💰 Online casinos ignored my obvious signs of addiction, says gambler | Society | The Guardian

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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. 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. Kephart had filed for bankruptcy after going broke gambling in Iowa, and moved to Tennessee. P roblem gamblers are worth a lot of money to casinos. At p. Moreover, when they gamble, they spend—which is to say, lose—more than other players. 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. He had raised funds for these green fields, tended them with his lawn mower, and watched his daughters play on them. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that one in five gambling addicts attempts suicide—the highest rate among addicts of any kind. 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. Gambling addicts may have a genetic predisposition, though a specific marker has not yet been uncovered. He used his work address for his gambling correspondence: W-2Gs the IRS form used to report gambling winnings , wire transfers, casino mailings. Around noon, he gave up. Some of the companies also sell information on their ATM customers to the casinos. 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. Gambling is a drug-free addiction. He spent time on weekends painting the high-school cafeteria and stripping the hallway floors. At home, he was always on time for dinner. E ven by the estimates of the National Center for Responsible Gaming, which was founded by industry members, 1. 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. According to some research, 20 percent of regular gamblers are problem or pathological gamblers. 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. 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. He sometimes did this three or four times in a single day. Even his best friend and brother-in-law, Carl Nelson, who occasionally gambled alongside Stevens, had no inkling of his problem. Noffsinger, 72, has been here before. Now he told Bender what he was about to do. Back home, Stevens became a regular at the Mountaineer Casino. 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. 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. Given the guilt and shame involved, gambling addiction frequently progresses to a profound despair. Scott and Stacy soon began making several trips a year to Vegas. When the casino sued her for damages on the money she owed, Kephart countersued. All of these data have enabled casinos to specifically target their most reliable spenders, primarily problem gamblers and outright addicts. The thefts ultimately put the company out of business. He asked that she have him cremated. 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. Stevens got his first taste of casino gambling while attending a trade show in Las Vegas. When Noffsinger filed the Stevens lawsuit, John W. That is more than the number of women living in the U. He unpacked his Browning semiautomatic gauge shotgun, loaded it, and sat on one of the railroad ties that rimmed the parking lot. Even after he was fired, Stevens kept gambling as often as five or six times a week. Alarmed, Bender tried to talk him out of it. 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? Stevens doted on his girls and threw himself into causes that benefited them. Over the next six years, his gambling hobby became an addiction. A soft-spoken personal-injury attorney based in Indiana, he has filed two previous lawsuits against casinos. They also employ hosts who befriend large spenders and use special offers to encourage them to stay longer or return soon. In some machines, miniature cameras watch their faces and track their playing behavior. Up until that point, he had put on a brave face for Bender, saying he would accept responsibility and serve his time. It increased the limits on some slot machines so that she could spend more on single games. When he first met Stacy, in , he insisted that she pay off her credit-card debt immediately. In , Richardson, then 54, was sentenced to 14 to 20 years in prison for the crime. 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.

Modern slot machines develop casino lost control unbreakable hold on many players—some of whom wind up losing their jobs, casino lost control 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. A representative for Ameristar Casino declined to comment on the lawsuit.

On a subsequent trip, he hit a jackpot on a slot machine and was hooked. The business plan for casinos is based on the addicted gambler. His colleagues did not question his absences from the office, because his job involved overseeing various companies in different locations. At issue was the fundamental question of who killed Scott Stevens. Afterward, Stacy studied gambling addiction and the ways slot machines entice customers to part with their money. It also made a new machine off-limits to other customers so that Richardson could be the first to play it. Management assigned Richardson an executive host, who offered her free drinks, meals, hotel stays, and tickets to entertainment events. 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. When money appeared from his occasional wins, he claimed that he had been doing some online trading. Did he die because he was unable to rein in his own addictive need to gamble? They brought the kids in the summer and made a family vacation of it by visiting the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, and Disneyland. 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. Stevens never did come clean with her about how much he had stolen or about how often he had been gambling. 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. 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. He was meticulous about finances, both professionally and personally. 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. 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. Failing his daughters had been the final blow. In Vegas, Stevens had always kept plans to join her and the girls for lunch. 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. Stacy thought that her husband was off to a job interview followed by an appointment with his therapist. 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. He kept separate bank accounts. She liked shopping, sitting by the pool, even occasionally playing the slots with her husband. But the U. Some gambling addicts report that they experience a high resembling that produced by a powerful drug. Maybe this time it would pay out enough to save him. Their prevalence has accelerated addiction and reaped huge profits for casino operators. Stacy had no idea. He placed the letter and the check in an envelope, drove to the Steubenville post office, and mailed it. 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. Stevens, 52, left the casino and wrote a five-page letter to Stacy. Such addicts simply cannot stop themselves, regardless of the consequences. These days, the casinos have their own internal methods for determining who their most attractive customers are. Stevens methodically concealed his addiction from his wife. Casinos know exactly who their biggest spenders are. In , she filed a lawsuit against both Mountaineer Casino and International Game Technology, the manufacturer of the slot machines her husband played. 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. He next called J. At least nine independent studies demonstrate that problem gamblers generate anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of total gambling revenues.