'Electronic Morphine': Gambling Has Been a Common Feature of American Life Forever, but for a Long Time It Was Broadly Considered a Sin. Now It Is a Social Policy

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, November 25, 2002 | Go to article overview

'Electronic Morphine': Gambling Has Been a Common Feature of American Life Forever, but for a Long Time It Was Broadly Considered a Sin. Now It Is a Social Policy


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

On the North bank of the Ohio River sits Evansville, Ind., home of David Williams, 52, and of a riverboat casino. During several years of gambling in that casino, Williams, a state auditor earning $35,000 a year, lost approximately $175,000. He had never gambled before the casino sent him a coupon for $20 worth of gambling.

He visited the casino, lost the $20 and left. On his second visit he lost $800. The casino issued to him, as a good customer, a "Fun Card," which when used in the casino earns points for meals and drinks, and enables the casino to track the user's gambling activities. For Williams, those activities became what he calls "electronic morphine."

By the time he had lost $5,000 he said to himself that if he could get back to even, he would quit. One night he won $5,500, but he did not quit. In 1997 he lost $21,000 to one slot machine in two days. In March 1997 he lost $72,186. He sometimes played two slot machines at a time, all night, until the boat docked at 5 a.m., then went back aboard when the casino opened at 9 a.m. Now he is suing the casino, charging that it should have refused his patronage because it knew he was addicted. It did know he had a problem.

In March 1998 a friend of Williams's got him involuntarily confined to a treatment center for addictions, and wrote to inform the casino of Williams's gambling problem. The casino included a photo of Williams among those of banned gamblers, and wrote to him a "cease admissions" letter. Noting the "medical/psychological" nature of problem gambling behavior, the letter said that before being readmitted to the casino he would have to present medical/ psychological information demonstrating that patronizing the casino would pose no threat to his safety or well-being.

Although no such evidence was presented, the casino's marketing department continued to pepper him with mailings. And he entered the casino and used his Fun Card without being detected.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the casino has 24 signs warning: "Enjoy the fun... and always bet with your head, not over it." Every entrance ticket lists a toll-free number for counseling from the Indiana Department of Mental Health. Nevertheless, Williams's suit charges that the casino, knowing he was "helplessly addicted to gambling," intentionally worked to "lure" him to "engage in conduct against his will." Well.

It is unclear what luring was required, given his compulsive behavior. And in what sense was his will operative? …

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'Electronic Morphine': Gambling Has Been a Common Feature of American Life Forever, but for a Long Time It Was Broadly Considered a Sin. Now It Is a Social Policy
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