Rod Driver

From the Providence Journal, June 5, 1999:

The grim human cost of casinos


Residents of West Warwick are being urged to vote for a gambling casino "to cut their property taxes in half." This irresponsible sales pitch is based on the assumption that the General Assembly will dedicate 30 percent of the casino tax revenues to the town of West Warwick.

Lincoln and Newport get just 1 percent of the taxes on gambling establishments in their towns. But suppose that, in a moment of compassion for West Warwick, the General Assembly passes a law promising the town, say, 2 percent of the gambling-tax revenue. This would guarantee absolutely nothing for the future. (For 20 years Rhode Island has had a law promising to reimburse cities and towns for state-mandated expenditures. See RIGL Section 45-13-9. But those reimbursements are never made because the General Assembly routinely exempts itself from the requirement.)

If the financial "benefits" are illusory, some other consequences of casino gambling are totally predictable. If a casino comes to Rhode Island more businesses will suffer and some will close as potential customers lose their spending money at the casino. And more families will be destroyed by compulsive gambling.

Compulsive gamblers are usually good people who have become trapped in an addiction every bit as destructive as alcoholism. A young man from Pawtucket told police that he had been robbed at gunpoint to avoid admitting to his family that he had been to Foxwoods and lost $4,000 he had borrowed from friends for his daughter's medical expenses.

To support his gambling at Foxwoods, a janitor at an elementary school in East Providence stole money from funds collected for the student yearbook. The treasurer of the North Providence police union embezzled $43,000 for his gambling habit. A city employee in Warwick embezzled money from the city to cover her husband's gambling debts.

A Providence lawyer embezzled $530,000 from an elderly aunt. He frequented Foxwoods, but he was arrested at a casino in the Bahamas, leaving his ex-wife and his children without support. A judge on Rhode Island's traffic court spent more time at Foxwoods than on the bench. Despite his salary of almost $94,000 per year, he declared bankruptcy.

An assistant vice president at a Providence insurance company embezzled $1.1 million from his employer. A former Rhode Island governor was convicted of taking kickbacks from contractors. He was a frequent visitor to Foxwoods and we don't know how much of the money he lost there. An employee at an automobile dealership in Norwich embezzled $100,000 from her employer, and lost most of it at Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun.

A former utility lineman in Connecticut was sentenced to five years in prison for climbing utility poles and stealing copper wire which he sold to raise money for his gambling addiction. Two men in Massachusetts "created" a phony chemical company and collected more than $1.9 million from a manufacturer in Rockland on the basis of phony invoices. A man in Peabody stole $4 million from his family's paving business.

A middle-aged Connecticut woman got just a little more than $700 when she robbed the New Haven Savings Bank to finance her gambling addiction. After serving six months in prison and nine weeks in gamblers' rehab she got on a bus and went back to Foxwoods. The chief fund raiser for the late Sen. Paul Tsongas' presidential campaign took $1 million in campaign contributions and loans to pay gambling debts. Tsongas withdrew from the race and the fund raiser went to prison.

A young woman drowned herself in Connecticut's Thames River after maxing out her credit cards at Foxwoods. She left a husband and two small children. A highly-regarded police chief in Central Falls took his own life when he couldn't cope with his gambling debts.

A nurse in Reading, Mass., worked double shifts to pay her husband's gambling debts. When she restricted her husband's access to money, he killed her. On his way home, after disposing of his wife's car, he stopped to buy more scratch tickets.

A few years ago several compulsive gamblers spoke to a committee of the Rhode Island legislature. One gentleman told of his wife being seriously injured in an auto accident. He said "I love my wife very much, but I couldn't help thinking of the insurance money if she died." Another told of sitting at the kitchen table with his 3-year-old daughter one winter. "Daddy, please fix the heat," she said. But the heat wasn't broken. The money to pay the fuel bill had gone to cover a bet.

Wherever gambling opportunities have expanded, the number of compulsive gamblers has grown. Gamblers Anonymous had just two meetings per week in Rhode Island before Foxwoods opened. Now the number is eight and the attendance at each has doubled. If a gambling casino comes to West Warwick, there will be more tragic stories, and many of them will be about families in West Warwick.

Rod Driver, a former Rhode Island representative, is a professor of mathematics at the University of Rhode Island.