I-Team: Expanded gambling could deal Illinois a dangerous hand

May 20, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Consider these local bankers who prosecutors say stole more than 3-million each from their employers to gamble.

One Chicago bank went belly-up when a former blackjack addict floated $10 million in checks. Society pays when public officials get in deep.

Former Cook County Commissioner William Beavers pumped at least a half million into casino slots annually, bankrolled by his campaign. He was found guilty in March of tax evasion. Then there are those we trust.

The Burr Oak Cemetery manager who dug up bodies, resold the plots, then blamed her gambling addiction. And the suburban priest who took $300,000 from collection baskets to the boats.

Finally, there are those we love.

"I would just hate to have anyone go through what I did," said Pat Prosapio, the wife of a former gambling addict.

"I needed that action; it was like a secret love. You will rob, steal, nothing is sacred in order to find ways to get money," said former gambling addict Jerry Prosapio. When his wife and son were threatened by a mob loan shark, Jerry says his family and company hit rock bottom.

"I ended up losing everything, I maxed out. The biz suffered, it ended up we had to do a bankruptcy," said Jerry Prosapio.

The Prosapios are concerned that with the possibility of five new Illinois casinos, slots at airports and internet wagering, more people will be squeezed in gambling's grip. They aren't alone.

"Going forward, especially with online gambling, will make it easier and more anonymous, that we are going to see more and more monies gambled," said former federal prosecutor Jeff Cramer.

Cramer says typically, defendants don't feel their losses because they aren't playing with their own money.

"Be it local politicians we've seen going to the casinos as well as local fraudsters and they are treated as VIP because they are spending a fair amount of money and they go regularly," said Cramer.

According to government records, the state's share of legal wagers is about $1 billion a year. But less than 1 percent is spent to help problem gamblers.

"We see high rates of substance abuse to cope with the gambling. Domestic abuse, domestic violence, suicide, I mean how do you put a price on some of those things. It's far reaching and devastating and nobody talks about it," said University of Chicago psychology professor Jon Grant.

This Harvard and MIT report found that legal gambling raises crime in communities by about 10 percent a year.

University of Chicago's Grant has worked with addicted gamblers for 25 years and says there aren't enough certified gambling therapists here.

"There are probably sixty or so for the State of Illinois and at least hundreds of thousands of people in the state who have problems with gambling so I think we could definitely do better," said Grant.

The latest expansion bill is expected to generate an additional $1.2 billion the first year and add $5 million toward treatment. That's still less than one percent.

There is proof that, as with other addictions, there can be recovery. Father John Regan, the priest who gambled away $300,000 in church funds, completed his sentence in DuPage County and is now assigned to a new parish in Plainfield- but without much help from the state.

Illinois has been ranked 26th out of 36 gambling states for publicly-funded treatment programs.

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