DETROIT — Richard Kaczor gazed with forlorn eyes at the pyramid of Michigan State Lottery tickets covering his kitchen table. Heaped before him were tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of 50-cent and $1 tickets, neatly tied in worthless little bundles.
"What I can't understand, even now," Kaczor said, "is, 'Why?' "
Kaczor and his family are lottery losers. Big losers.
Kaczor has been fired from his job, his wife is in prison, the family is in hopeless debt and in danger of losing its home.
Experts on pathological gambling say the Kaczor family story and others like it are previews of the kinds of problems that will be created or exacerbated in California after the state lottery opens Thursday.
The family's troubles began less than two years ago when Kaczor's wife, Valerie, 32, went on a lottery gambling frenzy that lasted about 18 months. The suburban housewife, whose husband earned about $20,000 a year, began cashing bad checks and spending hundreds of dollars every day on tickets in the "Pick 3" and "Pick 4" state lottery games in which bettors try to guess the numbers that will be selected at official drawings held each evening.
Valerie Kaczor spent her days cashing bad checks, pulling related scams and buying lottery tickets. Using a home computer to select the hundreds of numbers to bet, she would occasionally win several thousand dollars and became convinced that she had worked out a computerized probability system to beat the odds.
$250,000 in Bad Checks
By the time it was over, she had cashed an estimated $250,000 in bad checks, had lost most of it on the lottery, spent some of it on luxuries and, on one occasion, had talked her husband and her father into helping her cash bad checks.
Valerie Kaczor, whom a psychiatrist has diagnosed as a compulsive gambler, is in prison serving a 3- to 14-year sentence.
Her husband was fired from his job of 16 years at a pharmaceutical company after he pleaded guilty to helping his wife cash a worthless money order and was placed on probation. Valerie Kaczor's father also was put on probation after making a similar plea.
Richard Kaczor, 39, cannot find a job. He is collecting unemployment benefits, has declared bankruptcy and cannot make the mortgage payments on the family home.
The couple's two children feel confused and hurt, and they miss their mother.
The reaction of officials to the Kaczor case has been mixed.
"Obviously, she does have a gambling habit," FBI Special Agent Joseph Jackson said through a spokesman, "but by the same token she also was greedy and wanted to live the good life without working for it."
"I think it is a sad case," said U.S. Judge Horace Gilmore, who presided over one of the many criminal proceedings against Valerie Kaczor. "I seriously think the states ought to start reconsidering this whole lottery business."
"The Valerie Kaczor case is an isolated case," insisted Laurie Kipp, director of public relations for the Michigan State Lottery. "This is the only incident like this that we know of since the lottery started back in 1972."
Experts on problem betting say, however, that when a state creates a lottery it also creates new gamblers, a small but significant minority of whom become pathological bettors who wreak painful and expensive havoc on themselves, their families and society.
Lotteries are the least common form of betting by compulsive gamblers, experts in the field say, but the number of problem gamblers who play the lotteries is steadily growing.
"The real issue is the availability of gambling," said Valerie Lorenz, director of treatment for the National Foundation for Study and Treatment of Pathological Gambling, a private, nonprofit agency in Baltimore.
"With the lottery," she continued, "the housewife, who in the past would never gamble . . . now, when she goes to the supermarket, she's going to be able to buy lottery tickets for $1 and then . . . she's going to buy more tickets with larger amounts of money. That's the pattern. . . .
"California," she added, "already has compulsive gambling. With the lottery, they're going to create more compulsive gambling. They're going to have more crime, they're going to have more sick people, more broken homes, certainly more mental health costs, certainly more bankruptcies, more welfare costs."
There are stories of lottery-related problem gambling all across the continent:
- Glenwood Herbert Stout, 55, was recently released from federal prison after serving three years of a five-year sentence for embezzling $500,000 from a New Jersey credit union that he managed.
Stout said he spent most of the funds, which he stole over a 10-year period, to buy tickets in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey lotteries.
"You can get addicted to it," he told The Times in a telephone interview. "And you just can't stop."
Stout's wife of 31 years and the couple's youngest son lived on welfare while the accountant was in prison.