Gamblers and Crime in Oklahoma

August 11, 2009

The State of Oklahoma sets aside money from gambling revenues for problem gamblers to get help.  But little of that money is being used.  About one-third of it is unused.  Advocates say it is because of lack of public awareness.

Other states, including Louisiana, are required to place the “gambling help line” on billboards.  “The roadsides are inundated with cassino billboards.  And you know how many  billboards we have in Oklahoma with the gambling help line number? – not one,” said Willey Harwell, executive director of the Oklahoma Association for Problem and Compulsive Gambling.

This is a statewide organization that contracts with the Department of Mental Health and Substances Abuse Services to maintain the 24-hour gambling help line.  It also offers community education and promotes counseling services.  The state of Oklahoma spent $143,000 in 2008 to promote awareness about gambling addiction and treatment.  By law in Oklahoma, casinos, all 110 of them, must have the information available for treatment.

Only 245 people sought help with their gambling last fiscal year.  They went to one of the 12 certified gambling treatment providers who contract with the state.

Cindy Satterfield of Gateway to Prevention and Recovery in Shawnee believes there are many more problem gamblers than have sought help.  Hers is the only service in Pottawatomie County with certified gambling counselors.  She has only seven people in treatment now.  She has put out flyers to advertise her services but cannot compete with the casinos. In the stretch along Interstate 40 between Oklahoma City and Shawnee, there are 20 billboards advertising casinos.  There are none with the gambling help line.

Satterfield said gamblers usually do not seek help until they are in crisis.  Until then, shame keeps them away. When they do finally seek help, they are commonly more than a month behind on their mortgage, car payments and utility bills.

Criminal defense lawyers become acquainted with gamblers when they are eventually charged with a crime.  The crime stems from their trying to get back the money they have gambled away.

Embezzlement is the most common way gamblers get in over their heads.  As they continue to gamble more and more in a never-ending chase to make up their losses, these people, often over a period of years, may embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars.  They continue to have access to money, and they want to pay back what they have taken, so they continue to  dig deeper and gamble it away, embezzle and gamble forever – until they get caught.  And, of course, then they have nothing left to pay back in restitution.

Mike Mass, former Oklahoma legislator, recently admitted he had a gambling problem that led him to destruction and a federal sentence from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.  Dan Draper, former Speaker of the House in Oklahoma, also admitted having a gambling addiction that got him in trouble.

“I’m not the kind of person to lie about anything, but I would lie about gambling,” a gambling addict said.  “Gambling addicts are master manipulators,, but at some point it catches up with us, and we can’t hide it any longer,” she said. She ran up $70,000 in credit card debt and couldn’t stop.  “Its not about the money.  I’m mesmerized by the machines.”

But, as crushing as her debt is, she won’t be facing prison time.  Of course, some people in this situation, by the time they retain a criminal defense lawyer, they may feel that they deserve prison.  It’s more feeling they need to be punished.

The Gambling Referee and Double Jeopardy

August 19, 2007

Now that he has pled guilty, it is no longer an allegation. Tim Donaghy admitted to gambling and helping others gamble in the National Basketball Association games which he officiated as a referee. Donaghy’s $260,000 annual salary had no effect on his reported compulsive gambling habit. This has been a huge embarrassment for the NBA and its head man, David Stearn. Stearn and the players’ union have been handling the embarrassment to the league by saying that this referee is an aberration, just one guy who was acting on his own.

Now that he has pled guilty, the news has leaked that the federal prosecutors have done their usual deal. Part and parcel of pleading guilty, especially in federal court, is implicating all others who might be involved. Now the news has leaked that Donaghy has information about the gambling habits of 20 other referees. If this number is anywhere close to accurate, and if the other referees were truly involved in gambling, this is a disaster for the National Basketball Association.

Even if there is no hard evidence that many of the other referees did not try to “fix” the games they called, it would call into question too many things. Twenty referees is about one third of the entire officiating staff for the NBA. If a significant number of these were gambling even on things other than the basketball games in which they were involved or things other than basketball, the problem is nevertheless huge. There is a reason those referees are restricted from any gambling in casinos.

But Tim Donaghy will do whatever it takes to please the prosecutors, because “cooperation” appears to be the only way to lessen his sentence from a possible 25-year maximum. And one may assume he expected to do just that -lessen his sentence – by pleading guilty. Now that Maricopa County, Arizona, prosecutor, Andrew Thomas, has indicated he is considering prosecuting Donaghy in state court, however, Donaghy has probably had a long talk with his lawyer. After his lawyer explained that “double jeopardy” does not save you from being prosecuted for the same acts in both federal and state court. So, Donaghy has a new threat and the possibility of an increased, not lessened, sentence. Just how serious that threat is not clear at this time. Donaghy may not end up with a greater sentence, but you can bet that he considers it a real threat at this time.

Double jeopardy is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. This provision makes it impossible for a person to be put on trial (to be in “jeopardy”) more than once for the same offense by the sovereign. But the federal government and the fifty states of the union are each separate sovereigns. Therefore, being tried by one sovereign does not prevent the other sovereign government (federal or state) from prosecuting for the same act or series of acts that violate both state and federal laws. Plural state governments could get into the act, depending on where the offending acts take place.