Arresting Tales

Things got big and lost my mind...

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Lately I've been thinking about gambling.  From a moral standpoint I have nothing against it.  Churches run bingo, charities run raffles and casino nights, and the state runs the biggest numbers game of all, the lottery.  I enjoy the occasional jaunt to a casino to play poker or blackjack, but it's never been a big part of my life.  I am definitely a low-roller, maybe even a cheapskate. Even when I'm playing with chips and not cash I am always thinking of what I could be spending the money on instead: "Hmm, double down on that 11 or pay for 2
weeks of voice lessons for our kid..."  Thinking like that has always kept me from getting carried away and losing the nest egg. 

(As an aside, did you ever hear the saying about gambling?  It goes like this: "The guy who invented gambling was smart, but the guy who invented chips? Now he was a genius!")

There are two reasons I've been thinking about gambling.  The first is that I've been reading  stories in the news about proposals to expand gambling in Illinois by making video poker legal outside casinos.  Proponents of the bill claim it would provide funding for a $29 billion public works program.  I'm not sure this is a swell idea.  The second is that I just arrested and charged a man for stealing $21,700 from his employer, and then gambling until he lost every single dime of it.

Recently I had occasion to read one of the shortest, most poignant and yet somehow humorous written statements I've ever seen.  It was nearly useless from an evidentiary standpoint.  It was handwritten by my theft suspect when he was questioned by the patrol officer who took the initial incident report a few weeks ago.  The suspect, a sales rep, had traveled to a few different states collecting sales receipts.  On the way back to Chicago he heard the siren song of the casinos in northern Indiana and could not resist.  

Within a few short hours all of the cash he'd collected on his sales trip had left his pockets, transmogrified into gaming chips, and become part of the house's take for the night.

Here's the statement:

"I had gambling problem when I was younger.  I've stopped gambling for years.  I was on the business trip and got to get cash from three different stores.  I went to the casino for fun but things got big and lost my mind.  I started losing and couldn't control myself."

This 24-year-old man is the latest in a long line of defendants I've met who have stolen large amounts of money to fuel their compulsive gambling.  Years ago there was Faramarz, a clerk at the 7-11.  He was good for about $30,000. When one of my detectives called him to come in voluntarily to be interviewed, Faramarz showed up with a little gym bag packed with socks and underwear and a toothbrush. He greeted the detective by saying "I thought I was going
away to jail so I packed a bag."  Another time, just before Christmas, there was a girl in her twenties with a taste for blackjack who took her employer for nearly $20,000.  None of the three that I just described had any real criminal history, or any indication in their background that they would one day become felons.  None of them were suited for the criminal lifestyle.  The sales rep actually called me after he posted bond and asked for advice on what to tell his mother.  How un-criminal is that?  

Just before I got off work tonight I saw a missing person flyer that a nearby department sent out.  A 40-year-old man was reported missing by his family, who haven't seen him in a month.  They reported that he "has a serious gambling problem" and is possibly in debt to bookies for over $90,000.

And now our politicians consider an expansion of gambling.  Not just any gambling, but video poker, widely regarded as a particularly addictive form of gaming.  And some politicians want these machines put in bars throughout Illinois.  The Illinois Gaming Board has a program that allows gambling addicts to ban themselves from casinos.  More than 6,000 people are on the self-exclusion list right now; how is that going to work when video poker and slot machines are found in off-track betting facilities, bars and social clubs?  How many "winners" are going to get rolled coming out of bars?  Who is going to install these machines?  Who is going to inspect and regulate them, and monitor the payouts?  I see a lot of potential for the kind of corruption Illinois is known for in any expansion of video poker.

It disturbs me that we are considering an expansion of gambling to provide funding for government at a time that casino tax revenue in Illinois dropped 32%.  Casino operators blame Illinois' smoking ban for the decline, saying that smoking gamblers would rather play in Indiana or Wisconsin.

Our state is in bad shape.  We have one governor in the joint and another on his way, big deficits, and a lot of problems that need fixing.  Remember when the lottery was going to pay for education?  Remember when the tollways were going to pay for themselves and eventually become freeways?

When a gambler starts betting more recklessly as he loses it's not a pretty sight.  Poker players refer to it as going "on tilt"; the phrase "chasing your losses" also applies.  In the words of our sales rep, things "get big" and you can lose your mind.  While I'm not against gambling as a form of recreation for people who can handle it, I'm worried about the state embracing it as a form of revenue, and encouraging its spread. 

The moment that any shiny new law gets passed is always full of promise, just like that moment when you first walk into a casino and anything is possible.  The end result often turns out to be something entirely different than what was intended at the beginning.  Just ask that sales rep. 


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4 Comments

LeftyGolfer said:

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Maybe you could put those winning chips in those "plastic bags" Joe!

amook2 said:

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Casinos and other gaming operations don't want to admit it, but their cashflow comes primarily from compulsive gamblers. They are living on the margins of other people's sorrows and living quite well thank you.

I don't think we should be making it easier for people to gamble. The hard core folks will do it anyhow, but the current carnival atmosphere sucks people in who would otherwise not be involved - in my not so humble opinion.

Skylers Dad said:

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I am such a non-gambler. I take my 20 bucks to the local casino, promptly lose it in a video blackjack game, and then go back outside because I can't handle the smoke and noise.

R.A. Stewart said:

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I'm with you on this. I tend to think that "victimless crimes"--I put the phrase in quotes because I know that often families end up being victims of an individual's compulsion--should not be crimes. But I don't think the state should be shoving temptation in the faces of people who may have serious problems. I mean, dammit, paying for basic public services? That's what taxes are supposed to be for. Everybody needs to grow up about this. Politicians need to show some courage and honesty and say, "we need these services and we need to find a fair way for everybody to pay their share for them." And we taxpayers need to stop pretending that we can get something for nothing, and to stop punishing politicians on the rare occasions they're straight with us.

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