Police talk about problem gambling from their perspective

Groton - Plainfield Police Chief Michael Surprenant said his understanding of problem gambling and its connection to crime first "clicked" in the wake of a 2009 bank robbery.

Detectives were working the case without a lead when Mohegan Sun Casino security pulled up surveillance footage of the female suspect. Just 26 minutes after the robbery, and still wearing the same clothes, the woman was captured on video gambling.

Surprenant said it takes between 20 and 25 minutes to reach the casino from Plainfield. The suspect turned out to be a well-regarded 49-year-old New Hampshire middle school teacher wanted in two other robberies.

"The detectives hadn't even started their investigation and she was already gambling away the stolen money," Surprenant said. "This is where I learned a lot about addiction ... problem gamblers."

Surprenant was among a panel of law enforcement officials to discuss the behaviors of pathological gamblers from a law enforcement perspective as part of the annual conference of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling. The daylong event was held Wednesday at Mystic Marriott. This year's theme was "Bridging the Gap to Recovery-Community-Prevention-Treatment," and featured treatment providers, prevention specialists and recovering gamblers.

Dr. Kevin McCauley, from the Institute of Addiction Study in Salt Lake City, Utah, delivered the keynote address, "Addiction: A Disease of Decision-Making and Why That's So Controversial."

The law enforcement panel featured Mohegan Tribal Police Chief Jeffrey Hotsky, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Police Sgt. Andre Parker and retired state police Sgt. Joseph Froehlich, the law enforcement coordinator for the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

All told stories about their experiences with problem gamblers and the addiction's impact on others.

Hotsky, former commander of the eastern division of the statewide narcotics taskforce, recalled a stint with the casino unit in which he encountered a man repeatedly slamming a shoe against his head. The man had gambled away his kids' college tuition and rent money.

"That was an eye opener for me personally," Hotsky said. "Up until then I was dealing with people addicted to narcotics or alcohol."

Parker told a story about a gambler who had forgotten to pick up his children from day care. Police, relatives and the Department of Children and Families were notified and the man was eventually tracked down to one of the casinos, where he had fallen asleep while gambling. He had been at it for two days straight, unaware of how much time had passed.

Parker said the man was steered by tribal police into signing a self-exclusion document which bars him from entering the casino for either five years or life. Both Hotsky and Parker said the self-exclusion option is one tool used to address the greater problem. The man in Parker's story hadn't returned to the casino in more than a decade.

"Someone in law enforcement took that extra step," Parker said.

A person who has signed a self-expulsion document is likely to be warned the first time they are discovered at the casino but face criminal trespassing charges thereafter.

Both casinos prominently display hotlines for problem gamblers.

Problem gambling can also lead to domestic violence, according to Froeh lich, citing studies that show wives of problem gamblers are 10.5 times more likely to be assaulted.

What happens when the problem gambler, who controls the money in the household, is on a losing streak, Froehlich asked. It can lead to financial abuse, emotional and psychological abuse in which spouses are unable to leave because of a lack of resources to go off on their own.

"It does overflow into family violence," he said.

The Connecticut Problem Gambling Helpline is toll-free at (888) 789-7777.

Visit www.ccpg.org for more information.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: SmittyDay

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