Posts Tagged ‘gambling addiction’

School Financial Officer Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Another Dumb Crook News segment. Folks, I don’t know how many times I’ve said this, but I’m going to say it again. Blackjack and other gambling games should be done in your leisure time with money that you have to spend on leisure. In other words, if you don’t have enough disposable income to justify gambling, you shouldn’t do it. You don’t need a lot of money to play blackjack, but if you don’t have the money, don’t play. How do you know if you don’t have enough? Well, if you have to steal money to play, that is a good indication. Such is the case here.

Susan Thanh Litwin pleaded guilty to embezzling $279,000 from a technology school in Alexandria, Virginia. Litwin, 37, was the financial technician for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology when she withdrew $279,000 in student funds. Most of the money she spent playing blackjack at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Her attorney said that she had a gambling addiction, which may be true or just a convenient excuse. In either case, it doesn’t excuse stealing money from children to fund a gambling habit. Litwin resigned from her position with the school, having worked there for 18 years, once her embezzlement was discovered.

This morning, Litwin pleaded guilty to embezzlement and will be sentenced in July. Since the school she worked for receives federal funding, her embezzlement was treated as a federal crime. She faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines in addition to restitution. Taking steps to pay back the money, Litwin has relinquished ownership of a house in Florida and will forfeit her retirement savings, which amount to approximately $60,000.

Pleading for leniency in front of the judge, Litwin said “I love the kids. Working with them… it’s my passion.” She then added, “I just love playing blackjack more, so I decided to take money from the kids. Besides, I assumed that I’d win money, in which case I could have paid it back.” Okay, I made up that last quote.

Not much more needs to be said here, but it’s disturbing how many cases of embezzlement I’ve seen where the funds have been used as blackjack gambling money. Here’s hoping Ms. Litwin never sets foot in a casino again.

MA Bill Bans Marketing to Gambling Addicts

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

The U.S. state of Massachusetts is considering legalizing gambling, with lawmakers discussing a gambling bill on the floor of the House that would authorize full casinos as well as slot machines at the state’s dog and horse racing tracks. If the bill passes and becomes law, gamblers in Massachusetts will have somewhere to play blackjack other than online.

Recently the House voted on three amendments to the bill, approving one and rejecting two. One of the rejected amendments would have required the casinos to post the odds (all of the odds, not just the house edge) of each slot machine in a conspicuous place in 18-point type. This amendment was rejected by a 137-20 vote.

The other rejected amendment required the newly created state gaming commission to conduct specific background checks on all applicants for jobs at the casino resorts. It would also require drug testing, fingerprinting and more. Since the amendment was struck down, the gaming commission may still conduct those background investigations, but it is not required. Also, the casinos may conduct their own investigations. This amendment was rejected by a 112-45 vote.

It is the other amendment, the one that passed, that is of the greatest concern to me. By a slim 80-76 vote, the Massachusetts House approved an amendment to the casino bill that allows problem gamblers to voluntarily request to opt out of marketing for the casinos. The players are then placed on a “self-exclusion” list and the casinos will be prohibited from marketing to anyone on that list.

This is of concern to blackjack players and players of any casino game that have a gambling problem. Though the overwhelming majority of blackjack players gamble responsibly, there are some who do not. Those problem gamblers, according to some, can develop a gambling addiction (though some in the psychological community dispute the “addiction” claim).

Many people believe that it would be hazardous to market to someone with a gambling problem, because they might not be able to say no. They may end up going to the casino and losing lots of money because they couldn’t control themselves. Those who are concerned with the financial and mental safety of compulsive gamblers support legislation that bans marketing to those individuals. Those who opposed the amendment state that is unnecessary interference in the free market by the legislature.

I’m normally very supportive of a free market and a laissez-faire approach to economics by the government. However, I think allowing problem gamblers to opt out of being subject to marketing by the casinos is a good idea. The only downside is I don’t know how difficult it will be for casinos to make sure they don’t accidentally market to someone on the list. That is certainly something that needs to be addressed.

With that amendment passed, the full bill will continue to be debated by the state House. Earlier this month, the bill was modified to remove language that would have made online gambling illegal. With that language removed, there is no ban on online gambling in the state of Massachusetts.

Bank Robber Arrested at Casino

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

I’m thinking of starting a Dumb Crook News subsection of my blackjack blog. It seems like at least every month there is a new entry for it. Today the dumb (alleged) crook is Joseph Baer.

Baer was the suspected robber of three banks in Philadelphia. He had a previous bank robbery conviction and was known to have a compulsive gambling problem, so the FBI suspected that he was stealing the money and then heading straight over to casinos to use it.

They were right. Baer was caught while playing blackjack at the Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. A security guard at the casino recognized him and notified a state trooper, who held him until the FBI arrived to charge him with the federal crimes of bank robbery.

Back in 2004, Baer was convicted of two bank robberies and spent six years in prison. Earlier this year, he was released to a halfway house. Obviously, he wasn’t rehabilitated, because he promptly fled the halfway house and then immediately started robbing banks again.

Wait, do I have to say allegedly? I mean, he was caught on camera doing it! On April 13, the same day he had fled the halfway house, he showed up at a PNC Bank and was captured by surveillance cameras wearing a Donovan McNabb jersey and robbing the bank. That’s two crimes in one, right? If Baer had known about the surveillance cameras, which he should have learned about in court in 2004, I imagine he would have covered his face or at least not been seen wearing a McNabb jersey. That’s just embarrassing.

A few days later, security footage shows Baer robbing a TruMark Financial Credit Union while wearing a John Lennon T-shirt. Well, at least this time he wore something cool. So it seems that he learned his lesson and figured that if he’s going to be seen robbing banks, at least he should look cool while doing it.

Or not. A few days later he was again caught on surveillance video robbing a Citizens Bank, this time wearing an Iron Man shirt. Okay, so this guy’s an idiot and a nerd. I get it.

Baer will face charges for three bank robberies and fleeing a halfway house, so this man should be behind bars for quite some time. Maybe this time while he’s in there he’ll think about the consequences of robbing banks. Because his game of choice is my game of choice, and probably the game of choice of my readers, I feel a need to say something about problem gambling. If you have a gambling problem, you should seek help. Gamblers Anonymous can help you, as can many other groups. You should always gamble responsibly and only wager money that you can afford to lose.

To help you out, here’s a little quiz. You know you have a gambling problem if:
a.    The FBI believes you’re a compulsive gambler
b.    You need to rob banks to pay for your gambling habit
c.    Even while on the run from the law you can’t resist hitting the blackjack tables
d.    All of the above

Don’t Be Like This Guy: Antoine Walker

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Every now and then I like to point out people who are the antithesis of a role model, those players who do everything wrong. I’ve discussed players with gambling addiction, players who throw temper tantrums, players who sue the casino after losing, players who cheat, players who steal to fund their blackjack bankroll and more. Today I want to discuss Antoine Walker.

Walker played 13 seasons in the NBA and made $110 million over that time, not including endorsement contracts like he had with adidas. Now not only is he broke, he is in dept and facing felony charges of fraud for writing bad checks to Las Vegas casinos.

Walker was a talented player who had his best years with the Boston Celtics, but it seems that the only thing he enjoyed more than hoisting up a three-pointer was wasting his money. Even by NBA standards, Walker’s extravagance is the stuff of legend. Even today, in all of the trouble he is facing, which includes possible jail time and a debt in the millions, he doesn’t seem to get it.

Walker seems remorseful about squandering his vast fortune, but still doesn’t seem to understand. In an interview with ESPN, he said that he thought spending all of that money was his “calling” and that his “job is to give back.” By giving back, he doesn’t mean donating to charity or helping in the community. Instead, he means taking his wife and teammates to fancy dinners, buying his family and friends (and himself) collections of Hummers, Bentleys and Benzes, and buying himself and his family luxurious mansions.

He also loved to gamble, spending “a couple thousand dollars a hand playing blackjack.” His gambling problems seem to come from hanging out with Michael Jordan in 2001, who was a known high-stakes gambler and also happened to be one of the greatest players in NBA history. As someone Walker looked up to, Jordan would hit the blackjack tables and bet thousands on each hand. If he lost, no big deal. After all, it’s only money.

Betting that much money on blackjack, of course, is stupid. You don’t need to bet high to have fun. The amount of the wagers, though, isn’t the biggest problem. That came when Walker established a credit line and began betting with money he didn’t actually have on him at the time. I have cautioned against that time and time again. It is too easy to lose track on how much you’re spending. Eventually, Walker was betting money he didn’t even have in an account and when he needed more, he wrote checks to the casinos. Of course, if you write someone a check knowing there’s no money in your account to cover it, that is not only stupid, it’s also a crime.

As a result of his poor decisions, Antoine Walker, the man who was once one of the most popular players in Beantown, is now facing a court battle over his debts, a different court battle over fraud, a different court battle over child support and a court battle over property he owns in Chicago (turns out he’s not a great landlord, either). So let me say this as clearly as I can: Do not be like Antoine Walker. Use your finances wisely at all times, especially at the blackjack table.

Man Sues Casino for Loaning Him Money

Friday, March 5th, 2010

In my blog I make a point to discuss gambling responsibly and taking a personal responsibility for your habits and actions, so when I heard about this case I had to write about it. A Kentucky man is suing a casino in Indiana for loaning him money while he was drunk.

Jimmy L. Vance was gambling in what was then called Caesar’s Casino (now the Horseshoe Southern Indiana) back in 2004 and lost $75,000 to the casino. What’s worse is that it wasn’t Vance’s money. After presumably losing his own money at the casino (none of the news stories say), Vance took credit advances for the $75,000 in several installments. Vance says he remembers borrowing the first $20,000 but not the rest.

Vance has not paid the money he owes and is suing the casino for taking advantage of him. According to Vance, the casino loaned him money when he was clearly inebriated and, therefore, not of sound mind to make a decision to borrow money. Vance’s lawyers are arguing that if he was drunk he cannot legally enter into a contract with the casino. Therefore, the loan contract would be null and void and he would not owe the casino a thing. His lawyers also state that surveillance videos clearly show that Vance was intoxicated.

The casino argues that he was fully functional and didn’t sway or stagger. They say he seemed fine while playing blackjack, walking the casino floor and talking to the dealers and cocktail waitresses. If the casino wins this case, they could seek up to $225,000 under Indiana law, which includes what Vance currently owes, interest and legal fees.

One of the issues at question is whether the casinos can legally offer a loan to a player who is drunk. Some see that as taking advantage of someone who is vulnerable. Others believe that it is the responsibility of the player to make their own decisions, including how much to drink. Most states, however, can charge a bartender for serving alcohol to someone who is intoxicated and hold them legally liable if there is an alcohol-related incident, such as DUI. It’s not a stretch for the same concept to be applied to a casino giving out loans. Similarly, several players have sued casinos for allegedly taking advantage of their gambling addiction, but so far none have been successful.

This case is kind of a he said-she said and I don’t know the truth, but I will tell you this. You should never take a loan from a casino. Ever. If you don’t have the money to gamble with, you have no business gambling. You should only gamble with money that you can afford to lose and if you need a loan to gamble, this is obviously not the case. Aside from that, the only advice I can give you is to be careful how much alcohol you consume in a casino, because the more you drink, the worse your decisions get.

Machine to Help with Problem Gambling

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Gambling, whether it’s done in a brick and mortar or online casino, can be a fun way to spend your time if you are responsible. Like many forms of entertainment, including sporting events, movies, theme parks and more, it costs money to play your favorite casino games. One difference, though, is that you don’t necessarily know how much it will cost you ahead of time. That’s where budgeting and planning how much to spend ahead of time comes in handy.

Some people, however, have a hard time doing that and even if they do plan, in the excitement of the moment have a hard time walking away when they should. That is a form of problem gambling, an ailment that afflicts too many players worldwide. Now there is a machine available that can help people manage their money more effectively.

A Canadian gaming company called TechLink has introduced the Responsible Gaming Device, which is made to be used in brick and mortar casinos, though it is likely that an online version will be available soon.

How it works is this: Casinos purchase a machine, called Gameplan, and install the software for that device on their gambling machines. Players purchase the Responsible Gaming Device, which can be plugged into the casino’s machines. That Device identifies the gambler and all of the conditions that have been selected.

The machine allows the player to select certain limits, whether it’s a maximum amount of losses during a time period, a certain amount of money wagered, or any other similar limit and is notified when those limits are met. The device then locks the player out and no more bets can be made. If necessary, the player can also use the device to exclude themselves entirely, which is basically a self-blacklisting.

Though this would be easy to incorporate into machines like slots and video poker, I don’t know how it could be used, if it can, for table games like blackjack. For that reason, I think the software is better suited for online casinos. That way it could be applied to every game and it could refuse to let the player make a deposit or play any games once the limit is met.

Ideally, everything that this machine accomplishes would be done by the gamblers without any help. Setting your own limits before you start playing is wise and it’s the easiest way to make sure you don’t spend too much. However, for people who have a problem with compulsive gambling, this machine is a great idea and will eventually help a lot of people. I, for one, am excited about it.

Manager Steals from his Company to Play Blackjack

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

People sometimes ask me, “How do I know I have a gambling problem?” One clue would be if you steal from your employer to pay for your gambling habit. An Edinburgh, England man was charged with doing exactly that. Benjamin Metcalf, a 26-year-old restaurant manager, was caught embezzling from his company after a five-figure amount was found to be missing.

Metcalf was the managing director of Nando’s and according to the BBC, he admitted embezzling £10,220.72 between June 28 and August 1, 2009. Metcalf loved to hit the blackjack tables and embezzled that money to fund his gambling habit. But wait, folks, it gets worse than that.

After he was caught and admitted to the embezzlement, Metcalf came up with a plan. He offered to play blackjack at a local casino and use the winning money to repay it. Brilliant! Of course, if he needed to steal money from his employer to play blackjack in the first place, I don’t know how he could pay it back by playing blackjack. First of all, he probably doesn’t have enough money to get started and make some money (which is why he had to steal it). Also, making money at blackjack is far from guaranteed, even for the best players. If Metcalf needed to steal to have enough money to play blackjack, then I don’t see why he would be so confident that he could win £10,220.72 playing it.

For obvious reasons, Nando’s declined Metcalf’s generous offer and instead agreed to press charges. The authorities then arrested Metcalf and charged him with theft. A guilty plea was made en abstentia and Metcalf is currently awaiting sentencing.

Folks, this kind of goes along with my last post. Metcalf did a bad thing (stealing) but justified it by saying that he was going to turn it into more money at the blackjack table and pay it back to the restaurant, keeping the rest. If you find yourself stealing from your employer to pay for playing blackjack, you have a problem. Actually, if you find yourself stealing from anyone for any reason, you have a problem of some kind.