Jerry Kopel

Give Rep. Jim Dyer, the Durango Democrat credit. At least he tried. He didn't succeed, but his HB 1148 was the first bill since my HB 1470 in 1983 to tackle the issue of compulsive gambling, which has increased tremendously in Colorado following the advent of the lottery in 1982 and casino gambling in 1991.

Rep. Dyer's bill would have taken 1/8 of one percent of total state lottery revenues for a compulsive gambling prevention program to provide counseling and referral services, arrange for notices at gambling locations about the availability of crisis counseling, present educational programs and research the effects of gambling in Colorado.

What is compulsive gambling? In scientific terms, the American Psychiatric Association certifies "pathological gambling" in its Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in the late 80's held that compulsive gambling is a treatable mental illness.

Compulsive gamblers begin with small, sporadic bets, as most gamblers do, but they are often younger in age. Little planning or effort goes on. Then gambling takes over and becomes the most important thing in that person's life. All other activities and relationships are given up in order to pursue gambling.

Next the gambler tries to recoup and cover yesterday's losses, borrowing money, cashing in insurance policies, stealing. In the final stages, the gambler is alienated from family and friends, money runs out, eating and sleeping patterns become erratic.

The compulsive gambler is an addict, in the same sense and degree as the alcohol or drug addict whose mental illness affects the addict and the addict's family. The final step is often suicide.

"The suicide rate among compulsive gamblers is 200 times the national average, and the spouse's suicide rate is 150 times the national average" according to Lance Hilkene, former deputy director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey.

"It eats you alive until you have four choices -- killing yourself, going to jail, going to a mental institution, or getting help" writes Arnold Wexler, a former compulsive gambler and official of the National Council on Compulsive Gambling.

Wexler claims 75 percent of compulsive gamblers commit felonies such as stealing or embezzlement. An American Insurance Institute study estimates as much as forty percent of U.S. white collar crime is related to compulsive gambling.

Former Republican Speaker of the New Jersey House, Chuck Hardwick writes: "Family life is shattered by compulsive gambling with the divorce rate and incidence of physical abuse of spouses and children well above the national average."

Almost all studies agree that three to five percent of Americans are compulsive gamblers. Twenty percent of compulsive gamblers are women although Wexler believes that number might be 50 percent by the year 2001. Twenty percent, male and female, are under 21.

Nationally known and well-respected columnist Neil Peirce in 1986 summed up what actually happened later in Colorado. Writing about compulsive gambling as a serious disease equal to alcohol or drug addiction, he commented: "Lottery-generated problems are already being dumped on society's door. But a public relations cover-up is the only response you get from the state lottery agencies and the businesses making millions off the games."

In 1989, Gov. Romer considered asking the state lottery commission to study the lottery's impact on gambling addicts and possible steps that could be carried out to help them. In a July, 1989 article by Rocky Mountain News reporter John Sanko, that suggestion was met with a chilling response from state lottery spokeswoman Marlene Desmond who referred to the state auditor's 1987 Sunset review of the lottery.

She claimed the audit found no link between the lottery and compulsive gambling. "It was a major audit and one of the things they looked at was the lottery's relationship with compulsive gambling. They didn't find any."

Sanko forgot to ask the question that Tom Locke did in an Up the Creek interview with Ms. Desmond: "Why isn't there any mention of compulsive gambling in the state audit?" Having been caught, Desmond responded that the issue was "discussed in legislative hearings." Which is as good as "my dog ate the homework."

Locke also produced an admission from Larry Gupton of the state auditor's office as to the reported lack of increase in organized crime or illegal gambling since the lottery's inception that "conclusions in the audit were based largely on opinion because we didn't have the time to go out and do a long-term study."

If you look at the statute CRS 24-35-218 which sets out what the lottery audit was supposed to cover, you discover that compulsive gambling was NOT one of the topics. Nor is it a topic for the 1997-1998 audit in preparation for extension of the lottery repeal date of July l, 1999.

The new lottery audit is required by statute to be provided to the legislature by Jan.15,1999, but recent events indicate the lottery people in 1996 are already beginning to perspire.

On Saturday, June 22, the Denver Post carried a double editorial. The first blessed the continued use of lottery money for Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). The second editorial concluded "When the 1997 session convenes, state lawmakers should take up the lottery's reauthorization."

Even before the auditor's report? First the verdict and THEN the evidence? Reads like a Lewis Carroll novel. This type of editorial just doesn't "appear" unless GOCO and lottery officials met with Post editorial staff and executed a full-court press.

Post editorial writers ought to read a Gambling in America report which found states that offered more forms of legalized gambling had a higher proportion of compulsive gamblers; an understandable result of accessibility, legitimacy, and media exposure.

Obviously, compulsive gambling is not just about lotteries. Every state, except Hawaii and Utah, has some form of legalized gambling. Leading the pack is Iowa with lotteries, pari-mutuel betting, slot machines at race tracks, bingo and three kinds of casinos: Regular, Riverboat, and Indian. Louisiana has six of seven. In third place with five of the seven are Colorado, Indiana, and South Dakota.

Casino players in Colorado are mainly local players. Don Burmania, communications specialist for the Colorado Gaming Commission told the Denver Post that $17.1 billion had been wagered in Colorado casinos from Oct.l, 1991 through March of 1996. To put that in perspective, it is double the state budget for 1996-97.

And "Harrah's Survey of Casino Entertainment" reports Colorado's limited stakes casinos draw mainly from the Denver to Pueblo strip residents, who will pay out most of the $400 million the casinos will earn this year.

Why haven't bills trying to reduce the number of compulsive gamblers gone forward? Don't believe the pious bleatings from the casino industry lobbyists or the state lottery GOCO subterfuges. Without compulsive gamblers, there is less profit.

Newsday reported in January that Minnesota's planning agency found just two percent of the gamblers in the state's seventeen Indian casinos accounted for 63 percent of the money gambled.

Newsday continues: "Lotteries and casinos like to portray gambling as harmless entertainment and addiction as an aberration" said University of Illinois economist Earl Grinols, who has conducted several studies of gambling's social costs. "But the fact is, both lotteries and casinos are very dependent on psychologically sick people for their revenues."

Grinols has also stated: "If you could prevent every problem gambler, the revenues would dry up by one-third to one-half."

As to the recent attempt by Rep. Tony Grampsas and Sen. Joan Johnson to raise casino stakes from $5 to $100, here is an unsigned editorial comment in the "Colorado Jackpot" Denver Post gambling ad section of May 3rd:

"The limited stakes issue may have come before its time this spring...but there's no question that its time will surely come. The casinos are united in their support of raising stakes at some point. The question is when."

On August 16, the Denver Post reported the Jefferson County DA had filed criminal charges against the owner of Bronco Billy's in Black Hawk and the casino's general manager for accepting 30 bad checks worth $94,500 from DeWayne VanWey, knowing VanWey could not cover the checks.

The statute involved is CRS 12-467.1-815: "No person licensed under this article may extend credit to another person for participation in limited card games and slot machines." The section contains no explicit penalty. That brings it under CRS 12-47.1-832 as a Class I Misdemeanor.

The Post story quotes Senior Deputy DA Dennis Hall that VanWey wrote checks totalling up to $10,000 daily during the winter and spring using the proceeds to play dollar slots at the casino; that VanWey eventually ran out of money and began writing checks he could not cover in April and May; that the casino knew the checks were "bad" but continued to accept them.

Colorado's gaming division did not uncover this alleged violation. VanWey, states the article, notified the gaming division AFTER the casino threatened to notify police about the checks.

The classic description of a compulsive gambler is one who first depletes personal resources and continues to gamble big sums without ability to pay. Even if the casino KNOWS the customer is a compulsive gambler, letting him or her continue gambling is NOT a crime under our gambling statute UNLESS the casino gives credit.

Contrary to the Post article, Mr. VanWey does not owe the casino $94,500. He should hire an attorney and have a court expunge any liability once it is proven the debt would not have occurred except in violation of the criminal code.

The Gaming Divison might find a lot more VanWeys if they posted notices in casinos urging customers to report any "credit" given, mentioning a customer's ability to wipe out any such "credit debt".

So what can Rep. Jim Dyer do in 1997 on this subject? First, he can amend CRS 24-35-218 to include compulsive gambling as part of the lottery review to be conducted by the state auditor. Second, he can copy the Dram Act CRS 13-21-103, which punishes those who sell liquor to an alcoholic, to create a compulsive gambler liability betting act. Finally, he can reintroduce HB 1148 and armed with a lot more information, get it passed.


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