|The number of fraud and internal theft cases involving problem gamblers has increased in line with the expansion of casinos, slot machines and Internet gambling in the past 10 years, according to police, lawyers and addiction counsellors. There are now 50 permanent casinos in Canada, and experts estimate that about 4% of the Canadian population may be problem gamblers. |
The white collar criminals tend to be ‘solid citizens’ with positions of trust in their organisations, families and good homes. They are as likely to be women as men – one female bank employee in Saskatchewan was convicted for a $200,000 fraud against her employer, then later got caught stealing another $64,000 to feed a single video lottery terminal.
In another case, an RCMP officer involved in surveillance of organised crime stole money from his unit’s expense fund to gamble with. A stock broker skimmed money from his clients to support his wife’s gambling habit.
''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.''
''What else is interesting is the number of women committing these kinds of crimes as a direct result of their gambling problem,'' said Lisa Root, head of a Niagara-area problem gambling agency. 'We're talking about women who are married and employed and have raised families quite successfully and generally are good citizens.''
Barbara Ann Horvath is an example, 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 addiction. In a landmark judgement, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that her criminal behaviour demonstrated ''seriously diseased'' mind and recommended some leniency for such criminals. She ended up with a conditional sentence. But last year Ms. Horvath was charged with stealing another $64,000 from her new employers, again to play the 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.
Until about ten years ago, opportunities for gambling in Canada were limited to bingo halls, lottery tickets, charity casinos and trips to Las Vegas. But provincial governments, under pressure to cut taxes boost budgets, expanded Canada’s gaming industry. Canadians can play now at 50 permanent casinos, 21,000 machines and 38,000 Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs).