We all seem to know someone with a gambling problem. It may be someone we work with. Someone in our family. Maybe the neighbor next door.
That may explain why reader response to our stories about Michael Pellegrino's death provoked so much response, positive and negative.
On the plus side, people have thanked us for revealing the "dark side" of gambling, from suicide to embezzlement to bankruptcy.
But others reacted angrily to our use of Pellegrino's name and our suggestion that his gambling (he was widely known as a big-time gambler and big-time loser) may have played a role in his suicide.
Believe me, as reporters, we understand the anger some people feel about The News' coverage of Pellegrino's death. And believe me when I say we don't do those kind of stories lightly. We understand the pain his family and friends are going through. We also know that every new story about his suicide resurrects that pain, and that the real victims are the people left behind.
Having said that, I think his death, especially how he did it, where and why, cry out for attention. We will never know for sure but it seems clear to me, given his gambling losses, that gambling played a role in his suicide. It may not have been the only reason, but he was known as a frequent player at both the Seneca Niagara and Ontario casinos and, even more so, as a player who lost.
As a newspaper, we have an obligation to write about the other side of casino gambling. And the most honest, and yes painful, way to do that is to use real stories about real victims with real names.
I also know, and this comes from gambling counselors, that other gamblers follow these kinds of stories because they see their plight in others. For that reason, I think stories like the ones we've done the past two weeks may do some good.
For more on this issue, check out this link: New York Problem Gambling
- - Phil Fairbanks