The Christie administration is being advised to get an agreement from web shop operators stating that they will contribute a percentage of their revenue towards treatment for gambling addiction if Bahamians vote to legalise gambling this month.
Michael Burke, a reformed gambling addict, who was disbarred after stealing nearly $2 million from his clients, recently warned that up to 30,000 Bahamians could develop a compulsive gambling problem if the numbers racket is legalised.
The Michigan resident, who wrote the book, “Never Enough: One Lawyer’s True Story Of How He Gambled His Career Away,” said the government needs to lock in an agreement before issuing any licences.
“My suggestion is, get an agreement beforehand, before any of the licences are issued so that they can set aside part of that money for the treatment of the individuals in the families who will be destroyed because of this activity,” he said.
“If you do it before the licences are granted, I guarantee you the people in the [web] cafés will say ‘fine, we’ll pay it, we want to help those people out.’ But, if you wait until after the licences are issued they will never speak to you again. All they will say is ‘we’re paying our taxes; we’re doing what we’re bound to do.’ You want to get this done before this is signed into law. Once it’s signed into law this aspect of it is finished because you must accept what’s coming next.”
Burke predicted that if Bahamians vote to legalise web shop gaming the number houses will be transformed into mini casinos.
“Somewhere down the road this is what happens once you bring gambling into your community,” he said.
“For the small amount of people who are going to be affected, my God, do something for them up front. All they have to do is get an agreement to take two or three per cent of the cafes’ revenue from the lotteries and put it aside.”
He urged the government to follow Louisiana’s lead. The US state implemented CORE, Center of Recovery. CORE was conceived in 1998 with the sole purpose of providing treatment for those whose lives have been adversely affected by gambling.
Gambling addicts can go to CORE free of charge.
Burke said while he understands that the government does not want to raise taxes, taxing web shops is a “regressive tax.” He noted that poor Bahamians will mostly be impacted.
“The government doesn’t have the will or the stomach to raise taxes. Because of that, you’re going to have a growth of gambling that is going to be unbelievable.”
On January 28, Bahamians will decide whether they want games of chance legalised.
The church is divided on the issue. Some claim its “destructive” while others believe the government could benefit from the increased revenue that taxing web shops would bring.
“I’ve always felt the issue of morality belongs to the churches. I know you have strong churches in The Bahamas and I’ve read some things that are troubling where some churches say that this is no longer a bad activity,” Burke said.
“Governments use it as a way of raising money. As long as the people of your community tell their politicians ‘we don’t want to pay anymore taxes; you’ve taxed us to death’ they’ll find ways like gambling to raise the money. The government is going to do what it needs to do to raise funds until the people get back to the point where they say, ‘this isn’t how we want to pay for our services; tax us all equally and we’ll pay’.”
Burke’s gambling addiction not only cost him his reputation, it cost him his career.
The author comes from a family of attorneys. His grandfather was an attorney and a judge at the Nuremberg War Crime Trials after the Second World War. His father was also an attorney and headed the State Liquor Control Commission for the state of Michigan.
In his book, he details the ugly side of his addiction. He forged his wife’s signature to remortgage their home and he stole money from 15 of his law firm’s clients.
Some of those clients have since been paid back in full, thanks to the insurance company, which paid close to $1 million to make amends. He now owes that amount to the company.
He also served time in Jackson State Prison, the largest walled prison in the world.
There, he shared space with “some of the most terrible people you’d ever find.”
At the time of his sentencing each of his victims was allowed to make a statement.
“As I was putting the book together I decided that one way I could show respect for my victims was to begin each chapter of the book with a quote from one of the victims taken from the sentencing transcript. That afternoon, I sat in a courtroom where I had practiced law for 25 years and listened to my clients explain how my actions had affected their lives,” he said.
“I cannot describe the pain it brought to me and the pain endured by my clients. Following is the quote from Chapter 1. ‘I’ve known Mike and his family for 15 years. Our daughters are good friends. We have common friends in this courtroom right now and it really pains me. I’m sure his family feels the same devastation my family has felt. But….when I look at Mike I don’t see him as a victim of gambling addiction. I see him as a cold, calculating criminal’.”
While Burke says the vast majority of people can gamble without any harmful consequences.
Studies have shown that only a small percentage of people develop a compulsive gambling problem.
“Unfortunately that small percentage of the population turns out to be a large number of people. And that number has a staggering effect on family and friends. I strongly suggest to my friends in recovery for substance abuse (alcoholism) that they should never gamble. The vast majority of compulsive gamblers I have met come from a substance abuse background, either themselves or somewhere in their family history,” he said.
He can be reached at email@example.com.