Held capative to his addiction

Unkept Mental Patient Chained to Prison Wall by duo

There was a short article in the Las Vegas Sun today about a lawsuit by a casino to recover money it claimed was owed by gambler.  The pattern is pretty common, a player gets marker after marker to continue playing.  At the end of his trip he pays off his markers and goes home; or his markers are sent to the bank for payment and generally the bank honors the request; sometimes a player does not have enough money to pay the markers off at once and makes arrangements to pay of his debt over time.  When the markers are paid, the gambler is always welcomed back and usually given more credit.  Good players over time may find their credit limit is too low for their playing and request a higher limit – it is usually granted.  So and the process continues until it doesn’t.  At some point, things in the gambler’s life change – he loses his source of cash, decides to quit gambling or dies – whatever happens frequently leaves the casino with the last markers unpaid. It is a dance and the dancers know all of the steps, if they stop to think about it, but they don’t; each just makes the next step in his turn, thoughtlessly following the music and his partner’s moves; both of the dancers are chained by their own internal mechanisms to the other.

For years courts have granted the right to appeal to through civil litigation to recover gambling debts.  In addition the district attorneys in Nevada can and do pursue criminal prosecution for people who try to dodge the debt.  Not infrequently, somewhere in the litigation process the gambler tries one or two standard strategies; one straggler is to place the blame on the casino for not properly protecting the gambler from spending more than he can afford; the second strategy is to claim a gambling addiction and therefore a lack of personal responsibility; there is of course another option, bankruptcy.  None of the strategies are always or even occasionally successful.  But there does not seem to be a viable fourth option.  The gambler, who lives in California, had filed bankruptcy – the casino applied to the bankruptcy court to recover the money it felt to be its due.

All of that is pretty straight forward and not the least unusual – but bankruptcy court does give us a glimpse into the man’s finances.  He owed a total of about $200,000 to several casinos, both in Las Vegas and Indian casinos in Southern California.  To one Las Vegas casino he owed $150,000, not a lot of money on the Strip or in the world of high-rollers, but quite a lot for a man was stated monthly income, a combination of his wages as an accountant for a grocery chain and his wife’s from a small retail business she operate, of, brace yourself: less that $3000 a month. Although, the article did not say it, the man was addicted to gambling; when he filed for bankruptcy he had nearly a million dollars in debt and a third of that in assests.  One would suspect he had borrowed from more than one source to fund his betting.

When I read the story, I was stunned; in my former life, I approved credit limits for gamblers as part of my casino job.  We sent forms to the player’s bank to confirm an average bank balance and sometimes contacted employers to confirm employment – but nothing more.  We were like mortgage banks in 2006, our job was to find reasons to grant the credit not refuse it – we were also very creative in finding ways to accommodate the player’s ability to repay his markers.  I can’t remember ever once wondering how much the person’s annual income was or what his total debt payments were – just how much is in the bank now.

It was all very logical to me, I did not think of myself as a greedy, insensitive and predatory casino operator – I saw myself as compassionate, friendly and a person eager to facilitate the wishes of our players.  And yet, I know that I must have done to at least one person what a casino did to this man, give him credit in an amount that was five times his annual income and thereby ruining his life.  It may not be criminal, but it certainly is stupid and inhumane.


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January 2011
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