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Russell Wangersky: Cashing in on faint hope

Casino
Casino

The McPhillips Station Casino sits on a block of industrial land in Winnipeg with rail lines threading around it, the neighbourhood architecture mostly one-storey warehouse and commercial properties.

Russell Wangersky

The casino, like Winnipeg’s Club Regent, is owned by the Manitoba lottery corporation, and inside McPhillips Station are tightly jammed, brightly lit rows of gambling machines, the haphazard and deliberately confusing maze that casinos always are. Far in the back, there are tables for cards and dice.

The casino restaurant buffet is great, the gravy rich and brown, the prime rib under the heat lamps glistening and waiting to be sliced.

McPhillips Station is at 484 McPhillips St. The Crosstown Civic Credit Union has a branch at 1450 McPhillips. More on that in a minute.

The corporation’s slogan? “When you’re looking for excitement, the path always leads to Club Regent and McPhillips Station Casino.”

Sometimes, the big pixelated sign out front blinks, “Your moment awaits.”

Somewhere in there, among the noise and lights and machines, was 51-year-old Rosalie Ruth Gerske, waiting for her moment, too. Waiting, for years.

And that moment came, though not in the way she anticipated.

Gerske’s moment came when she crept into her office at the Crosstown Civic Credit Union at three in the morning, and then snuck quietly away again.

The problem? Here’s how the judge described it: “A massive shortfall was discovered … in the presence of the accused, who lied and said that a large sum had been transferred out of the bank to the depository by armored car service that day. She went to her office pretending to look for the non-existent receipt, returning to say that it had been misplaced. She promised to find it in the morning. She returned to the branch at 3:05 a.m. using her alarm code to enter, cleaned out her desk, and never returned.”

Over a period of six years, Gerske, a supervisor at the credit union, had diverted cash and adjusted log entries, stealing $917,750 to feed her gambling addiction.

“(All) of the funds stolen by the accused were gambled away by her at various video lottery terminals and casinos in Winnipeg. There is no evidence she saved any of the money or mixed her lifestyle with personal purchases or trips; it was all lost,” the judge said. “She rationalized that she would pay back the money that she took from the bank with her winnings, yet she never did. Every win was played back into the machines until all was lost.”

And what about the Manitoba lottery corporation, and its role in receiving proceeds of crime? (In the most recent figures available, for the three-month period ending June 30, 2016, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries took in $54.6 million from casinos, and $77.4 million from VLTs.)

Well, like the Atlantic Lottery Corp.’s VLTs and the casinos that operate in the Atlantic region, it’s not their problem.

They keep the stolen money, with hardly a qualm.

They don’t seem to see that they have a role in either laundering the proceeds of crime, or keeping it for themselves.

Gerske has paid back $315,000 of the stolen money by liquidating her family’s savings and remortgaging the family home. CUMIS General Insurance Company paid out the other $602,750; Gerske has been ordered to repay the insurance company its money, but that’s clearly a long shot, especially since Gerske was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. The rest of the losses will be spread out among other insurance customers, a hidden tax, if you will, for everyone else.

Meanwhile, the McPhillips casino blinks and roars and rings, it heaves and flashes, and the money slips into the slots in the machines with hardly a whisper, bill after bill.

The buffet’s still great.

The ethics, however, leave something to be desired.

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@tc.tc — Twitter: @Wangersky.

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