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Florida Man Steals $1.6 Million to Feed Legal Gambling Addiction

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
January 27, 2009

               While the U.S. government recently saw the reimplementation of the UIGEA, it continues to protect the domestic market in allowing online horse racing wagers. Although many representatives feel that online casino gambling is dangerous in that it will lead to problem gambling, it was inevitably the horse racing industry that has resulted in a serious gambling addiction this week.

When the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed in 2006, legislators felt the need to protect forms of gambling that made the state governments money – regardless of the enticing and yet equally irresponsible nature as online casinos – including online state lotteries and internet horse racing wagers. A case in Florida shows that any form of gambling can be risky, or any vice for that matter, despite the fact that it might generate money into the state.

David Sarnowski, 50, serves as this example, having been arrested in Pinellas County, Florida on Saturday, after stealing $1.6 million from a law firm where he worked. Over four years Mr. Sarnowski embezzled this money from a company for which he provided payroll services: Yarborough, Sarnowski and Evans. The reason? Sarnowski is addicted to horse racing online.

“He would bet large sums, and he would bet often,” said a spokesperson for the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office, Cecilia Barreda.  Investigators says that Sarnowski electronically transferred the money into his personal account from the account of the law firm Tanney, Eno, Ingram and Griffith P.A. Sarnowski embezzled the money from June 2004 to February 2008, when he left work for good, not without first taking his work desktop computer with him.

The law firm to which Sarnowski belonged began to investigate irregularities than turned up and discovered that Sarnowski was involved in a number of them. Allegedly, he began diverting money from the firm to his own payroll account, and at the same time was not paying the IRS for payroll taxes.

“We have a government who is trying to outlaw online casino gambling, yet keep forms of gambling like horse racing and lottery’s {sic} legal. His actions show that even forms of internet gambling approved by the government can be harmful if not regulated correctly,” said Harvey Trusbel.

The case raises the question of whether it does more damage to outlaw online casino gambling, leaving internet gamblers with an unregulated industry, or to allow gamblers a properly monitored venue for gambling online.

A study in 1995 showed that out of 184 Gamblers Anonymous members surveyed, 56 percent admitted to some illegal act to obtain money to gamble. 58 percent said that they had written bad checks while 44 percent said that they stole or embezzled money from their employer. Generally, these crimes are not committed in casino-towns.

“I call it the exploitation factor,” said Professor Henry Lesiuer, who specializes in problem gambling. “Pathological gamblers commit crimes.”