Arelia Taveras was a successful lawyer who earned hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. But then a gambling addiction resulted in her being disbarred, losing her apartment and her parents' home, and squandering nearly $1 million at Atlantic City and Las Vegas casinos.
"I realized it was an addiction when I was losing all that money and breaking out in sweat," Taveras said. "It went from every month, to every week, to every day."
Now, Taveras has gone after the casinos where she used to spend her days and money. She has sued six Atlantic City casinos and one Las Vegas casino for $20 million, saying they should have done something about her compulsive tendencies and cut her off.
Taveras believes the casinos enabled her addiction. During her most desperate times, she spent days sitting at the gambling tables. Once, she went on a five-day spree, living on nothing but the orange juice and candy bars she received from the casino staff.
"I was sitting there for days at a time. I used to use wipes to brush my teeth in the bathroom," Taveras said.
She even was charged with stealing from her clients' escrow accounts to feed her addiction during her two-and-a-half-year downward spiral.
"You don't think you're stealing when you are an obsessive gambler," Taveras said.
Taveras said she hopes her lawsuit will help put some of the responsibility for her actions on the casinos.
"The casino thinks because you put a sign on the door it's enough, but it's not. These people have surveillance where they watch you. They protect themselves from you, but you should be afforded the same protection from them," Taveras said.
While Taveras may believe the casinos enabled her gambling addiction, the companies said they have done nothing wrong and maintain Taveras brought her problems upon herself.
"I think that where the casino's responsibility begins and ends is an open question. We would say that there has to be shared responsibility. Of course the gambler has to take responsibility for their own actions," said National Council on Problem Gambling executive director Keith S. Whyte.
"They have to take responsibility that if they have an uncontrollable urge to gamble, they need to go get help. They need to go get treatment."
Last month, a judge dismissed four of the six casinos from the lawsuit on technical grounds, but Taveras is allowed to re-file by April. The suit against the Resorts Atlantic City casino and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas still stand because the allegations are more specific.