Published On: Thu, Oct 18th, 2018

Acknowledging and preventing gambling addiction

It is a public secret that the former court manager was a regular visitor of the casinos on St. Maarten. Her dismissal appeal case revealed that under her management of the court’s third party bank account, where monies confiscated from criminals were deposited, over $1.1 million US Dollars have gone missing over a 5-year period from 2012 up until 2017. This was confirmed by a court-ordered financial controller’s audit investigation carried out in March of this year.

Whether these monies were used to finance the casino visits of the court manager is not yet known. We will await the outcome of the investigations. According to the spokesperson of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, this investigation is presently being conducted in cooperation with the National Detectives.

However, in the meantime, we would like to take a look at the phenomenon of casino gambling, its possible addictions and the acknowledgement thereof and the prevention of gambling in general and when necessary in specific cases.

The Today newspaper first reported on this issue in its July 26, 2012 edition. Gambling addiction has been largely ignored since the first casinos were established here on St. Maarten. According to the report, casino visitors were categorized under three groups: tourists who relish this type of entertainment; residents who have the disposable income to splurge on a game of blackjack or poker, and; residents who have neither the will to control their habits nor the resources to afford daily visits to gaming institutions. It was from the latter group that was deduced that many of them play for keeps and it’s all or nothing when they wager their rent money, monthly mortgage fees or car payments.

“Some of the tell-tale signs of gambling addiction are feeling the need to be secretive about your gambling, having trouble controlling your gambling, gambling even when you don’t have the money to afford it, stealing or manipulating others to get gambling money or family and friends becoming worried about one’s gambling habits.” the Today published.

In the Netherlands in 2012, Marco Rosman also published his book Rien ne va plus, an appropriate title for a book about gambling, by the way. According to the Today article, Rosman worked two decades for state monopolist Holland Casino. The government thought that, by giving Holland Casino the exclusive right to exploit gambling houses it could get a grip on gambling addiction.

Rosman wrote in his book that this is, to say the least, a humongous misunderstanding. Holland Casino is obliged to take action to prevent addictive gambling. In reality, Rosman wrote, the company encourages addicts to continue, among others by pampering them and by offering them expensive alcoholic drinks.

Gambling prevention is based on so called client-conversations, whereby the casino is supposed to talk up close to addictive gamblers. Again, in reality, Rosman wrote, these meetings are an administrative exercise, designed to meet the numbers that will give the impression that Holland Casino does enough to protect addicts against their gambling habits.

Talks with addicted gamblers seldom result in serious action. Tens of thousands of problem gamblers keep playing on undisturbed, Rosman claimed.

An interesting claim is also that the casinos distribute pictures of “large customers” among their staff to enable them to recognize lucrative players.

It all makes sense, eventhough Holland Casino, which made several attempts to prevent Rosman from publishing his book, denied that the information is accurate. Prevention is a core activity, the company said in a reaction at the time.

Today wrote: “We have a hard time to believe that as we only have to look at the casinos in St. Maarten to know that prevention is the least of the worries these companies have. Of course, our casinos are not state-owned (some would argue that the state is casino-owned) but that does not take away the state’s responsibility for an addiction prevention-policy in fields like gambling and smoking. But what happens here? Nothing. The Gaming Control Board will never become a reality as long as certain casinos sponsor certain political parties. We have known for years that casino controllers contribute nothing to keeping locals from gambling, even if they show up for work.

So why would things in the Netherlands be different? Casinos are centers for money laundering and associated criminality the world over. Why would that be different in the Netherlands or in St. Maarten? The lack of supervision and the lack of political will to implement such supervision are clear signals: hands off the guys who control all that cash.

And it is not only the government that follows a hands-off approach (the attitude they ought to develop towards government-owned companies): the opposition also remains remarkably silent. Reading Rosman’s book will most likely give an insight in how our local gambling houses operate as well. Some things never change.

That was written in 2012. Things have not changed since indeed. There has been several cases over the years of employees embezzling from their employers (such as banks) to feed their gambling addictions. Besides the lack of an active Gaming Control Board to date, the lack of preventative measures or pro-active measures in cases where it should be obvious to casino managements that a player has become addicted or display addictive behavior and where there can be a reasonable belief that the gambling losses are above and beyond the financial means of the person involved, it behooves the casino floor managers to take immediate action to help the person in question. Denying access to the casino should be an aspect of that ‘help’.