- Cases of disgraced priest, ex-lawyer highlight problem gambling issue (April 13, 2012)
- Plan to aid problem gamblers works but is underfunded, speakers say (April 12, 2012)
- Poverty, homelessness and a suicide attempt: Mother and daughter tell tale of gambling addiction (April 12, 2012)
- More business columns
One of the things I didn’t report in the series of stories I wrote about the recent Nevada State Conference on Problem Gambling was that all of the speakers appeared on their own dime and received no honoraria for their presentations.
That included the co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, Timothy Fong, who appeared as an expert witness in Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe’s embezzlement case, and Paula Chung, the Reno woman who, with daughter Jacquie Dunlop, described her spiral into addiction and how it affected her family.
McAuliffe is the Catholic priest who took $650,000 from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church’s gift shop and votive candle funds to feed a gambling habit. He’s currently serving a 37-month term at La Tuna Prison in Anthony, Texas.
Chung’s and Dunlop’s gut-wrenching narrative of how Chung fed her last nickel into a slot machine and then tried to commit suicide with a dull knife brought many of the 75 clinicians and treatment specialists attending to tears.
You might say another presenter, Douglas Crawford, received a form of compensation. The disgraced former Las Vegas attorney, who ripped off his clients to the tune of more than $300,000, is hoping to get his license back this year so he can make enough money to make restitution to the victims from whom he stole. His sentence requires him to talk to the public about what he did.
The Nevada Council on Problem Gambling’s reason for not cutting expense checks to presenters isn’t that it’s cheap. The organization can’t afford it — it’s a nonprofit that operates on donations and memberships. A key public health program that members helped develop was cut when state lawmakers decided in 2011 to slash the amount of money the program receives from a quarterly fee on slot machines.
Problem gambling programs once received $2 from the fee levied on every slot in the state. Now, it gets $1.
The cut in funding comes at a time when compulsive gambling treatment advocates have completed a strategic plan for treating addicts. Bo Bernhard, executive director of UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, and Jeff Marotta, president of Portland, Ore.-based Problem Gambling Solutions (who paid his way to get here), explained that now that the plan is in place, there’s no way to implement it because of the lack of funding.
A key element of the plan is to treat the addictive behavior. An individual in treatment has the capability of working, making it possible to make restitution to victims.
Marotta and Carol O’Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, said it was hard for them to comprehend how the state could make an investment in treatment strategies, then fail to fund it.
But then, there are a lot of things about compulsive gambling that the public doesn’t understand. A read-through of some of the comments left on my stories and on stories about McAuliffe’s case show the great divide in the public’s understanding of the subject.
Some suggest that gambling addiction isn’t a disease and that those who play too much should muster a little willpower and quit. Yet there are clinical studies about problem gamblers from the best medical minds of Harvard University that show that compulsive gambling is an addiction no different from alcohol, drug and tobacco addictions.
I have no way of climbing into the heads of addicts, but I’m sure their brains are wired differently than others. Some critics, though, are not convinced that addiction is an illness.
Some judges share the skepticism. U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan, who adjudicated the McAuliffe case, sent him to prison where he won’t be able to make any money to repay the church. Mahan asked Fong if there was anything — a blood test, a brain scan, something — to prove that he was a victim of addiction and not just a thief.
District Judge Donald Mosley, meanwhile, made Crawford the first problem gambling defendant in Clark County to receive diversion to a three-year program of treatment under a statute approved by the Legislature. Crawford is grateful he’s not doing time and if he gets re-licensed, he’ll be able to pay back his victims. If he goes back to gambling, he’d be jailed.
Compulsive gambling frequently produces tragic stories like Chung’s.
It seems that an industry and a state that has reaped so many rewards from the entertainment that is gambling should be willing to develop public policy that treat victims of their affliction.