Gambling Closes Door to Jobs Requiring Security Clearances

This story is part of a series on the lottery and casinos in Maryland called "All In: Maryland's Big Bet on Gambling."


COLLEGE PARK, Md.—A 50-year-old electrical engineer had been working part-time for a defense contractor for almost a year when an opportunity arose for a full-time position.

But the new post required a security clearance—and when investigators from the federal Office of Personnel Management began digging into his background, they discovered something that raised a red flag: His gambling.

It had cost him $2,000 to $8,000 a month, according to records from the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals. He filed for bankruptcy in 2009 with nearly $1.4 million of debt.

Administrative judge John G. Metz, Jr., denied him a security clearance, citing the Department of Defense’s guidelines for determining eligibility for access to classified information: “Compulsive gambling is a concern as it may lead to financial crimes including espionage.”

In the past 10 years, there have been 30 appealed cases in which applicants’ gambling hurt their ability to get a security clearance in the Department of Defense, according to the records from the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Gamblers represent a small share of rejections but a concern for those trying to hire for jobs requiring a security clearance.

The cases are from across the country, and the records don’t disclose applicants’ names, place of residence or prospective employer. But problem gambling is a particular concern in Maryland, as the state expands casino gambling.

The high concentration of jobs requiring a security clearance in the region make access to classified information vital to a large number of careers area residents may pursue.

“Maryland is actually one of the hotbeds of cleared jobs across the country,” said Evan H. Lesser, co-founder of, a career network dedicated to security-cleared professionals and employers. “The Maryland, Virginia, D.C. Metro-area has on average about 15,000 to 20,000 open positions requiring security clearance at any given time.”

Security clearance is required for jobs with both defense and national intelligence contractors.

Expansion of gambling in the state increases opportunities for area job-seekers to develop gambling problems. A 2005 study by the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions found the chance of becoming addicted to gambling almost doubles for adults living within 10 miles of a casino.

“If the state of Maryland keeps pushing gambling as a method of increasing revenue and makes it seem like a normal thing, there will no doubt be problems with cleared folks,” Lesser said. “Not everybody, and probably not by a significant amount, but gambling—just like anything—can be used or abused.”

Generally, the application process for a security clearance in the Department of Defense begins with an investigation by the Office of Personnel Management, followed by the Department of Defense Central Adjudication Facility’s determination of whether to grant clearance.

Nationwide, about 661,000 to 699,000 security clearance applications are processed each year by the Department of Defense Central Adjudication Facility and on average about 2.5 percent are ultimately denied, said William Henderson, a retired federal clearance investigator and president of Federal Clearance Assistance Service, a company that helps applicants through the security clearance process.

Applicants who are denied a security clearance can appeal the decision to the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals, and about 1,400 cases are appealed each year, according to the office’s records.

Gambling doesn’t automatically lead to a denial if it’s done legally and responsibly.

Federal guidelines give leeway for gambling that took place in the distant past or happens infrequently, or when the applicant received gambling addiction counseling or took action to pay off debts.

But the applicant bears a heavy burden of persuasion, because no one has a right to a security clearance, Metz, the administrative judge, wrote.

A 53-year-old man, who had been a defense contractor employee for about 35 years, requested a hearing in 2009 to try to keep his clearance. The applicant started gambling in 1996, according to appeal records. He filed for bankruptcy in 1997 with debt totaling $42,650, the records said.

He attended Gamblers Anonymous meetings sporadically from 1997 to 2008, abstaining from gambling during the months he attended meetings but returning to casinos and spending about $400 to $500 per outing while away from the program, the records said.

In his appeal, the applicant said he quit gambling in 2009, had resumed participation in Gamblers Anonymous meetings and had negotiated agreements with the Internal Revenue Service to pay off about $55,000 of delinquent federal income taxes he had accumulated.

Administrative Judge David M. White in 2010 wrote that the man’s actions during 2009 demonstrated a good start toward controlling gambling and paying creditors, but they were not yet sufficient to eliminate security concerns. The applicant was denied security clearance.

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