Monica Yant Kinney: More on the human costs of legal gambling
The bad dad who left his toddler in the car while he gambled at Parx Casino in Bensalem last week wasn't the first and won't be the last. Politicians and gaming execs hate talking about the social costs of casinos on every corner, but clearly we're already paying - even before Philadelphia gets dragged into this losing game.
You've heard about the Jenkintown tax man who fed his slots addiction with other people's money. But would you believe me if I told you that earlier this month two men - one homeless - got arrested for attacking slot machines?
One woman who blew her mortgage money reported a fake robbery to cover her trail. Others retaliate by phoning in bogus bomb threats, hoping that, for once, the house might lose a few bucks.
"Six months from now, these stories won't be newsworthy," declares addict-turned-healer C.P. Mirarchi. "They'll be the norm."
Depravity, says Mirarchi - www.thegamblingcounselor.com - follows geography: "The closer the casino, the sicker the gamblers."
If Bensalem police officers were horrified to find a howling 15-month-old strapped in his car seat inside a parked Nissan sedan outside Parx, imagine their shock upon meeting the boy's father, Donald Waige.
"He was pretty nonchalant when we saw him coming out of the casino," recalls Sgt. Andrew Aninsman.
Waige said he left his sleeping son for just a moment to cash a $10 casino credit. The 59-year-old Feltonville man seemed surprised that his "moment" lasted more than an hour.
"Once he realized how long he was gone, he still didn't really think it was that big a deal," the officer marvels. "He felt he had taken the necessary precautions. He left the car running with the air on and locked the door. He changed the baby's diaper."
Pennsylvania's Uniform Crime Reporting System doesn't have a category for "risking your kid's life for a long-shot jackpot," but it does contain telling data about the seamy side of all this government-sanctioned family fun.
Last year, state troopers stationed inside the commonwealth's nine casinos made 292 theft arrests and charged 142 people with disorderly conduct and 69 with assault. In the first five months of 2010, they have already charged 215 with theft and busted 76 for disorderly conduct and 35 for assault.
Losers 'R' Us
Trooper Randy Testa recently nabbed two knuckleheads - a 27-year-old from Philly and a 46-year-old homeless man - for punching slot machines.
"One of the guys actually hit it hard enough that his fist went through the glass and got all cut up," Testa tells me. "Both machines sustained damage."
As I gasp, Testa says he's investigated "at least six" man-vs.-metal cases in three years of casino duty. Drunk, disgusted regulars have also fought, stripped, and urinated on the gaming floor. Some enraged players pull fire alarms.
"Why?" I ask. Revenge, he says. "They're frustrated at the casino for taking their money and not giving them anything."
The woman who gambled away her house payment and lied about being robbed was arrested. Other sad souls have been involuntarily committed after too many spins.
"The psychological aspect of working here is different than being out on patrol," Testa explains. "People come voluntarily with their life savings. When they lose, it drives them nuts."
He says when because losing is a certainty - one that Gov. Rendell and fellow pro-gambling pols choose to ignore. For their own edification, perhaps every legislator should spend a week inside a casino to see what Trooper Testa sees.
"When you put money into fun, it's never really fun unless you're winning," he's learned. "Most people lose and keep digging themselves deeper and deeper. They don't know when to quit."