Gambling addict's widow claims WV casino exploited her husband's - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Gambling addict's widow claims WV casino exploited her husband's out-of-control behavior

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Linda Harris / The State Journal Linda Harris / The State Journal

A Steubenville, Ohio, woman whose husband committed suicide after losing millions of dollars in a slot machine at Mountaineer Racetrack & Resort has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Wheeling, WV saying the casino and its employees exploited her husband and his addiction.

The suit was filed on behalf of Stacy Stevens, who said her late husband, Scott, had embezzled more than $7 million from his employer, emptied his family's savings account, his 401(k) and gambled away his children's college fund before committing suicide in a local park Aug. 13, 2012.

“The respected business executive, married father of three daughters, community leader, and company Chief Financial Officer well-acquainted with the value of money, left a suicide note apologizing for his addictive behavior, stating that the gambling had hurt his family and that the only way it would stop hurting them was if he was no longer around,” the complaint stated.

Named as defendants were Mountaineer; its parent company, MTR Gaming; and slot machine designer, International Game Technology.

Officials at Mountaineer could not be reached for comment Aug. 8.

The suit stated Scott Stevens confessed to stealing the money from the company after an IRS audit and was fired.

According to the complaint, Scott Stevens didn't tell his wife where the money had gone, how much he had stolen or that he had an out-of-control gambling habit. It said he continued to gamble, even after he'd been fired and had no income, on an almost daily basis until his death 10 months later.

“Scott Stevens did not voluntarily become addicted to gambling,” the suit stated. “ The algorithms that govern slot machines' win/loss functions have been intentionally concealed by IGT from patrons. Users do not know, and are not warned, that the machines are designed to cause and foster the loss of will power and rational decision -making capacities. There are no appropriate warnings on the slots; indeed, the obfuscation is intentional and strategic on the part of the manufacturer to maximize “time on device.”

Mountaineer routinely tracks its patron gaming and frequency, and heavy users are offered enticements such as free hotel rooms, free meals and other gifts, the suit stated.

“Mountaineer Casino knew, or should have known, that the condition of disordered gambling, especially slot machine addiction, is associated with severe adverse health and other consequences for individuals and their families,” the suit stated. “Not only are gambling addicts like Scott Stevens liable to literally gamble away everything they own and end up in crippling debt, but also to become suicidal at far higher rates than the general population and even the population of persons addicted to substances such as illegal drugs or alcohol.”

Slot machines “cause and foster physical changes in brain functioning and behavior of patrons ... and contribute to their loss of willpower,” it said. “Their inability to stop losing time and money to these gambling machines is not a failure to exercise willpower but, rather, an effect of physiological changes that erode and weaken willpower.”

The suit, which seeks unspecified damages complains that Mountaineer employees witnessed Scott Stevens' problem gambling behavior and logged the time and money he spent in the casino, so his suicide “was a foreseeable event – and yet no attempts were made to intervene.”

James Bordas of Bordas & Bordas in Wheeling, one of the firms representing the Stevens family, said Scott Stevens “lost a lot of money, probably about $9 million,” playing the same slot machine, over and over. Bordas contends the machine is “programmed in a certain way to draw people back to that machine.”

“Basically, he thought his life was over,” Bordas said. “He couldn't face his wife and family, so he killed himself.”

Bordas described it as “a very serious case with very serious consequences.”