$368K theft, suicide at soccer club was gambling-related: coroner
Published Monday, July 4, 2016 6:00PM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 5, 2016 5:14PM PDT
As governments across B.C. ponder expanding casinos, CTV News has learned a suicide after a huge theft from a Victoria-area volunteer soccer association was related to gambling.
The B.C. Coroners Service found gambling was one of the risk factors that led the long-time president of the Gorge Soccer Association, Terry Marra, to kill himself just as other members of the club were discovering how much money was missing.
“He was a real pillar of the club for a long time. For a lot of people this was a real shock when this happened,” said Andrew Wynn-Williams, a club spokesperson.
The agency has recorded Marra’s death as just one of 18 suicides in a four-year period that the agency believes are gambling related, according to documents obtained by CTV News using B.C.’s Freedom of Information Act.
It’s a warning, some observers believe, against too quickly embracing the proposed expansion of casinos in Delta, the City of North Vancouver, Saanich, and in Marra’s home of Victoria.
Marra had been president of the Gorge Soccer Association since the 1990s, and was known as someone who looked out for the club’s 800 young members and 300 adult players.
“He was the kind of guy who would keep a bunch of soccer cleats in the drawer in the office in case a poor kid didn’t have the right equipment and he could come and get it,” Wynn-Williams said.
But when the club found there wasn’t enough money to pay suppliers for a turf field Marra had arranged to be built for the club, members demanded to see the books.
Before that could happen, Marra overdosed on prescription pills in his Victoria home, the coroners report in his death says, adding it was no accident.
“Marra was aware of the risks associated with the use of this type of over-the-counter medication given his medical history and the prescription medication he was taking,” coroner Lori Moen wrote.
When the other occupants of the house returned that day, they found him on the bed, unresponsive. Emergency personnel came but couldn’t revive him. They found two suicide notes on the bed.
“Marra was not known to have any mental health issues,” Moen wrote. “Subsequent to his death, however, it was discovered that he had significant financial and personal issues that had been escalating for some time and were about to become public knowledge.
“Marra would have known the disclosure of those issues was imminent and that once disclosed, there would be public scrutiny and potential consequences that would add to the complexity and gravity of those issues,” Moen wrote.
Initially the club thought $250,000 had gone missing. But as the club looked over its finances, it discovered that Marra had written $368,000 in cheques to cash or to himself over eight years, peaking at almost $78,000 a year.
And that might not be all, Wynn-Williams said: some of the club’s fees were accepted in cash and the agency has no way of keeping track of that.
“$368,000 is the minimum number. It’s definitely more. We don’t know how much more,” he said.
The loss destabilized the club and it has taken years to get back on track, Wynn-Williams said. The club now has two people signing each cheque and expects to be out of debt this year, he said.
It’s not clear where Marra was gambling, or how much of the money was used to gamble. The Coroners Service refused to answer further questions about its report, citing privacy concerns.
But a statistical report prepared for CTV News after another freedom of information request says 40 per cent of the gambling-related suicides between 2010 and 2014 involved casinos. Another 40 per cent were unknown.
Men were three times more likely to commit suicide than women. And of all gambling-related deaths, 60 per cent were in Metro Vancouver or the Fraser Valley.
Most B.C. suicides are not documented beyond a single page that details the method, place, time and cause of death. But some contain investigative findings that paint a sad picture of people too deep in gambling debts.
One Nanaimo woman, facing stress involving her finances and her residence, was found floating in the ocean just steps from her home in 2012.
Another, Chin Yao Hu, had borrowed $200,000 from a family member, could not pay it back, and killed his female companion, Miao Zhen Chen, before taking his own life in a Richmond hotel in 2011.
The B.C. Lottery Corporation would not appear on camera, and would not discuss individual cases. A spokesperson said in an e-mail that the corporation has programs to help problem gamblers, including the voluntary self-exclusion program, trained staff, and GameSense advisors. There is also a problem gambling hotline.
The agency said, “It is critical to remember that in every case of problem gambling, there are a wide variety of stressors that contribute to a person’s behaviour.”
But addiction doctor Jenny Melamed said the programs offered by BCLC are voluntary, which doesn’t help someone who is truly addicted.
“We know the risk of suicide is high for those in gambling addiction, because of the shame associated with it. We really need to take this more seriously than we are,” she said.
“You can’t just say, ‘Know your limit, play within it,’” she said, referring to a slogan that is often seen on BCLC ads. “That doesn’t make sense to an addict. Once you’ve crossed over that line, it’s ridiculous to say something like that.”
CTV News has previously reported the self-exclusion program does little to actively keep out problem gamblers from casinos. When those gamblers do get in they are allowed to play and lose, but their winnings are kept from them.
Total government revenues from gambling were about $1.17 billion in 2013/2014.
The B.C. Lottery Corporation has asked some municipalities for proposals to expand casinos, with a deadline on July 15. Each municipality can expect a cut of the winnings.
Victoria and Saanich are also considering potential sites for new casinos.
City council in Delta voted last week to proceed with examining the Delta Town and Country Inn as a possible location. The coroner counted two gambling-related suicides in Delta between 2011 and 2014.
Council there voted to explore the possibility of gaming on the North Shore. The coroner recorded a gambling-related suicide by one woman in North Vancouver in 2011.