the harm statistics will never tell

In the world of gambling it can be hard to get policy makers and the general public to look to the hard facts of the gambling industry. And for those involved in the process who do, they too often look at statistics alone and not to the part of the story that the statistics will never tell. One great example of looking beyond the statistics comes in a story from the Daily Telegram out of Minnesota. They report the story of a fire chief who embezzled almost a quarter-million dollars over six years from a local fire department to fund his gambling addiction after “he ran up large credit card debts, refinanced his home and took out large loans, but ran our of options to pay for his addiction” . The embezzlement statistic, however, does not tell the entire story. The Daily Telegram continues to explain:

Gotelaere headed a department with just 34 firefighters. In spite of the personnel cuts, the department’s responsibilities grew to include emergency medical and hazardous material response, gearing up a dive team and fire prevention and education. Grant money given to support some of those activities funded the scheme.

“I would hate to think he was lining his pockets while firefighters were being cut,” Matheson said in a statement to the court. “During his tenure as fire chief, I also witnessed our fire stations deteriorate. I’ve seen the purchase of lower-grade equipment. I’ve heard him say we would have to bypass the training of firefighters because of overtime costs. I have witnessed Steve not purchase firefighter gloves required by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) … The firefighters purchased the gloves on their own. This in a period of time he was stealing from the department.”

How many people in that town were affected by the struggling fire department because of just one man’s gambling addiction? Every time gambling expands more and more problem gamblers enter the fold. And every new problem gambler brings the risk of not only financial destruction of their own lives, but also all those around them including some that we would have never otherwise thought possible. The statistics will never tell the whole story but they cannot be ignored.

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