When Will Sports Confront Gambling Problems of Its Own Athletes?

It is a problem sports teams hope you don’t think about. The time to fix it is now, say an obsessive-gambling expert.

By Arnie Wexler

As the cheers and jeers slowly quiet down for the 2009 World Champion New York Yankees, a festering problem throughout many sports remains: No, I am not talking about steroids. The problem is compulsive gambling by athletes.

Athletes may be more vulnerable than the general population when you look at the soft signs of compulsive gambling: high Levels of energy; unreasonable expectations of winning; very competitive personalities; distorted optimism; and bright with high IQs

It is time for college and professional sports to outline and executive a real program to help players who might have a gambling problem or gambling addiction problem. Yet college and professional sports still do not want to deal with this. They do not want the media and public to think there is a problem.

Ten years ago, as a compulsive-gamblers counselor, I went to the National Basketball Association office in Manhattan and met with league officials, players and union officials, concerned about players’ gambling. I was told, “We have a problem, and we’re trying to find out how bad the problem is” Officials asked me to keep my calendar open for the spring of the following year and said to me that they hoped that I might address every team in the league.

When I hadn’t heard from the NBA, I called and asked, “When do we start?” The talked were cancelled, and the response I got was this: “They said that the higher-ups didn’t want the media to find out”

And over the years, I have spoken to many college and professional athletes who had a gambling problem. One NCAA study a few years ago reported: “There is a disturbing trend of gambling among athletes in college” You can’t think that these people will get into the pros and then just stop gambling.

Compulsive gambling is an addiction just like alcoholism and chemical dependency, and all three diseases are recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic and statistical manual. Nevertheless, we treat compulsive gambling differently than the other two addictions. Society and professional sports treat people with chemical dependency and alcoholism as sick persons, send them to treatment and get them back to work. Sports looks at compulsive gamblers as bad people and gets barred them from playing in professional sports.

If colleges and professional leagues wanted to help the players, they would run real programs that seriously address the issue of gambling and compulsive gambling. Education and early detection can make a difference between life and death for some people who have or will end up with a gambling addiction.

One sports insider said to me: “Teams need to have a real program for players, coaches and referees, and they need to let somebody else run it. When you do it in-house, it’s like the fox running the chicken coop. You must be kidding yourself if you think any player, coach or referee is going to call the league and say, ‘I’ve got a gambling problem, and I need help.’ ”

When you look at the headlines about professional athletes, coaches and referees on the perils of gambling, odds are very good that might be looking at the tip of the iceberg. Here are several from the recent past:

= Pete Rose [on the Donahue show, November 1989]: “I didn’t seek help for my gambling problem until the middle of September, and I know it’s something I can’t lick by myself. I need help”

= Charles Barkley troubled by gambling addiction problem.

= Dolphins’ Will Allen investigated for pulling out gun in dispute over gambling debts.

= Antoine Walker has a scheduled court in Las Vegas in a case involving an $822,500 gambling debt.

= An arrest warrant for Shawn Chacon as a result of his alleged failure to pay Caesars Palace $150,000 in gambling markers.

= John Daly says gambling problem will “ruin me” and says he has lost between $50 million and $60 million during 12 years of heavy gambling .

= Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko was at the center of the match-fixing controversy in tennis.

= Michael Jordan was spotted at the baccarat pit of an Atlantic City casino in the wee hours of the morning before game two of the Eastern Conference Finals.

= Art Schlichter spent a decade in prison: “Ten years, seven months and two weeks, inside 44 various jails or prisons” because of gambling addiction.

= NBA referee Tim Donaghy is now in recovery for his gambling addiction. (From Tim Donaghy’s book if ever released: “I kept waiting for a Knicks game when Stafford, Bavetta and Kersey were working together. It was like knowing the winning lottery numbers before the drawing!”)

= March 1991: Lenny Dykstra, a notorious high-stakes bettor, was linked to a gambling probe in Mississippi.

= Paul Lo Duca says he bets with off-shore bookies, which, he claims, is legal. Running up big gambling debts — or even being perceived as a heavy gambler — leads to serious trouble. (What’s interesting about is that neither Major League Baseball nor the Mets seem bothered about the reports. Oh, the commissioner’s office mumbled something about gambling being bad.)

There are people in various sport’s halls of fame who are convicted drug addicts and alcoholics, yet compulsive gamblers are unable to get into these halls of fame. In fact, as far as professional sports goes, an alcoholic and chemical dependent person can get multiple chances, whereas a gambler cannot.

I am a recovering compulsive gambler who placed my last bet on April, 10, 1968, and I have been fighting the injustice of how sports, society and the judicial system deal with compulsive gamblers for the last 40 years. I run a national help line: 1-888-LAST BET.

Arnie Wexler (aswexler@aol.com)
Arnie & Sheila Wexler Associates
213 Third Avenue
Bradley Beach, New Jersey 07720
Office #: 561-200-0165
Cell#: 954-501-5270

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