The Fever: Gambling and Suicide

by Chad Hills | November 18, 2003

“No one in the history of mankind has ever developed or operated a casino out of a burning
desire to improve the lot of humanity.” —Chuck Gardner, Former Nevada Deputy Attorney General

Citizen Magazine Cover Story:
The Fever: Two men. One addiction. Losing money was just the start of their problems.

Citizen Magazine published an alarming account of gambling addiction and suicide in the July of 2002 issue. Written by Jeff Hooten, this Citizen story describes the destructive nature of addiction in the lives of two men. There are over 15 million people that struggle with gambling as an addiction. Suicide attempts for pathological gamblers are higher than any other addiction. One out of every five will attempt suicide. Read The Fever on Citizen Magazine's web-site.

Gambler's Suicide Reveals Casino's Bottom Line

Solomon Bell's suicide was, of course, unspeakably tragic-but hardly remarkable. Last week the Detroit police sergeant, despondent over massive gambling losses, pulled out his service pistol and killed himself at a blackjack table in one of the city's new casinos.

The tragedy was unremarkable in that it is merely a microcosm of how the gambling industry functions on a daily basis. On this day alone, casino operators enriched themselves by almost $20,000 at the victim's expense. Sergeant Bell's family, friends, and the Detroit community are impoverished beyond measure.

To the gambling mercenaries, such public relations indelicacies are merely part of the price to be paid for this form of "harmless entertainment." That's why the MotorCity Casino refused to shut down even temporarily in the face of this tragedy. In fact, within hours gamblers were allowed back into the area where the suicide occurred, blood-stained carpet notwithstanding.

Explained a casino spokesman: "It's not like Bell died some honorable kind of death. He chose to kill himself. We saw absolutely no reason to close down our business and deprive our patrons the use of our fourth floor."

Such crass and heartless reasoning might shock you. It shouldn't. This is precisely how casinos function-how they must function. Even the most jaded of gambling executives would go mad were they to come to grips with the depth of pain and devastation engendered by their venomous product.

Casinos instead attempt to delude with claims that they benefit communities by creating jobs, tourism and economic development. It is an elaborate smokescreen; casinos operate solely for the purpose of parting people from their money. Former Nevada deputy attorney general Chuck Gardner put it succinctly: "No one in the history of mankind has ever developed or operated a casino out of a burning desire to improve the lot of humanity."

"It's not like Bell died some honorable kind of death. He chose to kill himself. We saw absolutely no reason to close down our business and deprive our patrons the use of our fourth floor." -MotorCity Casino Spokesman

With most businesses, customers are assets to be cared for and cultivated. To casinos, they are resources to be strip-mined. What happens thereafter is not their concern. Consider a few other tragic stories:

A 48-year-old accountant had battled a fatal attraction with Lady Luck, and Casino Niagara stripped him of $600,000. The man just lost thousands more at the newly-opened Seneca Nation Casino on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls. "Please tell my parents I'm sorry," a note said. He slid into the icy water to end his life, and just before going over the edge, he came to his senses. The accountant managed to wedge his foot into rock fissure just before plunging over the falls. After two hours on the brink of Horshoe Falls, and a very dangerous helicopter rescue, this man was one of only a few get a second chance at life.1

A son found his mother's cold body — empty bottles of antidepressants and a suicide note were nearby. Later, the family would discover debts of more than $7,000, mostly on her Visa and MasterCard credit cards. There was $600 in bounced checks. She was still making payments for gambling addiction therapy that she had received a year earlier. Suicide numbers growing in Minnesota after the introduction of gambling. The Star Tribune has found six gambling-related suicides in Minnesota – five of them in the past two years. They are almost certainly a fraction of the total number. Hundreds more have attempted suicide, say experts who work with problem gamblers.2

Richard Hagstrom was a 57-year-old insurance adjuster whose gambling habit started to catch up with him … He was running into money problems, and it had become the source of arguments between him and his wife, Charlyn. …police found her body in her bedroom. Someone had beaten her to death. … Richard Hagstrom was the authorities’ only suspect. … He shot himself in his brother’s farmhouse … Richard had accumulated overwhelming gambling debts…3

On Linda Raasch’s dining room table lay a foreclosure notice and several letters demanding payment on overdue bills. Her electricity was about to be shut off. In the garage, Raasch’s car was running, the windows rolled down. She was inside, poisoned by carbon monoxide. She liked to play video poker machines, and she usually played just three quarters at a time. The quarters added up.4

Gambler's Suicide Reveals Casino's Bottom Line

"Suicide attempts among pathological gamblers are higher than for any of the addictions and second only to suicide attempt rates among individuals with major affective disorders, schizophrenia and a few major hereditary disorders," researcher Rachel Volberg said.5

A 16-year-old slit his wrists after losing $6,000 - four years of newspaper delivery earnings - on the lottery in a single day.6

The Canadian Press has learned that Alberta recorded gambling in the files of 10 percent of suicide victims in 2001, while Nova Scotia investigators found it was a factor in 6.3 per cent of suicides in the last two years. … Alberta medical investigator Dennis Caufield says gambling-related suicides increased after addictive VLTs were installed in 1992. "Absolutely, without a doubt," he said in an interview. "It's a frightening thing … To me, it's quite bizarre that people become so consumed by this need [to gamble] that they feel the only way to stop it is to take their own life."7

The widespread increase of legalized gambling in the U.S. over the last decade has been linked to higher suicide rates in major gaming communities among both residents and visitors to the area, according to a study conducted by suicidologist David Phillips. Visitors to and residents of major gaming communities such as Las Vegas, Reno, and Atlantic City experience suicide rates about four times higher than do their counterparts in non-gaming communities.8

Two-and-a-half months after he was barred from Casino Niagara for musing that life was no longer worth living, high-stakes gambler Gabe Macaluso got a call. Macaluso, then the chief executive officer of Copps Coliseum, Hamilton Place and the Hamilton Convention Centre, was starting to repair a life fractured by four years of compulsive gambling when, he says, a casino account manager told him to come back and bring his wallet.9

Tunica County sheriff's deputies were called to a casino parking lot early Saturday morning, where they found a child locked inside a hot car. Because of so many children left alone in the casino or locked inside cars in the parking lot, a company Kids Quest opened a babysitting service inside the casino. "So children won't be left outside or deserted or whatever and we're open from 10am until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays." said Director Anntoinette Coburn.10

A couple from Illinois is accused of leaving two children in a van while they went to Isle of Capri Casino in Bettendorf, Iowa. Parents were charged with child endangerment. The children - ages two and six - were found by security guards in the riverboat's parking garage ... Fortunately, the children were OK, but many are not recipients of the casinos' luck.11

In Louisiana, a two-year-old boy died after his baby sitter left him in a van to play video poker.12

In Georgia, a 10-day-old baby left inside a car died while her mother gambled in a casino.13

In Westville, Indiana a woman's 2-month-old daughter was found unconscious in her car while she gambled.14

The issue of unattended children has gained attention since the May 25 murder and sexual assault (rape) of 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson of Los Angeles. She was left alone in the arcade of the Primm Valley Hotel in Primm, southwest of Las Vegas, while her father gambled into the early morning hours.15

An Illinois woman bent on feeding her gambling addiction suffocated her 7-week-old daughter to collect on a $200,000 life insurance policy, federal prosecutors said. "She would do anything to get money with which to gamble - including the unthinkable."16

A Naperville, Illinois man wanted for questioning in the slaying of his ex-wife crashed his sport-utility vehicle into a semi truck on a rain-soaked road in rural Iowa Wednesday morning, killing himself and his 6-year-old daughter. John Scherer's history of drinking and gambling in part led to the collapse of his marriage, according to divorce papers filed in Will County.17

In Virginia, an 11-year-old Herndon girl died after initially surviving the slayings of her mother and brother and the suicide of her father, who authorities now say had defrauded area banks of nearly $2 million and had $10 million in gambling and other debts."18

A small business owner in Michigan had just returned from a trip to the Las Vegas Strip's MGM Grand when he allegedly killed his pregnant wife and three children (under 7 years old) before turning the gun on himself. In his Michigan home, police found a suicide note blaming gambling addiction - and $225,000 in shredded casino markers. His business was $500,000 in debt because he withdrew the money to cover his gamblling.19

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission documented a multitude of similarly heart-rending incidents. Casinos, however, would prefer to ignore such unpleasant details as where the money comes from. After all, as Las Vegas casino owner Bob Stupak said, " The slot machine 'entertainment' business targets everybody. Money's money. What's the difference if it's a Social Security check, a welfare check, a stock dividend check?"20

Gambler's Suicide Reveals Casino's Bottom Line

What difference, indeed? What's the difference if more than 15 million Americans now struggle with a gambling problem-and the number continues to climb? What's the difference if one in every five gambling addicts attempts suicide?

What's the difference if families of gambling addicts are ravaged by sky-high rates of divorce, domestic violence and child abuse? What's the difference if more than half of gambling addicts engage in crime to finance their compulsion?

To the peddlers of gambling, it makes a big difference-to their bottom lines. Problem and pathological gamblers may account for $200 billion (roughly one-third) of the gambling industry's "handle" each year. Of course, to the millions of these individuals and their loved ones, the difference is incalculable.

Ron A. Reno was the original author of this editorial in the year 2000. The article has been revised and updated by Chad Hills, Research Associate for Gambling Issues.

Chad Hills is the Analyst for Gambling Research in the Public Policy Department at Focus on the Family. Having performed scientific research, he now studies public policy, cultural reformation and social research as they relate to gambling addiction.

1 Helen O'Neill, "Back from the brink at the Falls: Heroic rescue of distraught bettor defied all the odds; Man pulled from freezing water gets second chance," The Star, Associated Press, 7 July 2003.
2 Chris Ison, "DEAD BROKE; That last losing bet often is more than some can take; Despair has pushed several gamblers to suicide, and many more have tried," Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), Metro Edition, News, p. 18A, 3 December 1995, (18 November 2003).
3 Chris Ison, Ibid.
4 Chris Ison, Ibid.
5 Eric Newhouse, "Problem players a growing trend, experts contend," Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, MT), 31 July 2002, p. 1A.
6 Ron A. Reno, "Addiction horror stories mount as gambling expands," Saint Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota, 10 March 1996, Editorial, p. 17A.
7 Sue Bailey, "Two provinces have uncovered startling statistics linking gambling to suicides, raising new questions about the social costs of legalized betting in Canada," Canadian Press Newswire, 23 February 2003.
8 David P. Phillips, Ph.D. and Ward Welty Marisa Smith, M.A., "Elevated Suicide Levels Associated with Legalized Gambling," Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior Sociology, Department University of California at San Diego, 15 December 1997, or, to access the actual paper (18 November 2003).
9 Canadian Press, "Louise Elliot, Former Copps Coliseum exec to sue Ontario," CNEWS (Canada), 19 August 2003, (18 November 2003).
10 Kristen Eve, "Toddler left in car while parents are in casino," WMC TV (MS), 16 August 2003, (18 November 2003).
11 The Associated Press, "Parents arrested for leaving children in van at casino," Gamble Tribune online, 14 July 2003, (18 November 2003).
12 Joe Darby, "Baby sitter pleads guilty to tot's death in hot van; she faces up to 40 years in prison," Times Picayune (New Orleans, LA) 10 March 1998, National; p. A1.
13 The Associated Press (GA), Domestic News, "Police: Baby died of dehydration in car while mom gambled in casino," (Ridgeland, S.C.), 2 September 1997.
14 Grace Schneider, "Children often left alone at Indiana casinos," The Courier-Journal (Indiana), 3 January 2002.
15 Angie Wagner, "Gaming group discusses unattended children in casinos," Associated Press, 28 February 1998.
16 The Associated Press, "Feds: Mom Killed Over Casino Debt," Las Vegas Sun, 23 January 1999.
17 Mike Cetera & John Zaremba, "Father, daughter die in crash Manhunt for Naperville man wanted in wife's killing ends on slick Iowa highway," Daily Southtown, 11 July 2002.
18 Wendy Melillo and Brooke A. Masters "Lone Survivor of Father's Shootings Dies," Washington Post, 6 August 1998.
19 Glenn Puit, "Police chief blames gambling for deaths," Las Vegas Review-Journal, 23 November 2000, p. 1A.
20 Parris N. Glendening, " A Look At . . . Gambling in Maryland: Fool's Gold; The Governor's Case Against Casinos and Slots, Including Those Run by Charities,," The Washington Post, 19 January 1997, Outlook, p.


Gambler's Suicide Reveals Casino's Bottom Line

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