Takuro Yanagida, a 23-year old Japanese man, gambled away AU$140,000 at the Crown Melbourne in four hours. That might sound bad, but it gets worse: the money belonged to his boss.
Yanagida found the money in a briefcase, along with a key. Having developed a gambling addiction prior to finding the cash, Yanagida stole the money and ran to the Crown Melbourne, the biggest casino in Australia.
In court, the man told a story of his panicked theft of the money (a “panic-driven, opportunistic crime”), then the whirlwind gambling session that ended in all his boss’s money going to the house.
When questioned, Takuro Yanagida denied his role in the money’s disappearance. Only when employees at the Crown Melbourne identified Yanagida did authorities determine for sure who stole the money.
Before coming to trial, Yanagida spent 207 days in Australian custody. Now that he faced an Australian judge, he’s been sentenced to another month in jail. Once it’s all said and done, he’ll have spent a full 8 months in detention.
In a month, Yanagida faces deportation back to Japan. Whether he faces further sanctions or a huge debt on his return is another matter. Whatever the case, Robert Dyer, the county court judge who presided over the case, described Yanagida as “naive, amateurish and unsophisticated.”
Judge Dyer added, “Your offending may have been initiated by a naive belief that you could use Mr. Kotani’s [Yanagida’s employer] money to win at the casino and pay off your financial situation.”
The judge then tried to convince the thief and problem gambler to show remose. Dyer added, “The loss of $140,000 has significantly impacted on his [Kotani’s] business activities while in Australia.”
This is not the first time an Australian problem gambler turned to theft to pay off his or her debts. In 2016, a Sydney court convicted Caroline Portolesi of embezzling $180,000 in government funds earmarked for disabled people. The court sentenced Portolesi to 19 months of home dentention.
Caroline Portolesi’s job was to organise and pay for cleaning services and home care for disabled residents. Instead, the manager of the Maroubrea branch of the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) stole the funds to pay gambling debts.
That wasn’t the only case. An Aussie man running a roof repair business was found guilty of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of client funds to gamble. Even an Australian billionaire lost his fortune playing the pokies — though he only refused to pay his debts.
Outside Australia, many such cases exist. A person with access to the Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin stole $500,000 in funds. Another person running the books at Community Blood Center in Grand Chute stole $500,000. The bookkeeper at the Fox Valley Youth Baseball League stole $20,000 from the league fund — and received a conviction in 2013.
In all cases, the defendant blamed problem gambling for their behavior.
Also in 2016, a court in Washington State in the United States convicted two women of embezzling funds to pay for their gaming habits. Prosecutors convicted Michele Huntley of stealing funds from a roofing company where she was bookkeeper for 12 years. Huntley was accused of diverting over $100,000 in funds from roofing customers in Washington.
Jeannine Hall stood accused of taking funds from two non-profits, including a parent-teachers association.
Those cases pale in comparison to Former JPMorgan Chase broker Michael Oppenheim’s alleged crimes. Michael Oppenheim was alleged to have taken $22 million from his investor clients to feed his gambling addiction. Oppenheim said gambling addiction “hijacked his brain”.
Once the court convicted him, the former stock broker said, “I recognize that what I did was horrible. I always thought I was one or two trades away from fixing everything. For me, one bet is one too many. If I were not in the grips of this addiction, I would not have stolen any money.”
Ultimately, Oppenheim received 5 years in prison from Judge Analisa Torres — prosecutors wanted 10 years. Judge Torres said, “I am cognizant that gambling is a mental disorder which is aggravated during periods of stress and depression.”
In comparison, Takuro Yanagida’s crime involved less money — and a great deal less premeditation. For many of the cases cited above, the perpetrators spent years plotting to embezzle funds and cover it up. Yanagida’s crime is egregious, but did not involve cold calculation. In all cases, problem gambling led to a kind of desperation. Otherwise normal people do things they never would consider in the everyday course of things.