HAD there been a comprehensive behavioral health treatment facility like California’s Casa Palmera in the Philippines, the tragedy at the Resorts World Manila casino-hotel and entertainment complex early Friday could have been prevented. It is now known that the lone gunman who attacked the hotel-casino complex and started the fire that caused the death of 38 people, including himself, and injured 54 others, was a gambling addict on a downward spiral.
The Casa Palmera facility, located in the coastal village of Del Mar in California, treats all kinds of addiction, from drugs to gambling.
“Gambling addiction: What to look for, and how to treat it” is an article written by the staff of Casa Palmera and published in June 2007. It identifies the four phases of a downward spiral process most compulsive gamblers experience in the course of their addiction.
In the winning phase, or phase 1, a person gets all excited by a big win and the prospect of winning more. The motivation to win is extreme and bets are increased.
National Capital Police Office chief Oscar Albayalde and his men did a great job of basic police work—profiling and research—on the gunman Jessie Carlos, 43, a compulsive gambler who was deep in debt to the tune of P4 million. “According to our casino sources, he was a high roller who would place a minimum bet of P40,000,” Albayalde told a news conference Sunday at the Remington Hotel, one of the establishments in the Resorts World complex in Pasay City. Carlos was identified by his estranged wife some 72 hours after the attack.
Phase 2 is the losing phase. The gambler starts distancing himself from family and friends, starts lying more and borrowing money to support his habit. “The person brags about all of their winnings. If they suffer a loss, they are inclined to immediately return to gambling to win it all back,” according to Casa Palmera.
His family didn’t know when Carlos started gambling. A former employee of the Department of Finance who was dismissed for a questionable statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, he and his wife shared a house in Santa Cruz, Manila, but seldom communicated. The wife told police she recognized him from the CCTV clips of the attack shown on television on Saturday, but did not contact the authorities because of the implications for their three children, ages 17, 14 and eight. Carlos’ mother said he never visited or got in touch with them, except when there seemed to be some kind of trouble. He sold a family property in Batangas to finance his gambling.
Phases 3 and 4 are signs of desperation and hopelessness. The gambler starts blaming others and feels bad about his gambling. The person may attempt suicide, or engage in actions that may lead to an arrest, or get a divorce, or becomes hooked on drugs. A sense of having hit rock bottom and utter helplessness about the addiction creeps in, and up to 20 percent of individuals in phase 4 attempt suicide and almost all contemplate it.
“That is why he is so mad at casinos,” said Albayalde. Carlos left his house all dressed in black Thursday night and bought three liters of gasoline at a gas station, before hailing a cab that dropped him off at Resorts World around midnight.
Case closed, Albayalde declared, regarding the 37 patrons and employees who perished from suffocation after Carlos set ablaze some gambling tables in the VIP section and took P113 million of casino chips from a stockroom. At 6:30 a.m. Friday, the attacker’s charred body was found in Room 510 of the adjacent Maxim’s Hotel.
His grieving mother has a message for other families facing a similar situation, “Make your sons stop gambling.”
Albayalde said no one will be spared in the next phase of the investigation, which will focus on security lapses. He admonished people to stop linking the incident at Resorts World to terrorism. “Spread only the truth” he said.