom in the stabbing death of Emanuel “Sam” Burgarino, 76.

In May, a jury convicted Watson of four counts in the first-degree murder of Burgarino in a trial that lasted eight days.

The victim was stabbed by Watson multiple times on March 23, 2019 on the fifth floor of the Illinois casino and hotel.

Judge Dave Carlson handed down the sentence Monday after hearing a victim impact statement from Burgarino’s fiance Denise Dixon.

“There will never be justice because I can’t bring Sam back,” said Dixon, as reported by the Herald-News.

Carlson handed down the maximum sentence after saying Watson’s actions were “predatory” and “senseless.” The judge said he rarely has seen a case that involved such pure random acts of violence.

How the murder at the Illinois casino unfolded

Will County assistant state’s attorney Chelsea Selvey previously gave this account through an eye witness as to how things played out the night of the murder:

At around 10 p.m. on March 23 2019, the witness said he stepped into the elevator to head to the fifth floor of Harrah’s hotel. Watson asked the witness to hold the elevator door for him.

Watson then rode to the fifth floor with the witness and both exited the elevator. The witness noticed Watson didn’t have a hotel key card to use the elevator, so he circled back to return to the lobby.

When the witness made it back up to his room, he heard noises in the hallway. He peeked out of his room door and saw Watson stabbing Burgarino in the neck and chest. When the witness shouted at Watson to get off Burgarino, Watson sprinted to the stairwell and exited the building.

Police apprehended the accused at the Joliet Public Library, located just two blocks from Harrah’s. Watson was reportedly wearing similar clothing to what he had on the night of the murder. A backpack seen in the surveillance video contained money and other items covered in blood.

During court hearings, Selvey also noted Watson’s criminal history. It includes charges in IllinoisArizonaTexas and Wisconsin for various crimes such as burglaryrobbery and aggravated battery.

Caesars being sued for $6 million over the incident

Last summer, a federal judge ruled that Dixon can sue Caesars Entertainment, the owner of Harrah’s Joliet Hotel and Casino, for negligence.

Caesars’ motion to dismiss the $6 million lawsuit against the Illinois casino was denied by U.S. district judge Manish Shah.

The case has gone to mediation and its outcome is still pending.

Dixon said in her lawsuit that Caesars had a duty of care to protect guests from Watson. The accused was seen wandering around casino and hotel grounds on the day of the incident. Caesars argued Watson’s actions weren’t “reasonably foreseeable,” and asked the judge to dismiss.

But judge Shah sided with Dixon, writing:

“It is reasonably foreseeable that hotel guests will occasionally be at risk of third-party assaults in hotels. And the complaint plausibly alleges that this attack was reasonably foreseeable.”

Here’s what Dixon said about Watson’s suspicious activity earlier in the day of the murder:

“Watson suspiciously lurked and stalked patrons on Harrah’s property for hours — in plain view of hotel staff — without checking in, gambling or buying anything. Harrah’s cameras repeatedly recorded him doing so, and Harrah’s did nothing to investigate his presence or prevent the attack on Burgarino.”

Watson struggled with mental illness, claimed he was being poisoned

Monday’s sentencing brings to an end a four-year criminal case delayed by issues pertaining to Watson’s mental health.

Watson frequently failed to show up to court. Prior to the trial starting, Watson said he wanted to represent himself, then changed his mind. He claimed his food at the jail was being poisoned.

Dixon said Watson’s antics only caused her more pain and suffering.

Anjeanetta Bolden, Watson’s mother, said she watched her son’s mental health collapse. Watson had tried to get better, Bolden said, but couldn’t.

Dixon vowed to carry on her life in a way that Burgarino would have wanted, but through tears told Watson:

“I will never understand or forgive you for what you’ve done.”

Photo by Shutterstock
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Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs is a managing editor and writer for Catena Media. His expertise is covering the gambling industry in North America with an emphasis on the casino, sports betting, horse racing and poker sectors. He is currently reporting on the gaming industries in Illinois and Canada.

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