Understanding Gambling

The facts about a hazardous addiction.

by Jeri Darby

Gambling will consume your last cent and leave you frantically seeking new sources of cash. It has an insatiable appetite, demanding more and more. It is a vice, or a bad habit. But while everyone has vices in a general sense, not all vices are cash eaters.

How popular is gambling? What is its attraction, and what can someone do who is addicted to it?

Social gambling

At one time, gambling was legal in only two states. Today it is legal in all but two states. Social gamblers are among those populating these legalized regions, looking to gambling for entertainment. It is not a challenge for them to walk away with minimal losses or gains.

While some people never progress beyond social limits, others teeter on the edge and one day realize they have crossed the line to addiction. Even innocent kiddy games like bingo can begin a person down a path ending in destruction.

Distorted reality

Across this line reality becomes distorted. Denial blinds gambling victims to the severity of their addiction. It prevents the concern and sound reasoning of others from penetrating. The late comedian Mitch Hedberg once said, “I like to play blackjack. I’m not addicted to gambling; I’m addicted to sitting in a semicircle.”

Humor is typical of many gamblers in covering their problem while discounting its severity. Meanwhile, the addiction chisels away their happy-go-lucky façade. In the deceptive casino glitter, gamblers lose their awareness of time, wagering bet after bet, oblivious to future financial integrity. Considering this scenario, the prevalence of gambling in this country is no laughing matter.

Hard facts

Research estimates that there are about “2½ million pathological, or addicted, gamblers, 3 million problem gamblers, and about 15 million at-risk gamblers living in the United States.”1

Often referred to as gaming, gambling had 2005 total revenues of $84.65 billion. States that supported increased gambling reaped large profits for themselves, while individuals gripped in the vice of gambling suffered tremendous losses. How would the benefits be calculated if the costs could be accurately assessed?

Faulty help

One gesture of the gaming industry toward the adverse results of increased gambling has been to post 800 numbers in casinos. The gambler is encouraged to phone if he feels out of control.

These people lack the discipline to throw in the chips or reach for a phone even when facing imminent disaster. They tend to point at others in worse condition as indelible proof that they’re OK. Once again, they bury the reality of their problem.

Three components

Addiction has three components: craving (compulsion), loss of control, and continuance of behavior despite negative impact.

Craving (compulsion) may be accompanied by restlessness, anxiety, and agitation. The gambler may experience racing thoughts, preoccupation, and sweaty palms.

When the person continues to gamble, she has lost control. She’ll empty pockets, purses, and bank accounts to bet on gaming activities.

In the last component, the gambler continues the behavior, oblivious to the destruction taking place in her life. Some pathological gamblers can take as long as ten years before plunking to bottom. They lose jobs, homes, marriages, family, and friends. Unable to bear the emotional aftermath, some end their lives, blinded to other resources they could have sought for help.

Internet gambling

Once the gambler continues her behavior, she becomes pathological. Thanks to the Internet, pathological gamblers can now remain incognito while demolishing their lives. They can gamble in the privacy of their homes.

Cyberspace is packed with articles on beating the odds, explaining illusionary tactics to increase winnings. In reality, low rollers and high rollers alike are found beaten and broken at the feet of gambling.

Easy access

Society doesn’t make it simple to escape the snare of this addiction. Lottery drawings twice daily are becoming popular in many states. Most service stations have alluring displays of scratch-offs dangling at eye level. Clerks at convenience stores often ask customers if they’d like to purchase a scratch-off ticket.

Checkout lines are filled with people waiting to play their lottery hunches. In these lines the recovering gambler battles the urge to dabble. She understands the risks are just too great.

Getting help

Are you wrestling to free yourself from the gambling trap? Read and answer honestly the twenty questions. Recognizing and confessing are the first steps to breaking free of addiction. Various treatment options are available.

There is hope! Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), the philosopher and mathematician, said, “We implore the mercy of God, not that He may leave us at peace in our vices, but that He may deliver us from them.” God can and He will deliver you. Just ask.

  1. State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services www.dmhas.state.ct.us/
  2. American Gaming Association www.americangaming.org/ Industry/factsheets/statistics_detail. cfv?id=7