ABC Highlights Gambler Suing Casinos for Enabling Addiction

It's Problem Gambling Awareness Week, which apparently means giving a pass to gambling addicts rather than holding them responsible for their actions, at least on ABC's Good Morning America.

Remember the lady who sued McDonalds because she was burned by the hot coffee she bought from the company? This morning GMA offered up ABC's version of the story: a woman burned by her own gambling addiction who is suing seven casinos, claiming they are responsible for her addiction.

In a story titled “Gambler Sues Casino: “Who's at fault in big losses?,” ABC's Deborah Roberts provided an embarrassingly sympathetic portrayal of gambling addict Arelia Taveras.  Listening to extended video clips of Taveras, interspersed with heartwarming still shots of a smiling Taveras in the background, we learn that the addiction victim once lived for five days on “orange juice and Snickers” provided by casino workers while she was unwilling to leave the gaming tables. 

Taveras is suing seven casinos for $20 million, claiming “they had a duty to notice her compulsive gambling and cut her off.” 

As if Taveras was providing a public service, Roberts observed that, “An estimated 6 to 9 million Americans have a gambling problem and Arelia is hoping her lawsuit will help put the responsibility for the addiction on the casino owner.”

According to anchor Chris Cuomo, Taveras was a successful lawyer who earned “hundreds of thousands of dollars a year” before she “lost nearly everything: her home, her parents' home and nearly a million dollars.”  Roberts mentioned briefly that Taveras stole money from clients' escrow accounts. 

Roberts played a video clip of only one expert, Keith S. Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.  Whyte supported Taveras's contention that the casinos share responsibility for problem gamblers, though he also said gamblers have to accept responsibility for their own actions.  Roberts did not play clips of any representatives of the gambling industry, or any mental health experts who emphasize personal responsibility for personal character issues.

Roberts's two minute piece gave only a passing nod – two sentences – to the concept that Taveras should take responsibility for her own problems.   

ROBERTS: Now she's suing six casinos in Atlantic City and one in Las Vegas for $20 million claiming they had a duty to notice her compulsive gambling and cut her off. The casinos deny any wrongdoing, saying Arelia brought the problems on herself.

KEITH WHYTE (Executive Director, National Council on Problem Gambling): I think where the casinos' responsibility begins and ends is an open question. We would say that there's got to be shared responsibility. Of course, the gambler has to take responsibility for their own actions, you know they have to take responsibility for the fact if they have an uncontrollable urge to gamble, they need to go get help.

Roberts gave the last word in the story to Taveras, who justified her lawsuit by saying that casinos “protect themselves” by using surveillance cameras to monitor gamblers, so gamblers need to protect themselves against the casinos.  The logic is fuzzy and was left unchallenged, but it appears Taveras thinks that because casinos use surveillance cameras to monitor for theft and fraud they should also use them to babysit their clientele.

Personal responsibility is one of those areas the liberal media can't really figure out how to report.  They like to tout it when people take actions that are heroic or stand up to odds that seem insurmountable to effect good in their communities.  They don't like it when subjects are more easily painted as victims – whether it be due to an addiction problem, as in this story, or by taking out a mortgage they couldn't afford (See CMI's Special Report Debt: Who$ to Blame for more on that storyline.) 

GMA would have been more socially responsible if they'd used the springboard of Problem Gambling Awareness Week to focus on programs that help gambling addicts take responsibility for their addiction and rebuild their lives, rather than spotlighting an addict filing a frivolous lawsuit and shifting blame for her own problems.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.