The Embezzler Driven by Gambling – Myth or Reality?


The gaming industry is many things to many people. To the people who buy a lottery ticket, play a hand of poker, bet the ponies or go to a casino for an evening of fun, gaming is a participatory experience. Most of the forms of entertainment in our society are spectator events; we watch other people play games, sing, dance and make jokes. Gaming is one of the few options available for a person, especially an elderly one, to be a participant and not a spectator.

To the opponents of gambling, legal or not, the industry in all of its forms is an evil preying on the poor, weak and unsuspecting. It is the devil’s snare trapping those unable to protect themselves. To them, the devil uses gambling to keep people away from good and god. It rots the very soul of our society.

Between the “gaming is harmless fun” and “gambling is the devil’s game” points of view there are many other ways of defining gaming’s place in our culture. But in general, public discourse on the subject is influenced by one or both of those extremes. In December, an organization called Oklahoma Watch publicized the result of a national study on embezzlement. The study looked at 554 cases across the United States in 2013. In the report, the authors concluded that the major factor that leads a person to take an employer’s money is a desire for a lavish lifestyle. The study found that gambling is sometimes part of the lavishness. Not surprisingly, Oklahoma Watch found much more meaning in the gambling component than any other facet of living “the high life.”

Oklahoma posted one of the highest numbers of gambling-related embezzlement cases last year and remains at “high risk” of embezzlement because of gambling, according to a recent study. The Marquet Report on Embezzlement, released in December, listed gambling as the second most likely motivating factor in embezzlement in 2013. The No. 1 factor, the desire for a “lavish lifestyle,” often has a gambling element, adds the report. The study found that Oklahoma was third in the number of embezzlement cases tied to gambling in 2013, with four cases. California was first with seven cases, and New York was second with five cases. The study tallied 554 embezzlement cases nationwide in 2013 and examined 210 in which a likely motivating factor could be identified. Among those, 50 involved gambling. Oklahoma Watch, KGOU, 1-4-15

The article said that Oklahoma was among the states with the most gambling-related embezzlement and gives the desire for a lavish lifestyle only a brief mention. Oklahoma Watch sees gambling as a tool of the devil, trapping poor innocent people into stealing from their employers to feed a demanding evil spirit. It uses the following to illustrate its case:

“One prosecutor went so far as to say that virtually every major embezzlement case he prosecuted had a gambling element to it. This prosecutor automatically subpoenas the local tribal gaming establishment’s records any time he has an embezzlement case.”

One wonders why the Mercedes, Lexus, diamond, gold, cruise ship and big screen television dealerships are not on the list of business records to be subpoenaed along with the Indian casinos. But, that is just one interpretation of the study. A newspaper in Montana finds a different meaning in that same study. In Montana the study shows that small, sparsely populated states are the most vulnerable. For them, the problem is not the casinos luring the innocent; it is the vulnerability of small businesses. In Montana, the small businesses are the devil’s lure because they lack the oversight and sophisticated controls of larger ones.

“Vermont and Montana are similar in two respects, although they’re vastly different in geographical size,” Christopher Marquet, founder and CEO of Marquet International, said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “Both are sparsely populated,” he explained, “and both have a preponderance of small businesses. By definition, smaller businesses are at higher risk for being embezzled from because their financial controls may not be as robust as larger businesses, and they often rely on a single person to handle the books. These people have often been with the business for years and years, and they are trusted implicitly.” Vince Devlin, Missoulian, 1-6-15

AOL, using the same study drew a different conclusion than Montana and Oklahoma. It found the devil in a social context. AOL found that age, gender and occupation were at the root of the problem. The average embezzler was a woman bookkeeper in her 40’s. Imagine her, a woman working in an office with no companions except her ledgers. This poor accountant is unhappy, unfulfilled and dull, but an efficient accountant. At first, she takes just a little money and does not get caught. Over the next four or five years she takes more and more. As time goes on, the lonely bookkeeper grows into her new role. With the money, she becomes more exciting and interesting. People notice her when she buys gold and diamonds, drives a nice car and maybe even becomes a high-roller in the local casino.

According to the Marquet report, the embezzler is most likely to be a bookkeeper or treasurer, who is female, in her 40s, and without a criminal record. Nearly 2 out of 3 alleged embezzlers were female. Only 4 percent of them had prior criminal records. Dan Fastenberg, AOL, 5-12-14

The study and the varying interpretations were interesting. Each person used the study to make a broader political or social statement, but in each case ignored all of the facts that did not fit their agenda. Thus, the opponents of gaming exaggerated the importance of gambling in embezzlement to demonize the gaming industry. It has often been used as a defense in an embezzlement case, but no court has yet to find gambling addiction to be an acceptable defense; “the devil made me do it” may not work in court, but it works frequently as a defense in the media. It might be amusing if, in the past, similar unbalanced interpretations had not created some serious issues for the industry. For me, it is a reminder to read the original reports carefully, to draw my own conclusions and to strive to avoid having my emotions manipulated by people with an agenda. We all need to look a little deeper when thinking about the nature of our industry and its risks and benefits. In a serious discussion or analysis, devils and angels make very poor metaphors.

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