McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

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May 18, 2006

Gambling begets millions of neglected addicts

Bryant Northern had the world at his fingertips three years ago as a walk-on guard who won a full scholarship at basketball powerhouse University of Louisville.

He dreamed of deadeye jump shots, March Madness, even a pro career.

But the 6-foot-tall Northern also had a hidden problem: an addiction to gambling. Caesars Indiana, the riverboat casino across the Ohio from Louisville, had been his happy hangout since high school —and his scourge. A run of lousy luck found him short of money and in trouble with the police.

Now 23 and a college dropout, Northern was sentenced on March 6 to five years probation for trying to cash stolen checks in Kentucky to pay for his gambling habit. He still faces burglary charges in Indiana, and a possible prison term.

Jim Chesser, 55, a former Louisville bus driver, jokes that he was “born on a card table, raised on a racetrack” because of his parents’ love of bingo halls and horses. So when Casino Aztar opened in Evansville, Ind., in 1995, it was only natural he’d be a frequent patron.

“That’s when my recreational gambling crossed that invisible line to irresponsible, uncontrolled, compulsive gambling,” Chesser said.

The dependency got so bad, he recalled, that he once stole $50 from his 16-year-old stepdaughter and blamed it on his 14-year-old stepson.

“When we’re gambling, we will lie, we will cheat, we will steal from everybody,” he said. “It will take you places you never thought you would go” — places that caused him to quit cold turkey eight years ago to save his fourth marriage.

Bryant Northern and Jim Chesser do not stand alone. Their stories are commonplace in a nation where legal gambling has spread from just three states 25 years ago to every state in the union, save Utah and Hawaii, as an engine of economic development.

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