ABC News interview with Norma Astourian

Courtesy: Good Morning America, ABC News
March 25, 2004

>> now to the compulsive gambler suing three detroit casinos. she
argues the casinos are liable for failing to prevent her from gambling
after she signed a contract requiring the casino to keep her
away. we’re joined this morning by that woman, norma astourian and her
attorney, blaise repasky. david stewart, an attorney who frequently
defends the casino industry against claims like norma’s but not
involved in this case, joins us from washington. norma, i want to
start with you.

>> how bad a gambler were you?

astourian: bad. very bad. consumed — three, four times a week.

>> and how much did you lose?

astourian: overall?

>> overall.

astourian: oh, $300,000, $400,000 total.

>> $300,000 or $400,000. over what time period?

astourian: i would say over 10 years.

>> did you try to get help first before taking this action?

astourian: you don’t know that you’re addicted. you think you can quit
any time. but, of course, the withdrawals are terrible. you just have
to go. and you think you’re going to recoup. and just condition on
with life, but it’s impossible.

>> but at some point, did you go to gamblers anonymous or try to

seek some counseling?

astourian: i did go to gamblers anonymous. actually, i was thrown out
of one gamblers’ anonymous meeting.

>> why is that?

astourian: i said my first and last name and they thought i was a
reporter. they were very offended by my presence and asked me to

>> you eventually decided to register at the casinos as a
disassociated person.

astourian: that’s correct.

>> which means you’re asking the casinos to bar you from entering
and gambling.

astourian: yes.

>> were you aware of the fact that you could be arrested if
you did continue to try and enter the casinos and gamble?

astourian: yes, i did, but it was a desperate measure. there was no
alternative. i mean, i needed to be stopped. and they said, sign this
and we’ll take care of you. we’ll make sure you don’t get in
there. well, i did get in there, many times.

>> blaise, what have you found normally happens after gamblers
register with these casinos? what is supposed to happen?

blaise: what’s supposed to happen is, when they sign up this
disassociated persons form they’re supposed to be kept out of the
casinos. it says they are supposed to be removed. they can be
prosecuted criminally if they’re there. winnings can be confiscated
from them. the casinos ignored that. they’ve let the people come in
and continue to gamble. we believe they know these people were ithere
because they’ve got their pictures there. they have their social
security numbers. we know some people who have actually been paid
jackpots and have to give their social security number to get the
jackpot and pay them knowing they should not be there.

>> isn’t it the duty —

blaise: when we sign this disassociated persons form we believe it’s a
contract and we believe the casinos never intended to enforce the
contracts to begin with. misrepresentation and fraud by the casinos.

the’re doing nothing to stop these people from coming in. they should.

>> but drunk drivers, for example, don’t get to blame liquor companies
for their crimes. why do you think that compulsive gamblers —

blaise: consider, for instance, someone drinking in a bar. we all know
a bartender has an obligation, if he sees somebody becoming
intoxicated to stop serving them so they don’t drive and kill
somebody. these people, too, said we’ve reached rock bottom. they beg
for help. sign the form. the casinos have done nothing to enforce that

>> why do casinos offer this disassociated persons program if

they are not going to enforce it?

stewart: the purpose of the program and the programs were
designed,really, by people who are experts in the field. treatment
professionals who work with problem gamblers, behavioral scientists
who study it, and former problem gamblers. and they have real
troubles. you can’t hear about their problems without realizing
they’re fighting with a real problem. these people came up with the
notion of self-exclusion because the central issue here is to have the
person take responsibility, to take control of their gambling. and
when you go through a self-exclusion program, you fill out an official
form, you say i acknowledge i’ve got this problem, i want to fight
this problem, i don’t want to get any mail from the casino. i don’t
want to get credit from the casino. and if you find me in the casino,
i want you to show me the door. takes some courage to do that. and the
casino industry has supported that. the problem is, it’s not a police
state. it’s not possible to, you know, control everybody who comes
there. there’s thousands of people on the casino floor.

>> norma, what do you say to people who say you have to take
responsibility for your own behavior. you can’t blame the casino. you
should be bearing that responsibility.

astourian: responsibility? there is no responsibility once you’ve been
addicted by this product. i mean, i entered believing i was having
fun. i never knew there was a line to cross and no turning back. would
one willingly give away their life and their future? i don’t think so.

>> norma astourian, blaise repasky, david stewart, thank you all for
being here this morning. a difficult and controversial issue.

thank you.