Insanity of gambling

  Everybody suffers from at least one addiction at some point in their life 

  “I would talk less and less to the people around me.  I would play for hours and hours and hours till I was practically in a stupor.  We don’t stop to eat; we don’t stop to drink anything; we don’t stop to go to the bathroom; we don’t leave the machine for an instant.”

 “You go over it and over it and over it in your mind and say, ‘How could you be this stupid?  How could you not have any inkling of what was happening to you?  How could you be so bright in academia and so stupid in your everyday life?’”

  “Every time I get out from the casino, I want to kill myself.  Then it’s going to be over.  Then it’s going to end.  I tried to kill myself twice.  I took my car to the mountains.  I just wanted to—I decided I didn’t want the pain anymore.”

  Casino owners don't care about you, they care about your money. When your money is gone you've lost your value to the business, you're just taking up space.

Long ago a Taxi Cab driver in Los Vegas said
"Vegas is the biggest Monument to losers"
In the Movie Squid Game 456 "players" bet their lives
to win; most lost with collateral damage all around

Gambling
from
Uppers, Downers, all Arounders
Physical & Mental Effects of Psychoactive Drugs
By Darryl Inaba & William F. Cohen

  There are more opportunities for gambling today than ever before, and the sheer availability of all these outlets, mostly legal now, are triggering problem and pathological gambling in greater and greater numbers.  The problems that result from pathological and problem gambling are as severe as any drug-based addiction.

  In 2006 the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas consisted of 45 Tournaments involving 30,000 players and more than $100 million in prize money.  The main event had more than 8,000 players, 32 hours of live broadcasting, and a grand prize of $12 million (DiMeglio, 2006).  The explosive growth of poker (e.g. Texas Holdem, Omaha, and seven-card stud) is just a reflection of the nationwide growth in gambling.  Casino gambling revenue climbed to $55 billion in 2005 ($23 billion of that from American Indian Casinos), a 49% increase since 2000.  Lotteries added $16 billion to state budgets.  U.S. gambling revenues will top $75 billion by 2010, while worldwide revenues from gambling will top $125 billion.

  Gamblers Anonymous (GA), a 12-step recovery program, has a rigorous definition of gambling.  GA literature states, “any betting or wagering, for self or others, whether for money or not, no matter how slight or insignificant, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance or skill constitutes gambling” (Gamblers Anonymous [GA], 1998).  Gambling includes:

poker, blackjack, craps, roulette, and pai gow;

standard slot machines and video poker machines;

horse and dog races;

jai alai;

bingo and raffles;

state-run lotteries and keno games;

sports betting both legal and illegal; 

Super Bowl office pools and bets on the golf course;

schoolyard games (e.g. lag pennies, flip coins);

bar games (e.g. liar’s dice);

stock speculation such as day trading, commodities, and options; and

Internet gambling.

“You go over it and over it and over it in your mind and say, ‘How could you be this stupid?  How could you not have any inkling of what was happening to you?  How could you be so bright in academia and so stupid in your everyday life?’”

53-year-old recovering poker player

HISTORY

Gambling in Ancient Civilizations

  The record of gambling by Homosapiens predates recorded history.  Archeologists have unearthed prehistoric gambling bones from 40,000 B.C. called astragali, four-sided rolling bones from the ankles of small animals.  They were used to make decisions on matters believed to be in the gods’ hands (e.g., rain or drought).  Six-sided dice made from pottery, wood, or ivory were used as early as 3000 B.C. in Mesopotamia.  The ancient Greeks played dice around the time of the Trojan War (1200 B.C.), using bone and ivory dice that resemble today’s dice.  Dice rollers appealed to Tyche, the goddess of fortune, to improve their luck.  Other gaming artifacts, such as throwing sticks, have been found in ancient Britain and Rome and in Mayan ruins in pre-Columbian America (Schwartz, 2006).  The casting of lots is recorded in the Bible as a means of ending disputes or distributing property.  It also records that Roman soldiers cast lots for the robes that Jesus wore at the Crucifixion (Herman, 1984).  Even knights of the Crusade gambled at dice in an early version of backgammon that they learned from the Arabs, who had learned it from the Persians.

  Along with the desire to gamble came prohibitions against it.  An early Indian Veda (tale) of gambling woes, The Gambler’s Lament, written in Sanskrit about 1000 B.C., told of a king who gambled away all his wealth and his wife due to his obsession (Grinols, 2004).

“The dice goad like hooks and sting like whips; they enslave, deceive and torment.  They give presents as children do, striking back at the winners.  They are coated with honey—an irresistible power over the gambler.”

The Gambler’s Lament, 1000 B.C.

  Over the centuries many of the upper classes kept gambling from the lower classes; Roman emperors, for example, kept “dicing” to themselves.  In later centuries churchmen sermonized against gambling in the Middle Ages, and Louis IX of France made dice illegal in 1255.  Henry VIII made public gambling houses unlawful in England because he thought they distracted young men from the art of war.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, gambling was considered the leading vice in England.

Thou knowest, Lord, the fell disease.
Has smitten myriads, rich and poor;
The workman’s hour, the wealth of ease
Are squandered for the gambler’s store.
Palace and cottage, works and mart
Are suffering from the fatal bane;
Prison, asylum, refuge, home,
Are peopled with the victims slain.
“A Leprosy Is o’er the Land,”

winner of the National Anti-Gambling League’s hymn-writing competition, 1905 (Flavin, 2003)

 

  The earliest playing cards date from the eleventh century in Chinese Turkestan.  It was the French, in the fourteenth century, who first introduced the cards (ace through king) and suits (clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades) that we use today.  Other forms of gambling arose, often reflecting the culture of a country.  In Japanhana fuda uses cards with pictures of chrysanthemums, storks, and other national symbols.  The most common form of gambling in Japan is pachinko, a vertical pinball game with the same popularity as slot machines in the United States.  In India betting on cricket matches is big business along with traditional games introduced by the British when India was a colony.

  The first slot machines were invented in San Francisco in 1905 by Charles Fey.  The symbols started as hearts, spades, and diamonds, changed into the familiar fruits (e.g., cherries and oranges), and now have hundreds of symbols and even the faces of celebrities (Schwartz, 2006).

Gambling in America

  Three waves of gambling have swept the United States.  The first was from the settling of the United States until the mid-1800s.  Lotteries, popular for centuries in both Asia and Europe, were imported in the 1700s to the American colonies, where their proceeds were used to build roads, schools (e.g., Harvard and Yale), hospitals, and other public works (Dunstan, 1999).  Betting on horse races, cockfights, and dogfights was popular among gentry and farmers alike.  Gambling even financed some of the Revolutionary War, though certain antigambling laws were later passed by a number of the original 13 colonies as corruption and scandal brought lotteries to an end (Clotfelter, Cook, Edell, et al., 1999).

  The second wave began at the end of the Civil War in 1865 with the expansion of the western frontier.  Riverboat gambling on the Mississippi, saloon card games, roulette wheels, and dice games became part of the lore of the Wild West.  But, again, scandals and Victorian morality caused their demise around 1910 (Fleming, 1992).

  The third wave began in the 1930s with the legalization of gambling in Nevada and the opening of racetracks in 21 states.  New Hampshire rediscovered the state lottery in 1964, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s that gambling really took off with the opening of casinos in Atlantic City, the expansion of lotteries to 38 states, off-track betting, riverboat casinos, and finally the legalization of gambling casinos on American Indian lands.

  For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, gambling remained popular, though it was considered immoral and preyed on human weakness.  Gamblers have also been considered decadent, irresponsible, or insane.  The in the past 40 years, gambling has become a legal, respectable pastime.  By the mid-1990s all states except Hawaii and Utah had established some kind of gambling.  In addition, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, approved in 1988, had spurred a construction explosion of American Indian-run casinos.  By 2005 more than 220 of the 554 American Indian tribes in the United States collectively had 387 gambling facilities in 28 states.  Gaming revenues from 1998 to 2005 went from $220 million to $25.1 billion, the total being more than that of Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined (National Indian Gaming commission, 2007).

  State-supported lotteries were established through the 1980s and 1990s to supplement tax dollars and generate jobs.  From 1974 to 2004, the public increased its wagers on legal gambling from $17 billion to more than $500 billion per year, generating profits in 2004 of more than $65 billion.  The revenue is so large that just nine months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the GulfCoast and destroyed 12 floating casinos in August 2005, three were back in business with more on the way.  Some argue that legalized gambling imposes a very regressive tax on low-income gamblers.  The poor devote 2.5 times more of their income on gambling than does the middle class (National Research Council, 1999).

“I could be behind on bills for my electric, my rent, whatever…telephone, and I’ll be, like, ‘Well, I don’t have the money,’ but if I get the urge to go gamble, I’ll find a way that day to come up with a couple of hundred dollars.  Amazing what you can do.”

23-year-old compulsive sports gambler

  The growth in gambling has been explosive worldwide.  Besides the unfettered expansion of online gambling, many countries and travel destinations are expanding their gambling facilities.  Macau on the South China coast recently overtook Las Vegas as the number one gambling market in the world, with 2006 revenues of $6.9 billion.  It draws most of its visitors from Mainland China, especially since Portugal ceded the territory back to China in 1999 (Wiseman, 2007).  Even in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, casinos are being built to take advantage of the increasing income in developing countries.  In cities like Kapchagai and Shchuchinsk in this oil-rich republic, there are at least 132 casinos and 2,000 smaller gaming parlors (Greenberg, 2007).  In tandem with the desire to expand revenue from gambling is the concern of citizens that this growth in casinos and gambling will also bring more crime, corrupt the morals of the youth, and inflate housing costs.

Politics of Gambling

  Earl Grinols in his fine book Gambling in America:  Costs and Benefits (Grinols, 2004) dispels many of the myths regarding the economic benefits of gambling to a community and to a state.  Gambling interests emphasize the money that will come into a community from outside visitors, the jobs that will be created, and the tax revenues that will be generated.  Initially, the construction of the casino does bring in outside revenue, but soon the net flow of money reverses.  In a study of Illinois casinos, about 75% of casino visitors came from within 35 miles of the casino and only a few percent from more than 100 miles away.  Each dollar spent at the casino or buying state lottery tickets, playing state-owned slot machines, or betting on keno numbers is a dollar that is only partly recycled into the local community.  Grinols refers to this money as “cannibalized dollars,” not fresh infusions of money into the community.

  As for state income, Oregon is a good example.  The state collects about $380 million from its various gambling enterprises, about 7% of the state budget.  Gamblers have to lose three times that amount, however, for the state to get its percentage.  As a result, the social and economic costs of the gambling (i.e., embezzlement, lost working hours, unemployment, and state support) add up to $361 Million.  Despite this, politicians seem addicted to gambling money because they don’t have to appear to raise taxes to bring in extra state income.  Unfortunately, other tax revenues decline, so the overall benefit to the state is less than advertised.  Contributions to political campaigns in most states from gambling interests are as large as are contributions from the tobacco and alcohol industries. 

 Online Gambling

  With the increasing accessibility of the Internet in the 1990s and 2000s, on-line gambling exploded.  Revenues from a variety of games, including poker, roulette, dice, and even online slot machines, went from $445 million in 1997 to almost $15 billion worldwide in 2006, half of that from the United States (Wardell, 2006).  In October 2006, Congress passed a law criminalizing the processing of online wagers by U.S. banks and credit card companies.

“I would wait until my wife was asleep, about one or two in the morning, and I would go into the dining room where the computer was, and I would go to the thumbnail porn pictures or play Texas Holdem online.  I’d play for a couple of hours, lose a few hundred dollars, try to go back to bed, and wake up tired for the office.  It wasn’t until I blew $1,700 at online poker and I got a lousy job evaluation that I tried to get help.  Unfortunately, only Gamblers Anonymous was available, but I just celebrated my third GA birthday clean.”

28-year-old compulsive gambler/Internet addict

Problem & Pathological Gambling

  In classifying compulsive gamblers, the designations problem gambler and pathological gambler are used. 

Problem gambling is defined as gambling behavior that causes problems in any department of one’s life—psychological, physical, sociological, or vocational.

Pathological gambling adds the element of persistence, that is, continual and significant disruption of most departments of one’s life.

  Another common classification system divides gambling activity into four levels:  level 0 are those who have never gambled, level 1 are social or recreational gamblers, level 2 are problem gamblers, and lever 3 are pathological gamblers (Petry, 2005).

  In reality, because compulsive gambling is a progressive disease, the only difference between problem and pathological gambling are time and money.  According to estimates, the average problem gambler spends $3,000 per year whereas the pathological gambler loses $11,000 per year (Grinols, 2004).  Even when gamblers could be classified as having a gambling problem, however, they often suffer years of losses before seeking help.  The average indebtedness of gamblers entering Gamblers Anonymous is $60,000 for women and $100,000 for men.  Most have lost track of their life-time losses, which are often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  Losses are relative depending on the gambler’s income and resources.  Former drug czar William Bennett admits to losing $8 million; golfer John Daly admits to losing more than $50 million in the 1990s; superstar Michael Jordan talks about the millions he lost while still playing basketball; and Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, plays blackjack for $25,000 or more per hand—but they still have large amounts of money to live on.  The lower-income compulsive gambler who loses his paycheck, however, can’t pay his rent, put food on the table, or buy gas to get to work.

“I never, ‘til I got into desperate trouble at the end, felt that I was a gambler.  Never!  Never once heard the word compulsive gambling!  I’m sure I heard it.  Never has that registered yet in my mind.  Never heard the words Gambler’s Anonymous.  Never!  I wasn’t a gambler!”

42-year-old male pathological gambler

  In the early 2000s, most states had not adequately studied compulsive gambling nor had they established prevention or treatment programs.  Only Louisiana, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington had funded treatment programs.  Because of the proliferation of gambling outlets, 17 states now fund some kind of gambling treatment.  This is only right because so many governments encourage gambling and legitimize it.  The gambling industry often sees excess concern over compulsive gambling as an impediment to its growth because the majority of states’ and casinos’ gambling income derives from problem and especially pathological gamblers.  One study by Henry Lesieur, a pioneer in the field, found that problem and pathological gamblers lose 10 to 20 times as much as nonproblem gamblers (Lesieur, 2002).  In a study in Connecticut, 47% of casino patrons were pathological or problem gamblers even though they comprise less than 5% of the overall population (Bettor Choices, 2007).  In Minnesota 2% of the gamblers generated 63% of the state’s revenue (Tice, 1993).  A study of seven states found that more than half of their revenue came from problem or pathological gamblers, who represented only 1% to 5% of the public at large (Lesieur, 1998).

“Let me tell you the things that I know for sure.  I’ve spent my daughter’s future.  You want a money amount to it?  I know my husband has personally written checks, cashed checks for over $100,000 in the 13 years he’s been with me.  I know that personally I have gone through…I couldn’t begin to tell you how much.”

35-year-old female recovering gambler

  The media directly or indirectly supports gambling by publishing odds, sports scores, players’ injury reports, winning lottery number, stories of big winners, and ads for gambling excursions.  CNN Headline News offers a sports ticker listing running scores across the bottom of the screen.  There is also simultaneous picture-in-picture coverage of multiple games.

  Fear of betting scandals in the 2006 World Cup soccer championships led members of its governing body, the Federation Internationale de Football Association, to sign pledges that neither they nor their immediate families would wager on the tournament.  The referees who are so crucial to the game’s outcome were essentially sequestered for the duration of the tournament.

EPIDEMIOLOGY

  There is controversy over estimates of how many compulsive gamblers there are.  The confounding factor is that the sheer availability of gambling outlets has a dramatic effect on the number of pathological and problem gamblers.  In a state like Oregon, the percentage of compulsive and problem gamblers jumped dramatically as 11,000 poker machines, thousands of keno games, scratch-offs in every convenience store, and nine American Indian casinos delivered a chance to place a bet around every corner.

  An earlier meta-analysis study at HarvardMedicalSchool estimated that 125 million U.S. adults gamble and, of those, 2.2 million are pathological gamblers and 5.3 million are problem gamblers (Shaffer, Hall & Vander Bilt, 1999).  In addition, there are about 1.1 million adolescent pathological gamblers (National Research Council, 1999; Blume & Tavares, 2005).  Another study, by the University of Chicago, estimated the total number of adult gamblers at 148 million, pathological gamblers at 2.5 million, problem gamblers at 3 million, and those at risk for problem gambling at 15 million (NORC, 1999).  Those numbers have increased since the survey because the number of gambling outlets has grown along with the total amount of money bet.  Male compulsive gamblers outnumber female compulsive gamblers 2 or 3 to 1, although that ratio is changing due to the proliferation of slot machines (Cunningham-Williams & Cottler, 2001).  Women more than men seem to use gambling as a means of escape from depression, traumas, or relationship problems.  In Las Vegas almost half the members of Gamblers Anonymous are now women.  In addition, minorities seem to have a higher rate of pathological and problem gambling than Whites in the United States (Petry, 2005).

  The similarity of gambling to substance addictions is emphasized by the high rate of other addictions among pathological gamblers whether they are male or female; other behavioral and substance addictions occur in 25% to 63% of pathological gamblers (NORC, 1999).

“I didn’t see that one was just making the other worse.  The more drugs and alcohol I did, it seemed that I wanted to gamble more.  The more I gambled, if I lost especially, then I wanted to do more drugs.”  

24-year-old recovering compulsive gambler

  A recent major study of co-occurring disorders found that among pathological gamblers 73% had an alcohol problem, 38% had a drug problem, 60% smoked, 50% had a mood disorder, 41% had an anxiety disorder, and 60% had a personality disorder (Petry, Stinson, & Grant, 2005).  One confounding factor about co-occurring drug and gambling addictions is that gambling often becomes a problem when the person abstains from his or her other addiction.

“In our Gamblers Anonymous groups, many members have eight, 10, or more years of sobriety from alcohol but the replaced their drinking with heavy gambling.  A smaller percentage practiced both addictions simultaneously.  I know I wanted to stay sober when gambling, so I’d drink tons of coffee.”

45-year-old pathological gambler in recovery

  A recent trend has been the increase in older gamblers.  The greatest growth in gambling in the past 20 years has been among those over 65 years old (Gerstein, Murphy & Toce, 1999).  One survey of residential and assisted-care facilities found that 16% of their seniors go to casinos at least once a month on facility-sponsored trips, while the casinos themselves offer day trips to two-thirds of the facilities (McNeilly & Burke, 2001).  Senior day is most often the busiest time at casinos. 

“The greatest thing that compelled me toward gambling was the fact that I had lost all structure in my life.  I just felt like life had come to an end.  I am no longer important.  I am no longer needed.  I have retired.  The world is running on just fine without me.”

67-year-old recovering female compulsive gambler

  College students have a higher rate of pathological/problem gambling than the general population.  In a major study, 42% of 10,765 students in 119 different colleges said they had gambled weekly or even more frequently (LaBrie, Shaffer, LaPlante et al., 2003).  In contrast, a study in Connecticut, a state with more gambling outlets than most other states, 4% of female students and 18% of male students said gambling led to at least three negative life consequences (e.g., gambled more than intended, couldn’t pay bills).  Problem-gambling students were more likely to be smokers, heavy drinkers, and marijuana users (Engwall, Hunter & Stienberg, 2004).  Among college students, pathological gamblers were absent more often and got lower grades than other students.  Even high school students can get caught up in gambling.  A Canadian study of grades 7 through 13 found that 5.8% of students met the criteria for past-year problem gambling and an additional 7.5% met the criteria for at-risk gambling (Adlaf & Ialomiteanu, 2001). 

CHARACTERISTICS

  Besides pathological and problem gamblers, there are several other types.

Recreational/social gamblers.  These players are able to separate gambling from the rest of their lives; they are the majority of gamblers.

Professional gamblers.  These gamblers are able to take losses as part of the game.  It’s a business for them, and they are able to make a living at it.  Professionals used to be few and far between, but with increasing TV coverage, a dramatically larger pool of money, exponentially more tournaments, and lucrative sponsorships, this number is increasing.

Antisocial gamblers.  These individuals will steal to gamble and have no conscience; they can be compulsive gamblers as well.

  There are two subtypes of pathological or problem gamblers:  the action-seeker and the escape-seeker (although even action gamblers seek escape).  The action-seeking gambler is the stereotype:  frenetic, excited, and always in action although also wanting to escape.

“More than anything, I just wanted to be a big shot.  I didn’t care if I was winning or losing or if you saw me go back to the same place day after day after day.  Somebody was going to think, ‘God, this kid is a high roller or something because he’s here every single day.’”

23-year-old recovering action-seeking pathological gambler

  The other type that is growing in number, the escape-seeking gamblers, are often drawn to slot machines, especially poker machines (they are also called machine gamblers).  Unlike a good many action gamblers, these machine players were often responsible people with good jobs who for a variety of reasons (e.g., child leaves home, divorce, retires from job) begin gambling to escape their emotions or just to escape boredom.  Many experience the equivalent of a blackout while gambling, where hours pass without conscious awareness.

“There were no feelings.  That’s why I played it.  There were no feelings; blocked all the feelings; blocked all the stress; blocked all the anxiety.  There were no feelings.”

42-year-old recovering escape-seeking compulsive slot machine player

  Like other addictions, pathological gambling is a progressive disorder requiring more gambling episodes and larger bets to engender excitement and relieve anxiety.

  Symptoms of persistent recurrent pathological gambling (positive diagnosis with five or more of the following) are:

Preoccupation with gambling (reliving past gambling experiences, planning future ones);

Gambling with ever-increasing amounts of money;

Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling;

Restlessness and irritability when attempting to control, cut back, or stop;

Using gambling as an escape;

Attempts to recoup previous losses (chasing);

Lying to others to conceal gambling;

Illegal acts to finance gambling;

Jeopardizing or losing job, relationship, or educational or career opportunity; and

reliance on others to get bailed out of pressing debts (APA, 2000)

  A male pathological gambler often begins gambling as an early adolescent.  Female pathological gamblers typically begin later in life.  Both are more likely than the general population to have a parent who was a problem gambler.  One study found that the risk of heavy or compulsive gambling was 65% if the father gambled, 30% if the mother gambled, and 40% if a sibling gambled (Lesieur, Blume & Zoppa, 1986).

  Dr. Robert Custer, a clinician at the Brecksville, Ohio, VA hospital treatment unit, the first unit for compulsive gamblers, described three phases of gambling:  winning phase, losing phase, and desperation phase.  To these three, researcher Henry Lesieur and Robert Rosenthal added a fourth:  a giving-up phase.

Winning Phase

  Initially, gambling is recreational and pleasurable for the action-seeking gambler.  Bets are small and consequences are negligible.  The feelings that come from playing and winning or breaking even seem to satisfy the gambler.

“For me it was a rush—nothing like alcohol, nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced.  It was nervousness yet excitement; and if you won, you know, the excitement turned into happiness.  If you lost, you didn’t feel too good unless there was another race to bet on and you had more money.”

23-year-old recovering sports gambler

  Skills improve and the gambler becomes more confident and even over-confident in his or her abilities.  The winning phase can last one year or 10 years.  A winning phase doesn’t really exist for escape gamblers (such as poker machine, slot machine, keno, bingo, and lottery players) if they play on a regular basis.  They will have days where they win, but overall they will lose.  For them a good day is breaking even while staying in action for hours at a time.  The key to escape for all gamblers is to stay in action as long as possible—winning is secondary.

  Early on, for 70% to 80% of both action and escape gamblers, there was a big win that fueled the craving to gamble.  The amount could have been anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars; it’s all relative.  The big win to the gambler is like the first intense rush to the cocaine or heroin user—never forgotten and forever chased.

“I had a winning phase that lasted me for probably 12 to 15 years, and I actually lived on my gambling.  I thought I was a semiprofessional but I still did it in the closet.”

42-year-old male recovering compulsive gambler

  A gambler with a susceptibility to compulsion begins to devote more time and wager more money.  Stakes increase from nickel-and-dime poker, to $5 or $10, to table-stake games, while blackjack goes from $2 a hand to $20 on two different hands; sports bets escalate from $5 on the Super Bowl to $100 on 10 different football games on the weekend.  A $2 bet on the favorite at the racetrack ends up with $20 on the trifecta and $100 on every other race.  Day traders start by depositing $500 to cover their trades and soon up it to tens of thousands of dollars if they have a run of luck, good or bad.  The player comes to rely more and more on the high to deal with undesired moods and relationships or other problems.

“The longer you stay in action, for me anyways, the more I could escape from the reality of what my life really had become.”

43-year-old recovering action-seeking gambler

  They begin to believe in luck and magic to solve their problems.  They remember their wins and minimize their losses.  Their self-esteem is boosted by their gambling ability and, for action gamblers, the camaraderie of other gamblers.  Gambling increases heart rate significantly, and it remains elevated during gambling; cortisol (the stress hormone) also increases (Meyer, Hauffa, Schedlowski, et al., 2000).

Losing Phase

“I would talk less and less to the people around me.  I would play for hours and hours and hours till I was practically in a stupor.  We don’t stop to eat; we don’t stop to drink anything; we don’t stop to go to the bathroom; we don’t leave the machine for an instant.”

63-year-old female recovering pathological gambler

  A losing phase for both action and escape gamblers often starts with a losing streak that is inevitable due simply to the laws of chance; but if the gambler’s tolerance has increased and he is betting large sums, the suddenness of heavy indebtedness can be startling.  They try to recoup their losses, and they begin chasing their money.  A sports gambler may listen to three or four games simultaneously, while a compulsive stock or commodities speculator may call for quotes frequently or be glued to a quote screen.  Poker machine players will stay with specific machines and spend hundreds of dollars because they “just know the machine is ready to pay off.”  Again, the point is to stay in action.  Social, job, and family tensions multiply.  Gamblers may deny that there is a problem or may lie to conceal the amount of money involved or the frequency of their gambling.  Now emotional satisfaction, ego, self-esteem, and money are involved.  The magic is gone and, for the action gambler, the emotional anguish of appearing to be a loser can be overwhelming.  Chasing brings other changes in the gambler:  depression, lying, isolation, and irritability.  But even when losing, gamblers still rely on gambling for their emotional satisfaction.

“My mind told me, ‘Yes, you’re going to lose’; but your mind also tells you, ‘But if you do this, you don’t have to feel either.’  As long as you don’t have to feel the price you’re paying, whether it be weight gain or whether it be for the money, it is almost worth it at that point.”

44-year-old recovering compulsive gambler

  As losses multiply, the gambler tries to recover financially by gambling more, tries unsuccessfully to cut back, swears he or she will never gamble again (but always does), and often seeks a bailout to get out of trouble.

Desperation Phase

  In the end stages, which could take decades to develop or may take just a year, especially with machine players, pathological gamblers often lose jobs, max out credit cards, borrow from friends and family, and even turn to illegal activities like theft, embezzlement, and drug dealing.  Their desperation causes them to play badly because they lose patience and common sense.  They play too many hands in poker, they get mad at the slot machine and swear they won’t let a machine beat them, and their sense of being lucky turns into a lament that they are the unluckiest people in the world.

“After 15 years it got really bad in dollars—hundreds of thousands of dollars lost—loss of my marriage, my self-esteem, my vehicles, my homes.  At one other point in time, I lost my mother’s home.  I don’t even know how I got them [my parents] to sign on the dotted line.”

43-year-old recovering gambler

  Gamblers often bankrupt their families and suffer divorce or separation because of deteriorating family relationships, long absences from home, arguments over money, and indifference to the welfare of family members and others.

Giving-Up Phase

  At this stage pathological gamblers stop thinking they will win it all back and just want to stay in action so they don’t have to think.  Gamblers can experience elated moods when they win and mania, depression, panic attacks, insomnia, health problems, and suicidal thoughts or actual attempts when they lose.  One study of GA members found severe depression in 72% of those who say they have hit bottom; suicide attempts occurred in 17% to 24% of them (Linden, Pope & Jonas, 1986).

“Every time I get out from the casino, I want to kill myself.  Then it’s going to be over.  Then it’s going to end.  I tried to kill myself twice.  I took my car to the mountains.  I just wanted to—I decided I didn’t want the pain anymore.”

38-year-old recovering gambler

  Often the problems become so overwhelming that they can precipitate the final crisis that hopefully leads the pathological gambler into treatment rather than to suicide. 

UNDERSTANDING THE COMPULSIVE GAMBLER

  It is hard for social gamblers or nongamblers to understand the compulsive gambler.  One phrase that helps explain the difference is “It’s not about the money.”  This means that compulsive gamblers want the rush from a large win or the zoning out while gambling more than they want to achieve some financial goal.  Even when there is a win, its only value is that it allows the gambler to continue gambling.

“I would get a bigger rush from starting out the evening being down $1,000 and then fighting my way back to being only stuck $100 than I would from getting ahead a few hundred dollars and ending the evening ahead about the same amount.  People don’t get that.”

38-year-old Texas Holdem player

 

  Gambling is a binge activity, meaning that gamblers will keep gambling until they have no more access to money and have run out of people from whom to borrow.

 

“Toward the end of my card-playing career, I used to lose deliberately so I could leave the Holdem poker table.  As long as I had money, I couldn’t leave, literally.  I just had to keep going.  At least when I drank, I would pass out before I did too much damage.”

55-year-old male recovering pathological gambler

 

  In terms of recovery, more than one-third of all compulsive gamblers recover on their own, often due to a devastating financial loss.  For the others the options range from pharmacotherapy adjuncts such as antidepressants and anticraving drugs to gambling groups such as Gamblers Awareness in Oregon, which treats upward of 2,000 gamblers each year, to Gamblers Anonymous, which has chapters in all 50 states plus 45 countries worldwide.

GAMBLERS ANONYMOUS

  Gamblers Anonymous was formed in 1957 on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Its basic concept is to let problem/compulsive/pathological gamblers help themselves by developing spirituality and ultimately changing the way they live so they can stop gambling.  At present it is almost the only stopgap and hope between pathological gamblers and their addiction.

  GA lists several characteristics of the compulsive gambler, including immaturity, emotional insecurity, and an inability and unwillingness to accept reality.  These traits draw the problem gambler into a dream world that can lead to destruction.

“A compulsive gambler finds he or she is emotionally comfortable only when ‘in action.’  It is not uncommon to hear a Gamblers Anonymous member say, ‘The only time I felt like I belonged was when I was gambling.  Then I felt secure and comfortable.  No great demands were made upon me.  I knew I was destroying myself, yet at the same time I had a certain sense of security.’”

Gamblers Anonymous Combo Book (GA, 1998)

  The above statement is often read as part of a meeting.  Members also read the 12 steps and answer the 20 questions in the yellow meeting booklet that reminds gamblers of the havoc their addiction has had on themselves and their families.  It is also a good self-test for those who are not sure if they are problem or pathological gamblers.

THE 20 QUESTIONS OF GAMBLERS ANONYMOUS

Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?

Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?

Did gambling affect your reputation?

Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?

Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?

Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?

After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?

After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?

Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?

Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?

Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?

Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?

Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself and your family?

Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?

Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?

Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?

Did gambling cause you to have difficulty sleeping?

Do arguments, disappointments, or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?

Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?

Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

Most compulsive gamblers will answer yes to at least seven of these questions (GA, 1998)