🖐 How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts - The Atlantic

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Unlike in his earlier gambling cases, however, he decided to include a products-liability claim in this one, essentially arguing that slot machines are knowingly designed to deceive players so that when they are used as intended, they cause harm. It also made a new machine off-limits to other customers so that Richardson could be the first to play it. In , he sued Aztar Indiana Gaming, of Evansville, on behalf of David Williams, then 51 years old, who had been an auditor for the State of Indiana. Up until that point, he had put on a brave face for Bender, saying he would accept responsibility and serve his time. He used his work address for his gambling correspondence: W-2Gs the IRS form used to report gambling winnings , wire transfers, casino mailings. Each time a patron hits the Spin or the Deal button, which can be as frequently as to 1, times an hour, the casino registers the data. Stacy thought that her husband was off to a job interview followed by an appointment with his therapist. He had raised funds for these green fields, tended them with his lawn mower, and watched his daughters play on them. Neuroscientists have discovered characteristics that appear to be unique to the brains of addicts, particularly in the dopaminergic system, which includes reward pathways, and in the prefrontal cortex, which exerts executive control over impulses. A representative for Ameristar Casino declined to comment on the lawsuit.{/INSERTKEYS}{/PARAGRAPH} Given the guilt and shame involved, gambling addiction frequently progresses to a profound despair. Failing his daughters had been the final blow. According to a article in Time magazine, back in the s casino operators bought records from credit-card companies and mailing lists from direct-mail marketers. Some of the companies also sell information on their ATM customers to the casinos. At p. Like drug addicts, they develop a tolerance, and when they cannot gamble, they show signs of withdrawal such as panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and heart palpitations. These days, the casinos have their own internal methods for determining who their most attractive customers are. Gambling is a drug-free addiction. He unpacked his Browning semiautomatic gauge shotgun, loaded it, and sat on one of the railroad ties that rimmed the parking lot. Their prevalence has accelerated addiction and reaped huge profits for casino operators. Stevens methodically concealed his addiction from his wife. Such addicts simply cannot stop themselves, regardless of the consequences. When Stevens ran out of money at the casino, he would leave, write a company check on one of the Berkman accounts for which he had check-cashing privileges, and return to the casino with more cash. On a subsequent trip, he hit a jackpot on a slot machine and was hooked. At least nine independent studies demonstrate that problem gamblers generate anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of total gambling revenues. Stacy had no idea. In Vegas, Stevens had always kept plans to join her and the girls for lunch. In , she filed a lawsuit against both Mountaineer Casino and International Game Technology, the manufacturer of the slot machines her husband played. Environmental factors and personality traits—a big gambling win within the past year, companions who gamble regularly, impulsivity, depression—may also contribute to the development of a gambling problem. Afterward, Stacy studied gambling addiction and the ways slot machines entice customers to part with their money. At home, he was always on time for dinner. Stevens doted on his girls and threw himself into causes that benefited them. A soft-spoken personal-injury attorney based in Indiana, he has filed two previous lawsuits against casinos. He spent time on weekends painting the high-school cafeteria and stripping the hallway floors. Maybe this time it would pay out enough to save him. She liked shopping, sitting by the pool, even occasionally playing the slots with her husband. The thefts ultimately put the company out of business. He next called J. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that one in five gambling addicts attempts suicide—the highest rate among addicts of any kind. It increased the limits on some slot machines so that she could spend more on single games. When the casino sued her for damages on the money she owed, Kephart countersued. Some gambling addicts report that they experience a high resembling that produced by a powerful drug. Moreover, when they gamble, they spend—which is to say, lose—more than other players. Stacy noticed that he was irritable more frequently than usual and that he sometimes snapped at the girls, but she figured that it was the fallout of his unemployment. The preferred mode of gambling these days is electronic gaming machines, of which there are now almost 1 million nationwide, offering variations on slots and video poker. Stevens got his first taste of casino gambling while attending a trade show in Las Vegas. Alarmed, Bender tried to talk him out of it. {PARAGRAPH}{INSERTKEYS}Modern slot machines develop an unbreakable hold on many players—some of whom wind up losing their jobs, their families, and even, as in the case of Scott Stevens, their lives. Others outside the industry estimate the number of gambling addicts in the country to be higher. Casinos know exactly who their biggest spenders are. But the U. He sometimes did this three or four times in a single day. All of these data have enabled casinos to specifically target their most reliable spenders, primarily problem gamblers and outright addicts. The business plan for casinos is based on the addicted gambler. He kept separate bank accounts. P roblem gamblers are worth a lot of money to casinos. When he first met Stacy, in , he insisted that she pay off her credit-card debt immediately. When he headed to the casino, he told her he was going to see his therapist, that he was networking, that he had other appointments. According to some research, 20 percent of regular gamblers are problem or pathological gamblers. Gambling addicts may have a genetic predisposition, though a specific marker has not yet been uncovered. Around noon, he gave up. Or was he the victim—as the suit alleged—of a system carefully calibrated to prey upon his weakness, one that robbed him of his money, his hope, and ultimately his life? He placed the letter and the check in an envelope, drove to the Steubenville post office, and mailed it. Did he die because he was unable to rein in his own addictive need to gamble? Stevens, 52, left the casino and wrote a five-page letter to Stacy. When Noffsinger filed the Stevens lawsuit, John W. Some hosts receive bonuses that are tied to the amount customers spend beyond their expected losses, which are calculated using the data gathered from previous visits. Kephart had filed for bankruptcy after going broke gambling in Iowa, and moved to Tennessee. In some machines, miniature cameras watch their faces and track their playing behavior. Stevens never did come clean with her about how much he had stolen or about how often he had been gambling. That is more than the number of women living in the U. Even his best friend and brother-in-law, Carl Nelson, who occasionally gambled alongside Stevens, had no inkling of his problem. There are no accurate figures for suicides related to gambling problems, but there are ample anecdotes: the police officer who shot himself in the head at a Detroit casino; the accountant who jumped to his death from a London skyscraper in despair over his online-gambling addiction; the year-old student who killed himself in Las Vegas after losing his financial-aid money to gambling; and, of course, Stevens himself. Noffsinger, 72, has been here before. And, despite the popularity of slot machines and the decades of innovation surrounding them, when adjusted for inflation, there has not been a significant increase in the amount spent by customers on slot-machine gambling during an average casino visit. O n the morning of Monday, August 13, , Scott Stevens loaded a brown hunting bag into his Jeep Grand Cherokee, then went to the master bedroom, where he hugged Stacy, his wife of 23 years. At issue was the fundamental question of who killed Scott Stevens. Now he told Bender what he was about to do. Four years later, Noffsinger filed a suit on behalf of Jenny Kephart, then 52 years old, against Caesars Riverboat Casino, in Elizabeth, Indiana, alleging that the casino, aware that Kephart was a pathological gambler, knowingly enticed her into gambling in order to profit from her addiction. Scott and Stacy soon began making several trips a year to Vegas. They also employ hosts who befriend large spenders and use special offers to encourage them to stay longer or return soon. Back home, Stevens became a regular at the Mountaineer Casino. Several companies supply casinos with ATMs that allow patrons to withdraw funds through both debit and cash-advance functions, in some cases without ever leaving the machines they are playing. So she was stunned when he called her with bad news on January 30, She was on the stairs with a load of laundry when the phone rang. His colleagues did not question his absences from the office, because his job involved overseeing various companies in different locations. Even after he was fired, Stevens kept gambling as often as five or six times a week. But since Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in , tribal and commercial casinos have rapidly proliferated across the country, with some 1, now operating in 40 states. Over the next six years, his gambling hobby became an addiction. When money appeared from his occasional wins, he claimed that he had been doing some online trading. In focusing on the question of product liability, Noffsinger was borrowing from the rule book of early antitobacco litigation strategy, which, over the course of several decades and countless lawsuits, ultimately succeeded in getting courts to hold the industry liable for the damage it wrought on public health. They brought the kids in the summer and made a family vacation of it by visiting the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, and Disneyland. Management assigned Richardson an executive host, who offered her free drinks, meals, hotel stays, and tickets to entertainment events. Yet despite the fact that there is no external chemical at work on the brain, the neurological and physiological reactions to the stimulus are similar to those of drug or alcohol addicts. E ven by the estimates of the National Center for Responsible Gaming, which was founded by industry members, 1. Stevens parked his Jeep in the gravel lot and called Ricky Gurbst, a Cleveland attorney whose firm, Squire Patton Boggs, represented Berkman, where Stevens had worked for 14 years—until six and a half months earlier, when the firm discovered that he had been stealing company funds to feed his gambling habit and fired him. He asked that she have him cremated. In , Richardson, then 54, was sentenced to 14 to 20 years in prison for the crime. He was meticulous about finances, both professionally and personally.