By John L. Smith
Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo’s experience tells him mass murderer Stephen Paddock might have had an accomplice. He may be right.
“Do you think this was all accomplished on his own?” Lombardo asked at a Wednesday press conference. “You’ve got to make the assumption he had to have some help at some point.”
While law enforcement continues to search for possible motives behind the retired accountant’s incomprehensible act of violence, the lack of clarity begs many questions. One threatens to haunt Las Vegas:
Is that co-conspirator somehow hiding in plain sight in the form of the high-dollar gambler’s casino enablers?
What’s not in question is Paddock’s breakneck casino play. His brother has called him a “professional gambler,” but he was no Doyle Brunson. He favored high-dollar video poker machines, often played several at once, and was meticulous about his points and his comps.
Published reports source Currency Transaction Report documents showing Paddock gambled from $10,000 to $30,000 during his frequent trips to the casino, a level of play that earned him generous complimentary privileges and generated more than Suspicious Activity Reports, according to ABC News. Paddock, a former IRS employee, displayed the kind of gambling behavior sometimes used by money launderers and those attempting to mask a lifestyle that doesn’t match their income, a casino industry financial expert tells me.
Although Paddock reportedly made several million dollars in real estate, the choice of game and compulsive play makes me wonder whether those comps were about to run out. To date, authorities have acknowledged his level of play, but not his losses.
Those searching for clues about Paddock’s motive have interviewed his longtime girlfriend, Marilou Danley, who described him as a “kind, caring, quiet” person and says she was unaware of his plans. “It never occurred to me in any way whatsoever that he was planning violence against anyone,” she said in a public statement through her attorney.
If anyone would know Paddock’s gambling behavior, it would be Danley. She’s a former casino marketing hostess who understands the ins and outs of how players are rated. She’d also likely have a good idea how much he was worth at the time of his death, or whether he appeared to be suffering from mental illness or emotional stress.
In the casino business, one person’s suspicious activity is another person’s good customer. In the wake of the atrocity, with the world press in Las Vegas, the casino industry’s extremely mixed record on the issue of compulsive gambling is again spotlighted. Casino gaming history is riddled with stories of wealthy high-rollers who eventually hit bottom, and the gambling kings haven’t always been willing to acknowledge the devastating impacts their product’s use has on a small percentage of compulsive and addicted players.
But here’s the rub: Even if Paddock was a compulsive gambler, or a player in a far darker game, that doesn’t begin to explain the grotesque bloodbath he unleashed from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay on a crowd of innocent concertgoers.
Desperate casino bustouts, mired in debt, dysfunction and untreated illness, commonly attempt suicide. Some succeed. But they don’t commit mass murder.
“There is zero correlation between problem gambling and violence,” clinical psychologist and addiction specialist Dr. Rob Hunter says. “I have never had one patient with homicidal thoughts or plans in 30 years. Whatever this guy’s story is, it’s not a problem gambling story. Even if the guy was a problem gambler, it’s not a problem gambling story. It’s just not what they do.”
After founding the Problem Gambling Center more than three decades ago, Hunter has treated thousands of compulsive players. From homemakers to lawyers, compulsive behavior doesn’t discriminate based on job or gender. But it does have distinct and discernible patterns.
For instance, Hunter says, “The potential for self-harm is fairly high in the late stage. But the idea of taking 50 people with you, that is absolutely unheard of, and I’ve treated thousands and thousands of problem gamblers. Problem gamblers do stupid stuff, but even the suicide attempts are usually passionate and on impulse. This guy methodically planned this, it sounds like, for a long, long time.”
The California Council on Problem Gambling takes a tougher line: “Throughout history, gambling addiction has resulted in the highest rate of suicides for any addiction and caused desperate people to resort to crime to pay their debts or continue gambling. And now, as gambling continues to expand throughout the country, the number of problem gamblers continues to increase,” its website states. Prisons populations have a high percentage of inmates who show compulsive gambling and other addiction disorders, according to the 2006 California Problem Gambling Prevalence survey.
But it doesn’t argue that even the worst problem gamblers are driven to commit homicide, much less premeditated mass murder.
Contrary to popular belief, Hunter says, the compulsion is already in the player before the first card is dealt. Casinos don’t create problem gamblers, he says, just as, “Budweiser did not create alcoholism.”
No, but they do make a healthy profit off the behavior.
In the case of Stephen Paddock, they also end up playing the generous host to a sick mind already poised on the high ledge of infamy.
John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas journalist and author. This column first ran in The Nevada Independent. Contact Smith at email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith