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.

Powerball’s misplaced lottery fever

November 28, 2012 2:48 pm

Every time the Powerball jackpot soars to new heights, the media helps to fan the lottery fever with hyped up reports that rarely mention the long odds, gambling addiction, or the regressive nature of gambling. Not to mention, the role states play in promoting gambling and preying on the most vulnerable citizens.

Sure, it is fun to buy a lottery ticket once in a while and dream of striking it rich. But the truth is the chances of winning the Powerball are 1 in 176 million. For many customers, playing the lottery can be addictive, with states helping to promote such addiction. Of course, lotteries are also a regressive tax, with the vast majority of tickets purchased by 20 percent of the customers who tend to be mostly poor and uneducated.

As our friends at Stop Predatory Gambling point out, states promote gambling by hyping the lottery through advertising that is exempt from truth in advertising laws. The states use predatory and deceptive practices to promote lottery sales, SPG has found. For example, Ohio’s Super Lotto media plan said lottery promotions should be timed to coincide with the receipt of Government benefits, payroll and Social Security payments.

The Tax Foundation found the state of Oregon passed a smoking ban in bars and restaurants, but then launched an aggressive advertising campaign to promote the lottery’s highly-addictive electronic gambling machines to make up for the anticipated loss of revenue caused by the smoking ban.

Mayor buckles on casino

November 28, 2012 11:41 am

At 22, Alex Morse was elected mayor of Holyoke, Mass. last year largely because of his opposition to building a casino in the troubled mill town.

But it turns out, the kid is just like lots of other politicians who lack the courage of their convictions. Just a year after getting elected, Morse said he is now open to negotiating with a developer who wants to build a casino in the Western Massachusetts city.

Morse’s reversal angered many residents  who voted for him largely because of his opposition to casinos as well as some elected officials. He beat a mayor who supported casinos. Massachusetts recently passed a law legalizing casinos in the state. That measure passed after the governor, Deval Patrick, went from opposing casinos to supporting them.

Morse’s flip flop is all the more stunning, considering that just last month, he wrote an opinion column that said a casino would undermine efforts to revitalize Holyoke’s struggling economy. Morse, now 23, said the gambling industry ‘‘produces nothing, sells nothing, and siphons money from the local economy,’’ though he acknowledged short-term benefits such as increased tax revenue.

Morse said there had been no ‘‘back room deals’’ leading to Monday’s announcement. Perhaps. But something prompted Morse to sell out voters who elected him because he opposed casinos. 

Why casinos are bad for cities

November 27, 2012 11:05 am

Richard Florida makes a strong case against adding casinos in New York City and other cities for that matter.

“While politicians and casino magnates seek to sell gambling complexes to the public as magic economic bullets, virtually every independent economic development expert disagrees — and they have the studies to back it up,” writes Florida, the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto as well as a professor at New York University and senior editor at The Atlantic.

Florida pointed to Baylor University economist Earl Grinols’ 2004 book “Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits,” which totaled the added costs cities pay in increased crime, bankruptcies, lost productivity and diminished social capital once they introduce casinos. “He found that casino gambling generates roughly $166 in social costs for every $54 of economic benefit,”

Florida cites the National Gambling Impact Study’s 1999 findings that while the introduction of gambling to highly depressed areas may create an economic boost, it “has the negative consequence of placing the lure of gambling proximate to individuals with few financial resources…And as competition for the gambling dollar intensifies, gambling spreads, bringing with it more and more of the social ills that led us to restrict gambling in the first place.”

Florida points out casinos have not helped to revitalize Atlantic City. Even Las Vegas is struggling to broaden its appeal beyond gambling. “Atlantic City’s first legal casino opened in 1978 amid expectations of economic spillover in the form of retail businesses, restaurants, rising property values and jobs,” he wrote. “But a study conducted 13 years later found that any ‘anticipated multiplier effect has not moved much beyond the core industry . . . Half of the population still receives public assistance, and city services continue to be substandard. Social problems, including increased crime and prostitution, are worse than ever. Since most people holding the better casino jobs live in Atlantic City suburbs, they contribute little directly to the city.’ ”

Florida writes that gamblers “may fool themselves into thinking that they can get something for nothing, but public officials and civic leaders should know better.” He then underscores the role of states in enabling casinos by quoting Warren Buffett: “I don’t think the state should be in the position of selling the needle.”

Casinos and crime

November 26, 2012 9:20 am

It’s bad enough the odds are so stacked at casinos that most gamblers leave with less money than when they arrived. But casinos are also a favorite target for robbers.

An Easton man attempted to rob a woman playing a slot machine at 2:30 a.m. the other day in the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, threatening to show her his pistol if she didn’t hand over some cash, according to state police. He was later arrested. The incident is just the latest in a steady string of crimes at local casinos.

* An armed robber held up a casino in South Dakota earlier this month, escaping with an unknown amount of money.

* A man attempted to rob a gambler in a bathroom in a Nevada casino earlier this month.

* Two men known as the “Jet Ski Bandits” pleaded guilty to armed robbery this month in relation to a casino robbery in Louisiana. 

* Another man was arrested this month after choking and robbing a gambler inside a bathroom in a casino in Louisiana. 

* A couple in their 80s were robbed, and the woman was injured, after leaving a casino outside of Chicago last month.

* A man pleaded guilty last month to robbing a South Dakota casino because he was broke and needed to pay his rent.

* Four man fired shots inside a San Diego casino last month in a daring robbery attempt that was aborted. No one was hurt.

* A robbery ring has targeted at least a half dozen gamblers at the SugarHouse casino in Philadelphia, stealing thousands of dollars after following them home. The robbers have used a taser on victims, including a pregnant woman. See video here.

This is an incomplete list of recent crimes in casinos. The list goes on. In fact, there are always a couple crimes a month in casinos. The anecdotal data backs up independent studies that show crime increases in areas where casinos open. Of course, elected officials and casino operators ignore or down play the increase in crime, which is just one of many social and economic ills that come with casinos.

Elected officials are supposed to protect citizens. But enabling casinos only puts gamblers at risk. The increase in crime is something all taxpayers pay for whether they gamble or not. That is all the more reason why casinos are a bad public policy for states looking to close budget gaps.

A Thanksgiving tradition: gambling

November 23, 2012 10:05 am

Thanksgiving traces its roots to Plymouth, Mass. in 1621 when Pilgrims and Puritans gave thanks for a good harvest. The modern holiday is traditionally a time for families to spend time together eating, drinking and watching football.

But for some the holiday has become just another day to gamble. There is perhaps no worse way to pervert the holiday than to sit alone playing a slot machine. Several casinos in Reno were offering Thanksgiving specials. How depressing.

A casino in Kansas touts itself as a gathering spot for customers. “We’re so focused on hospitality here … they know they are going to be with friendly people,” said Megan Strader, the Kansas Star’s spokeswoman. “They are our family and we are going to make them feel that way.”

Translation: “Hey, losers, there’s a turkey buffett in the corner for when you get done gambling away your money.”

Bob Brady’s casino folly

November 21, 2012 10:54 am

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady represents one of the hungriest and the poorest congressional districts in the country. That’s why it is all the more troubling that his big plan to help Philadelphia is to build a casino.

To make matters worse, Brady wants the city to own the casino, essentially making elected officials majority partners in a business that studies show results in more crime, bankruptcy, divorce and suicide. It’s a dumb idea on a number of fronts. The biggest problem may be that the law does not allow the city to own a casino.

Fortunately, Mayor Nutter does not support the idea of a city-owned casino. But the mayor does support a second casino in Philadelphia. While Nutter is wise not to have the city take on the cost or risk of owning a business that it knows nothing about, he would be better off opposing any plan to expand gambling in a city where one in four residents lives below the poverty line.

That’s because casinos do not generate wealth in a city. They strip wealth from residents and leave them poorer. The casinos also do not generate new spending but instead shift spending from other areas businesses to gambling.

Casinos cater to the very people who can least afford to gamble: the poor, elderly and minority. The business model of local convenience casinos like the one that would open in Philadelphia depends largely on repeat and problem gamblers. Just look at the other area casinos, where customers reportedly visit an average of three to five times a week. That’s why Brady and city officials should look for policy options that grow the city, not make it even poorer.

Politically connected cash in on casinos

November 19, 2012 11:07 am

Gambling interests spent $90 million to influence the outcome of a vote in Maryland to allow another casino and table games at the existing slots parlors. Of course, the biggest beneficiaries of the all the spending were firms with political ties to Gov. Martin O’Malley and other elected officials.

That’s no surprise to anyone who understands how much power and influence casino companies wield in state houses across the country.

GMMB, the DCI Group and Metzer Media Services bought airtime for the ballot initiative known as Question 7, the Washington Post reports. The firms happen to have been three of the largest media buyers for President Obama and for super PACs supporting Mitt Romney. Voters narrowly approved the measure.

Former aides and campaign staffers to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) worked on behalf of casinos, thanks to funding mainly from MGM Resorts, a major Las Vegas casino company with ties to Reid. MGM is likely going to control the new casino that is proposed near Washington, D.C.

Armies of residents and outspoken community leaders were paid to knock on doors urging voters to support the casino, including the mayor of Forest Heights, the small Prince George’s County community to the north of the likely casino site. Meanwhile, a coalition that organized rallies and gatherings of African American clergy, urged a “no” vote after partnering with a nonprofit that collected $200,000, according to the Post.

Of course, lost in the debate was any meaningful cost-benefit analysis that examines the total impact of casinos. Sure the casinos generate tax revenue and create jobs. But the casinos also generate major social and economic costs that are rarely factored into the debate. Those costs are paid by all taxpayers whether they gamble or not. As a result, the lack of independent analysis leaves voters largely uninformed about the real impact of casinos.

But one thing is clear: all the politically connected players hit the jackpot.

The real Atlantic City

November 16, 2012 11:11 am

The way lawmakers and casino operators tell it, Hurricane Sandy has left town and all is well in Atlantic City. Now, the gamblers just need to return.

But don’t tell that to the many residents of Atlantic City who are still dealing with the aftermath of the storm. Storm damage there was reportedly minimal. But many residents lost heat, hot water and electricity. Others lost what meager possessions they had, including clothes and food. While much of the focus has been on the casinos, life has not returned to normal for many residents.

Lonzie Tolbert’s basement took on 6 feet of water, ruining his furnace, the Associated Press reports. He has no heat, so he burns small pieces of wood and scraps of paper in a fireplace to try to keep warm. He has no hot water, so he tries to heat some in a kettle near the fireplace.

“You do the best you can with what you have,” the 84-year-old Tolbert told the AP while sunning himself outside his home three blocks from Revel, a $2.4 billion casino resort. “I can’t complain and I’m not hollerin’.”

Of course, leaving Atlantic City residents to fend for themselves is nothing new. Thirty years ago, the casinos were supposed to be the savior of the seaside town. Instead, the gleaming casinos have reaped billions of dollars in profits, while the rest of the city remains as poor and downtrodden as ever.

Timothy Ryan, a University of New Orleans economist, said homelessness increased in Atlantic City after the arrival of casinos, while clothing stores and eating and drinking establishments declined. “Only a few retail stores opened in the off-Boardwalk and downtown areas,” he found. ”Researchers calculated that the growth of crime in the Atlantic City region reduced property values by $24,000,000 for each easily accessible community to Atlantic City.” Ryan said compulsive gambling was a major influence causing regional economic decline. Other studies have supported Ryan’s finding.

The bottom line is that casinos have done very little to transform Atlantic City. Even after all the damage caused by hurricane, the main focus was on getting the casinos up and running again, while the struggling residents have been left out in the cold.

Revel casino on the rocks

November 15, 2012 1:33 pm

Analysts are predicting that Hurricane Sandy will likely deliver a knockout blow to the Revel casino in Atlantic City.

The $2.4 billion casino has struggled mightily since it opened last spring. After just four months, the casino asked lenders for $100 million to pay its bills and some speculated then that it would be headed for bankruptcy. Now analysts don’t expect the casino to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

The hurricane forced the casino to close for several days and many gamblers have not returned to Atlantic City. About 50 percent of Atlantic City’s gamblers come from New York and North Jersey, two areas hardest hit by the storm. They are too busy rebuilding and don’t have the time or money to gamble.

But don’t blame Mother Nature. The problems with the Revel were known and real well before Sandy barrelled through Atlantic City. The hurricane just hastened the casino’s demise. Private investors cut their losses and walked away from the casino when it was still under construction. The market had spoken. But Gov. Chris Christie came along and gave the casino a bailout. Now taxpayers are on the hook for a casino that - just like most gamblers – never had chance to make any money.