Murderer had a gambling problem

November 29, 2012 10:34 am

This is an extreme and very tragic case of what can happen when a person becomes addicted to gambling. Like a drug addict in need of a fix, a gambling addict will often do whatever it takes to get money to gamble.

Raghunandan Yandamuri, 26, told police he killed a 10-month-old girl and her grandmother during a botched kidnapping after losing at least $15,000 at a casino near his office outside of Philadelphia. He said he planned to kidnap the infant and demand $50,000 in ransom, but did not intend to kill anyone.

Yandamuri told police he panicked after the grandmother opened the apartment door on him. She was killed in a struggle over a kitchen knife. He told police he accidentally dropped the infant, put a handkerchief over her mouth to quiet her and tied a towel around her head. He then left the infant in an unused sauna in a basement fitness center. Amazingly, Yandamuri asked investigators to say his wife turned him in so she could collect the $30,000 reward.

Yandamuri lived in the same apartment complex as the family and had been to a birthday party for the baby’s mother. Both parents worked in technology, giving Yandamuri the idea they could afford to pay the ransom.

Yandamuri moved from California to the suburbs of Philadelphia in March to work for GSI Commerce Inc., a unit of eBay Inc. Its office in King of Prussia, Pa. is less than a mile from the Valley Forge Casino Resort. When asked by police if he had a gambling problem, he replied “a bit.”

“Last week I lost $15,000 to $20,000, but last month I won $20,000,” he said on the videotape.

He said he wiped out most of his debts through a March bankruptcy filing. Those records show that Yandamuri had amassed $26,000 in credit card debts since 2008, most of it on six accounts he opened in 2011, according to the Associated Press.

Studies show that the ease of access to casinos leads to increases in gambling problems and crime. As such, the elected officials in Pennsylvania who enabled casinos share some of the responsibility for creating the conditions that led to these murders.

Stealing from church to gamble

July 3, 2012 9:28 am

The former chief financial officer at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia pleaded guilty to stealing more than $900,000 from her employer and using a chunk of the money to gamble.

Anita Guzzardi, 43, used dozens of checks written from the Archdiocese to pay her American Express and Chase credit card bills during a seven-year period. Amex alerted the Archdiocese to the suspicious activity. A review of Guzzardi’s credit card expenses showed that nearly $400,000 in charges were composed of cash advances and purchases at casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Key West, as well as in the Caribbean and Mexico, authorities said. She also wrote checks payable to herself. Guzzardi faces up to 10 1/2 to 21 years in prison when she is sentenced Aug. 24.

Sadly, stealing from churches and other employers to feed a gambling addiction is not that uncommon. If anything a recent string of cases underscore how addictive casinos can be for many gamblers who – like other addicts – will go to great lengths to feed their addiction. The costs of such addiction is far-reaching, and largely ignored by casinos and elected officials who increasingly tout the benefits of gambling.

A pastor and his wife in Texas were arrested last month and charged with stealing more than $400,000 from the church to pay for casino junkets. A Roman Catholic priest in Las Vegas was sentenced earlier this year to three years in prison and ordered to re-pay the roughly $650,000 he stole from the church to feed his addiction to slot machines. (The church was forced to dip into its endowment to pay bills.)

A priest in South Florida was suspended in May after he was captured on video playing slots for nearly 13 hours at a casino in Miami. The priest denied stealing from the church to fund his gambling habit but disclosed that he had filed for bankruptcy last year and is facing foreclosure  on his house. A priest outside of Chicago was convicted last year of stealing $300,000 from the St. Walter Church.

Delaware: First State for gambling

June 28, 2012 5:34 pm

There was a time when Delaware was dominated by companies like DuPont and Hercules that built and invented things. But now the First State feeds off of interest paid to credit card companies, bankruptcy court legal fees and gambling.

In fact, Delaware lawmakers’ addiction to casinos just took a big leap forward into the world of online gambling and keno machines. The state Senate passed a measure that will enable online gambling. The move essentially allows for virtual casinos in every home and mobile phone in the state.

The measure is supposed to help the state’s three casinos fight off growing competition from Maryland, Pennsylvania and other states. But what is really does is enable state lawmakers to strip more wealth from residents. By allowing people to gambler around the clock from the convenience of their home, office and car, online gambling will lead to a growth in problem gamblers, especially among younger people. (It is already a problem in Europe and Canada. See here and here.)

Even more pathetic, the measure allows the state to sell lottery tickets online while non-casino venues, such as bars and restaurants, can sell Delaware’s pro-football parlay cards and offer Keno instant lottery gambling.

You just see all the poor schlubs sitting in dumpy bars now blowing their Social Security checks into Keno machines so Delaware lawmakers can try to balance the state budget.

Video: are casinos like cocaine for the brain?

May 11, 2012 10:40 am

The Institute for American Values held a panel discussion that examined the addictive nature of casinos, and especially slot machines. The featured panelist was Dr. Hans Breiter, whose research demonstrated how brain images of people using cocaine resemebled the images of people playing slot machines.

The research raises interesting public policy and public health questions for elected officials who are busy legalizing casinos across the country. If the government’s primary role is to protect citizens, why is the government enabling an industry that creates addicts? The economic and social costs of gambling are real and outweigh the tax benefits that comes from casinos. Yet, this is often downplayed or overlooked by lawmakers and the gambling industry.

This panel discussion is part of the IAV’s broader effort to raise awareness, educate and inform the public debate surrounding the spread of gambling. And to shine a light on the government’s role in enabling casinos and its responsibility to the public. To view the panel go here. To read a column about the event go here.

Play to extinction

May 9, 2012 1:01 pm

Here is a great read by The National Review that cuts through the clutter and details what is really behind the growth in casinos across the country. Casinos are not about jobs or economic development. They are about raising easy money for state governments.

The upshot is a joint partnership between the casino industry and state governments to lure citizens to “Play to Extinction,” a term used by the industry to keep gamblers spending money until they are broke. The piece also captures the scene inside many casinos as poor and elderly gamblers arrive via buses and trains “on crutches and canes, lapping obesely over the seats of mobility scooters, adjusting oxygen tubes, discreetly nursing Big Gulp cups full of tequila and Pepsi through bendy straws at three in the afternoon.”

Deputy managing editor Kevin D. Williamson adds that the gamblers “come rolling and thundering down the tracks bearing our Social Security checks, our welfare checks, and quite possibly our rent checks. We are the blue-rinsed, unhinged, diabetic American id on walkers, and we are scratching off lottery tickets the whole way there as we converge from all points on the crime capital of New Jersey — because we are feeling lucky.”

Some hyperbole perhaps. But not much.

The piece does a fine job of making the case that casinos have done little to help struggling cities like Atlantic City or poor states like Mississippi. But the legalization of gambling has certainly made a lot of casino owners wealthy. And the casinos have generated revenue for state coffers. But that has not translated into better government services or lower taxes. As The National Review concludes: “Call gambling a vice, call it an addiction, call it a harmless diversion, call it anything you fancy — but don’t call it economic development.”

Are casinos like cocaine for the brain?

April 20, 2012 1:05 pm

Brain-imaging studies performed by neurologist Hans Breiter show that pathological gambling taps into the same neural circuits as cocaine addiction. As more and more states turn to casinos to balance budgets, this research raises interesting public policy questions for lawmakers.

In effect, are state lawmakers that allow casinos acting like drug cartels? Are the efforts by states to raise revenue through gambling, leading to other problems and expenses down the road? Those questions and others will be discussed at an event on April 26 at the Institute for American Values. The event is free and open to the public. See here for more information and to make a reservation.

The key panelist at the event will be Dr. Breiter, who works out of Massachusetts General Hospital and Northwestern University. He says the roots of pathological gambling aren’t all biological. In fact, environmental factors – like quality of life and proximity to casinos – play a role as well. Breiter argues that policy makers should consider the biological and environmental factors involved in pathological gambling when making decisions about whether to allow casinos. Otherwise, says Breiter, “they’re playing with fire, because there’s a slippery slope between normal and addictive behavior.”

For more information about gambling and the brain see here, here, here, and here. Or watch this video, which brings the issue to life.