Credit: Ted Hsu/Alamy Stock Photo
Right off the bat, in its first two months of legalized sports betting, New York has overtaken Las Vegas and Atlantic City to become the #1 place in America where gamblers can throw their hard-earned cash. New Yorkers bet over $2 billion since the beginning of the year, 80 million dollars going to the public treasury. New York’s television and computer screens have been submerged by corny advertisements encouraging us to bet all day and all night, in public casinos and on private mobile phones.
The seldom mentioned victims of this brave new world are New Yorkers afflicted with gambling disordera condition recognized by the medical profession in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders since 1980.
As day follows night, the current betting boom will be followed by a less heralded wave of debt, bankruptcies, divorces and suicides. It’s not just an unfortunate side effect; Bleeding problem players dry is the business model. And New York has now blessed this unfortunate arrangement and is a full partner in the scam, taking a significant chunk of the gambling proceeds.
New York is one of 30 states that now allow sports betting, either in person or online. Across the country, Americans are betting on $7.6 billion on the Super Bowl, and bet billions more on march madness.
The casual bettor who fills brackets and pumps $20 into a desktop pool once a year is not the customer the big gambling outfits are looking for. They bombard us with advertisements in order to get the reliable revenue stream from people who bet too much, too often and are doomed to lose in the long run.
“With addiction, alcohol or drugs, you put something in your body. It is a total psychological dependence”, as Arnie Wexler, a problem gambler turned rehab specialist, said it in 2018. “You don’t put anything in your body. There are no marks, there are no dilated pupils, there is no smell – it’s hidden and invisible. If you know someone has a drug or alcohol problem, eventually you will see it. You will feel it, you will see it, you will know it.
Problem gamblers lose repeatedly, deeply and uncontrollably. With the new ease of sports betting, they can quietly type numbers into a phone and ruin their economic life. According to National Institutes of Health, approximately 2.9% of American adults suffer from pathological gambling. With 13.6 million New Yorkers over the age of 18, that translates to more than 414,000 people at risk of financial catastrophe.
State Controller Tom DiNapoli warned that New York needs to bolster its resources to track and prevent problem gambling, but its cash-hungry colleagues in the state legislature and former Governor Andrew Cuomo, eager for a new source of tax revenue, passed the legalization.
“We’ve been engaged in a massive cultural experience with the game, and we’re bringing the game to America in a way that’s unparalleled anywhere in the world,” said Keith Whytegeneral manager of the National Problem Gambling Council. “No one, at least from an addiction perspective, has been able to examine what the impact on problem gambling will be.”
But we don’t have to look far to see the wreckage.
“I’m so ashamed of myself,” an unnamed 29-year-old corporate employee recently said BNC News, admitting that he exhausted his 401(k) retirement money and four high-interest loans, racking up a total of $200,000 in losses. “I cry at night,” he says. “I can barely look at my daughter. I can barely look at my wife.
Here in New York, the evidence of gambling’s downsides has been around us for years. Read the details of some high-profile embezzlement cases, and it often turns out that a gambling disorder fueled the theft.
In 2017, radio talk show host Craig Carton was arrested and later sentenced to 42 months in prison for running a Ponzi scheme involving the resale of tickets – in part to cover his gambling debts.
That same year, professional poker player Travell Thomas from Buffalo was sentenced to eight years in prison for organizing a debt collection scam. “I haven’t spent a lot of time in the office. I spent most of my time playing,” Thomas said tearfully at his sentencing. “I spent days at the casino. I wouldn’t even change my clothes.
Ten years ago, St. John’s University Dean Cecilia Chang hanged herself a day after speaking out at a trial for allegedly embezzling $1 million from the school. She had often received advances of up to $30,000 from the university to perform at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
And there is Andre Caspersen, the Ivy League financier and Ponzi scheme operator who ended up in jail for stealing $38 million from victims. “For nearly 20 years, I alone bet everything I have ever loved and cherished,” he said at sentencing.
Alongside these high-profile cases, there are silent tragedies like the 2011 case of Sister. Mary Thortona nun who, over the course of a decade, stole $850,000 from Iona College in New Rochelle, where she was vice president of finance, to pay her gambling debts. “Gambling gave her a freedom, a freedom to feel like it’s about her to change,” her attorney told the court during sentencing.
Christophe Canale of Poughkeepsie, a former payments manager at Bank of New York Mellon Corp, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 for stealing more than $7 million from the bank where he worked. The motive was “to save his life because of a gambling addiction,” in the words of the FBI’s complaint against him.
Gambling does not cause fraud or other criminal activity, but New York leaders of an earlier generation wisely restricted it. the State Constitution of 1894 categorically prohibits “any lottery or the sale of lottery tickets, joint selling, bookmaking, or any other type of gambling”, but this has been rewritten with more and more exceptions, including seven racetracks, one lottery run by the state itself – and now sports betting.
“It’s been 13 really sad and destructive years of my life,” Scott Meyer said Spectrum News. His gambling addiction led him down a path of fraud, embezzlement, and jail time. “It took over my thought processes about the need to have gambling in my day,” he said.
Meyer is now a peer counselor for the New York Council on Problem Gambling, which expects a wave of appeals as the gambling wave crashes through our state. “Pick up the phone,” he tells those who fall into the trap. ” Do not be ashamed. We don’t judge you. We are here to help you.”
The number of people needing this help is about to skyrocket and will likely overwhelm the handful of hotlines and counseling services available. The level of personal pain, shame and financial ruin will be staggering, but also predictable.