WHAT GAMBLING LOOKED LIKE IN 1968 / TODAY

I stopped gambling on April 10, 1968. At that time gambling in America looked very different than it does today. Legal casinos were only in Las Vegas. There was no such thing as Internet gambling. There were no cell phones. There were no credit cards or ATM machines. There weren’t any check cashing privileges at racetracks. Off track betting, Simulcasting , or telephone betting did not exist. There were no phones at the racetrack. Only three states had a lottery. Riverboats were a tourist attraction along the Mississippi River (not gambling facilities). There were no toll free 800 numbers to call to buy information on what games to bet on. Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon family groups, only had meetings in a few states. The Superbowl was only in its’ second year and there was no Monday night football.

Compulsive gambling is a progressive disease, much like an addiction to alcohol or drugs. In many cases, the gambling addiction is hidden until the gambler becomes unable to function without gambling, and he or she begins to exclude all other activities from their lives. Inability to stop gambling often results in financial devastation, broken homes, employment problems, criminal acts and suicide attempts.

Since 1980 the American Psychiatric Association has included a diagnosis for Pathological (Compulsive) Gambling in their manual. It is considered a disorder that responds to treatment.

Compulsive gambling has some similarities to other addictions (i.e. chemical addiction or alcoholism). The gambler uses gambling to “get high” or to numb themselves, by escaping into a dream world of gambling. However, compulsive gamblers do not ingest anything and therefore, do not have any visual signs such as track marks, dilated pupils. This adds to the denial of this illness, since the person still appears “normal”.

The gambler is eventually able to remove themselves from reality to the point of being totally obsessed with gambling. Eventually, they will do anything to get the money with which to stay in “action”. They will spend all their time and energy developing schemes in order to get the money to continue gambling. Lying becomes a way of life for the gambler. They will try to convince others and themselves that their lies are actually truths.

For the spouse or family member of the gambler,ESPEPIALLY THE SPOUSE OF THE FEMALE GAMBLER, the effects of compulsive gambling can be devastating. Financially, emotionally and mentally, they will be drained of all their energy and resources. The worst thing any family member can ever do is to bail out the compulsive gambler from their financial pressures. Money is the “drug” that the gambler uses.

Our society views gambling as “fun and games”. For many people, that is the case.

Gambling is glamorized in the movies, on TV and in the media. One prime example is the fact that when you open your local newspaper you can get the odds and point spreads on almost every sporting event that will take place, nationwide, even though you can’t place a legal bet in America, except in Las Vegas. Some newspapers are even running “poker” columns and treating the game of poker as a “sport”. Another example is the sports talk shows and nightly news shows that tell you who to pick and what point spreads to take.

The lottery has become a national event on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s the lead story on the nightly news. I’ve seen advertising when a Governor of a state, holds up a lottery ticket and suggests that citizens are helping worthy causes if they buy a lottery ticket. If that same Governor had held up a bottle of alcohol and suggested that sales taxes would help the state, people would be outraged. When I was the Executive Director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of NJ, we hired Gallop to do a survey. Two of the questions were: “have you ever played illegal numbers?” (31 % said they did.) and “do you play legal lottery?’( 81% said they did).

Poker is sweeping the nation and the world. It is the hottest thing on college campuses. It is easier to play poker then it is to buy cigarettes or a can of beer on campuses all over the country. In the 37 years that I have been helping compulsive gamblers, I have never seen anything explode like poker has. One third of all the callers to our help line (888 LAST BET) are either parents of young gamblers or young people who have the problem. I have spoken to college students who play poker day and night. They even play during class. It has become such an enormous craze that poker paraphernalia is one of the biggest selling items in stores, today.

You can’t surf the TV without seeing some kind of poker tournament being televised, and you can’t be on your computer without seeing a pop up about poker or receiving an email inviting you to come to a poker site to play. They often invite you to play for free, and after awhile you will get invited to switch over to live poker games for money.

Some of the people (both youngsters and adults) are becoming addicted to poker. Not everyone who plays, will develop a compulsive gambling problem, but there are those who will get caught up in the craze and then cross that invisible line which will lead to destruction. Since Compulsive Gambling is an impulse disorder, the fact that someone can “play” at any time, day or night and anywhere (home, college dorm or office) increases the chances of the person becoming addicted.

According to a Harvard study a few years ago, 4.67% of young people have a gambling problem. Experts tell us that the earlier a person starts to gamble, the greater the risk of them becoming a compulsive gambler. In another survey, 96% of adult male recovering gamblers’ stated that they started gambling before the age of 14. With this poker explosion, we envision that the average age of people seeking help for a gambling problem will be much younger in the next few years. It seems to me that there must be education and prevention programs for young people (from grade school through college) similar to those programs for drugs and alcohol.

I think it’s important to note that it is not just young people that have this problem.

The gambling experience (both legal and illegal) is much more available in our society, today. This disease cuts across all cultural, social and economic aspects of society. I believe that there are more active compulsive gamblers, today, then in any other time in our history.

I HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT YEARS AGO WHEN SOMEONE GOT TO A GAMBLERS ANONYMOUS MEETING IF THERE WERE 1 OR 2 WOMEN AT THE MEETING THAT WAS RARE. TODAY IF YOU GO TO A GAMBLERS ANONYMOUS MEETING IN SOME CASE YOU WILL SEE MORE WOMEN THEN MEN.TWENTY YEARS AGO 5% OF CALLS TO HOTLINES WERE FROM WOMEN TODAY SOME HOTLINES REPORT OVER 55% OF THE CALLS ARE FROM WOMEN GAMBLERS.

SO MANY CASES OF WOMEN ARE SHOWING UP IN COURTS TODAY BECAUSE THEY EMBEZZLED $ TO SUPPORT THERE GAMBLING ADDICTIONS.

ABOUT ½ THE CALLS WE GET ON OUR

888 LAST BET HELPLINE ARE FROM WOMEN NSEEKING HELP

The shame and guilt hits the female gambler harder than with the male,” he said. “When I talk with male gamblers, sometimes it takes two or three times before they go for help. Sometimes it takes two or three years before a female seeks help.

You can get up in the middle of the night and gamble on the Internet in your birthday suit And you don’t even have to put gasoline in your car to travel anyplace.

Last summer, I did a segment for NBC’s “Today” show about gambling. A 57-year-old woman videotaped it and watched it at least once a week. She finally called A YEAR LATER for help.

There is help for the compulsive gambler and their families in the form of Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon, internationally. Gamblers Anonymous is a 12- step, self help program for the compulsive gambler. Gam-Anon is for those affected by a gambling problem.

Some people may have a need for professional treatment services, as well. Unfortunately, there are not that many facilities available. In addition, when the gambler “bottoms out”, he/ or she usually has no funds to pay for these services. Most insurance companies do not cover compulsive gambling treatment. A few states have funded programs, but more is needed.

People need to understand that although compulsive gambling is a devastating addiction, you can recover and live a productive and wonderful life. I know from my own experience that this is possible. I, like many others, lived every day in the grips of hopelessness because I couldn’t stop gambling. I used to go to bed at night hoping and praying that I would not wake up so that I wouldn’t have to face the next day. Today, I can’t wait to wake up in the morning and enjoy another day without gambling.

ARNIE WEXLER CCCG

Arnie and his wife Sheila run a consulting firm to help educate the public on the problem of compulsive gambling. They can be reached at www.aswexler.com .

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