Magazine article New Zealand Management

The Silent Scourge Betting the Firm: Gambling Can Lead to Theft and Embezzlement in the Workplace. Managers Who Suspect Employees Have a Problem with Gambling Can Put in Place a Series of Actions

Magazine article New Zealand Management

The Silent Scourge Betting the Firm: Gambling Can Lead to Theft and Embezzlement in the Workplace. Managers Who Suspect Employees Have a Problem with Gambling Can Put in Place a Series of Actions

Article excerpt

There probably aren't many employers who lie awake in the middle of the night worrying about employees with gambling problems. That's probably because they may not be aware of how those problems manifest themselves in the workplace and the impact they have on the organisation. The Department of Internal Affairs estimates gambling losses in New Zealand in 2003/04 were $2.04 billion--up from $1.87 billion in 2002/03.

The cost of crime? September 2004: salesman Paul Gray jailed for nine months for stealing $27,750 to feed a voracious gambling addiction. March 2003: lawyer Philip Coburn jailed for five and a half years for fraud and forgery totalling $1.78 million, of which $1.1 million was spent on pokie machines.

Gambling problems don't just happen to someone else, they happen to your employees. Gambling problems don't affect just one person; it's estimated that someone with a gambling problem affects between seven to 15 other people.

For many people, going to the casino or the racetrack, or engaging in other forms of gambling isn't much of a problem. But for between one to three percent of the population, as a conservative estimate, it represents a major and even potentially life-threatening problem.

The widespread expansion of gambling in New Zealand has put gambling opportunities within easy reach of anyone inclined to try their hand at it. The increase in casinos (New Zealand now has six) and electronic gaming machines--"the pokies" (we have 22,231 of them)--has resulted in women becoming the fastest growing population of people with gambling problems. In 1997 women represented 29 percent of clients presenting for face-to-face counselling, in 2003 they have moved up to 45 percent.

How can managers tell if an employee has a problem with gambling? Unlike alcohol and drug problems, there are no telltale physical signs, so it's much easier to hide.

Common workplace signs of a gambling problem:

* Chronic lateness for work or leaving early often.

* Unexplained absences or disappearances from work.

* Extended lunch or tea breaks.

* Being eager to organise and participate in gambling opportunities.

* Requesting pay in lieu of annual leave.

* Frequently borrowing money or getting pay advances.

* Decreased productivity.

* Difficulty concentrating.

* Frequent preoccupation with non-work related matters.

* Arguing with co-workers about money owed.

* Taking annual leave on a day-at-a-time basis rather than in a block of time.

* Frequent breaks to use the phone for personal calls.

* Excessive use of sick days, using them as soon as they are available rather than allowing them to accumulate.

* Credit card or loan bills mailed to work rather than home.

* False claims made against expense accounts.

* Theft of company property, fraud or embezzlement.

* Mood swings, often related to winning and losing streaks.

As an individual's problems with gambling develop, employees can progress from spending their own money, to borrowing from friends, relatives and coworkers and pawning possessions. Some move on to embezzlement, fraud and theft from the company.

At senior management levels gambling might take a different form. Common scenarios that enhance opportunities for gambling to go undetected include:

* Replacement of the auditor. …

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