The Counsellor's Corner


       One of the things in life that frustrates me to no end is people who do not take responsibility for their actions.

     The latest such behavior with legal implications took place late last month when Cynthia Haines, a woman who had accumulated more than $70,000 in on-line gambling losses on the Internet, sued the credit card companies that financed her gambling spree.  Ms. Haines had the temerity to sue the companies for allowing her to have casino accounts on the Internet.  Ms. Haines used twelve different credit cards to cover her gambling losses, and her lawsuit is filed against VISA, Mastercard, and 50 on-line gambling casinos for alleged "unfair business practices". 

     Her fall-back position is that the credit card companies should not be permitted to collect money from her as she lives in California, and this type of gambling is illegal in this state.  Her position is that on-line gambling wagers are illegal and therefore, cannot be enforced in the State of California.  The credit card companies are beginning to respond to this lawsuit, and their responses have been along the lines of if someone incurs a debt, the person should pay it back.

     Current statistics indicate that Internet gambling is a 600 million dollar a year business.  If Ms. Haines is successful in her suit, that business will fall apart.

     Both the federal government and the State of California have discussed legislation which would ban on-line gambling sites, but to date nothing has been passed.

     This issue is not about gambling.  One can argue the merits of whether having access to gambling on-line is useful in that it gives people freedom of choice, or whether it tears at the moral fabric of our country.  This is about a person taking an action and then not taking responsibility for the consequences of that action. 

     This country provides a way for people to get out from under situations in which they get in over their head, and that is the declaration of bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy is a lawful alternative for people who need the protection of the bankruptcy courts in order to right their ship.

     However one feels about bankruptcy, it is qualitatively different from, in effect, wanting to sue the casinos because they exist and sue the credit card companies because credit was made available.

     The issue here is not whether or not gambling is a good thing.  The issue is about keeping one's commitments.  My belief has always been that if I wasn't prepared to keep a commitment, I would not make the commitment.  If I borrow money from a credit card company to finance a trip to Las Vegas or a new computer, my agreement with the credit card company is that I will pay when I receive their bill. 

     This is about the breach of a moral and ethical obligation to do what is right.  In a society often criticized for its dissipating values, what kind of message do we send if people are taught that they can walk away from their commitments in a situation such as this.

     In the law, breach of contract cases often irritate me as those are usually situations in which someone has agreed to do something and has subsequently backed out.  The law does provide for undoing certain contracts such as that of marriage.  Divorce is, obviously, an option in this state and in this country.  There are other circumstances in which contracts are voidable, such as when one side uses undue influence on another.  Anna Nicole Smith marrying the 89-year-old multi-millionaire would be a good example.

     None of these factors exist here.

     Ms. Haines should be ashamed of herself.  I don't normally find myself rooting for credit card companies and off-shore casinos, however this will be the exception to the rule.


          Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.  Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.