Watching, wondering and weeping


Teresa Prince, former Washoe County Court Clerk, walks out of her arraignment Friday on charges that she embezzled money from the court while at work. Prince pleaded guilty to three counts of felony grand theft.

Teresa Prince, former Washoe County Court Clerk, walks out of her arraignment Friday on charges that she embezzled money from the court while at work. Prince pleaded guilty to three counts of felony grand theft.
As I have said before, addictive gambling is a subject that I have ignored for much of my career.  In the beginning I ignored it, because it did not exist, the literature and language we have to discuss the subject was simply non-existent.   Later as the first studies were being done and published, the industry – and small time players like myself – pretty much looked the other way until sometime in the 1990s.  Even then only one major company, Caesars, nee Harrah’s, had a policy and openly talked about addictive behavior.  For the most part,  casinos are still ignoring the issue – we are required to track large cash transactions looking for drug dealers, terrorists and organized crime figures; but it is perfectly legal to ignore large play from seemingly small players, or people who simply gamble too much and too often.  I have not been any more diligent than the worst of casinos, I ignore most of the news stories unless for some reason there is a larger issue or trend involved.

However, there have been  a number of cases that rose to that level and they come in to categories; theft and debt.  In the first category are the people convicted of some other crime pleading addiction.  In the second category are the cases where the gambler sued, or counter sued in cases where he was being sued for non-payment of gambling debts, a casino for knowingly exploiting his addiction.  Both kinds of cases would appear to have some merit – particularly embezzlers who steel from their employers (including priests who stole from the church) and then spend the majority of the money gambling; although most of those defendants also purchased some pretty expensive toys with their ill-begotten means and thus undercut their own claims of uncontrolled gambling addiction that required the constant fuel of their employer’s cash. Still, a reasonable person might see a clear connection between the addiction and the theft.

The other case, that of a gambler claiming the casino knew of his addiction and exploited it, also has some merit.  Like all modern businesses from airlines to bookstores, casino’s have loyalty programs – frequency of play rewards.  The programs are simple, the more you spend with them the more attention you get.  The casinos and all the other businesses give you “free stuff”, send frequent offers for stuff you like and for things that are currently being discounted.  It is a part of modern life, if you let them,  they will send you instant messages on your cell phone to tell you about today’s specials or invite you to a special event.

The business thinks of it as the “better mouse trap” – a better way to get customers into their store and away from the competitor’s store.  Addictive people are caught in that trap, people addicted to buying books are trapped as are those who collect any number of “collectible” things and of course addictive gamblers are caught.  As the spending increases so does the bait  increase – seducing the customer and drawing her farther into the trap – it is good business; for the majority of people it means they get notice of things they want and buy, but for a small group of addictive people it is a constant downward spiral into disaster.

There was a brief story in the Sparks Tribune about a woman who was convicted of embezzlement.  A clerk for the county, she had embezzled over $200,000 in 18 months, and could serve as much as 30 years in prison for her crimes.  She said it was to play video poker at local casino; she did not claim the casino had any responsibility; in fact, she made no claims, but did make a very interesting comment: “I’m trying to understand why I did what I did.  I’m very ashamed of what I’ve done.”  None of us really know why we do the things we do.

It is a very sad tale, but one with no good or bad guys; the casino might have sensed she was spending above her income (that is the argument I made in the case in California were the gambler had played on credit and spent many times his income gambling), but over 18 months and using cash and not playing on credit there was probably no reason to question the source of her funds.  The casino is not required by law to track potentially excessive play, but nor are Barnes and Noble,  Nordstrom or American Airlines.  Neither legally or morally are we called to police the behavior of our neighbors, in fact we are forbidden by law in most cases from meddling in our neighbor’s life.  We  helplessly watch people who we know are self-destructive and can do nothing.  Every time you see a person smoking a cigarette you know they are putting poisoning in their system and will die a slow and painful death because of it.  Do you stop them?  Do you even comment?

That woman’s life is tragic, and if addiction specialists are correct, she could not even help herself and neither could any of us.  Sometimes human life is simply too complicated to understand; we cannot solve all of the problems it presents.  We can only watch, wonder and sometimes just weep.

 

 

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1 Response to “Watching, wondering and weeping”


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