|The number of fraud and internal theft cases involving problem gamblers has skyrocketed along with the expansion of Internet gaming, casinos, and slot machines in the last 10 years, say Canadian police, lawyers and addiction counsellors.|
''At one time, most of our large internal thefts were drug-related. Now they're more or less gambling related,'' says Sergeant Bud Snow of the Halifax police fraud squad. ''Over the last few years, there are probably more and more getting involved in stealing to support their gambling habit.''
Experts say these bourgeois crooks tend to be trusted members of their organizations, with families and nice homes and are just as likely to be women as men.
They include a Mountie, who tailed organized criminals around Ontario's casinos, while he stole from his unit's expense fund to feed his own gambling habit.
‘Jack,’ got the bug playing backroom poker games with friends once a week. When he was transferred to the Northwest Territories, it became three times a week and the stakes grew to thousands of dollars a night, which he funded with the northern living allowance provided by the force. Jack moved back to Toronto in 1996 to work on an organized crime unit. His job often involved doing surveillance of criminals visiting Casino Niagara in Niagara Falls and Casino Rama.
He returned to the casinos' poker parlors to play himself.
Jack started liquidating the family holdings to cover ever-expanding losses. With the stocks and bonds gone, having taken out loans to pay maxed-out credit card bills, he turned to an Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) expense fund he controlled, stealing over $10,000. The end grew near after a transfer to Windsor, where he would visit the casino daily, before work, during his shifts and after.
An audit finally uncovered the thefts, he was charged, convicted and thrown off the force.
Lisa Root, head of a Niagara-area problem gambling agency said, ''What else is interesting is the number of women committing these kinds of crimes as a direct result of their gambling problem,'' said Ms. Root.
Barbara Ann Horvath was one of them, a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce employee described as intelligent and charming by one judge, who stole more than $200,000 from her employer and Canada Trust to feed a Video Lottery Terminal addiction.
In a landmark judgment, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled her acts were those of a ''seriously diseased'' mind and said such thieves should be given some leniency. She ended up with a conditional sentence. But last year Ms. Horvath was back in court, charged with stealing another $64,000 from her new employers to pump money into that same video lottery terminal. This time she was sent to jail for two years less a day. Her husband left her, taking custody of their child.
''My feeling is that if you get rid of the VLTs, you wouldn't have the embezzlement,'' says Staff-Sergeant Chris Oleson, who heads the RCMP's economic crime squad in Saskatchewan.
Carmen Lauzon, a Bank of Montreal manager, was convicted of stealing $1.2-million from the accounts of clients at her branch. Ms. Lauzon got a two-year jail sentence.
Not all police have seen evidence that gambling is driving the middle classes to felony. A Vancouver police fraud squad spokesman said he's seen no increase in such crimes, though his is the last province to embrace gaming.
Not everyone is convinced by the tearful stories of addiction. Sharon Pratchler, a Crown attorney in Saskatchewan, said she suspects blaming the VLTs has become a too-convenient strategy to avoid prison time.