Normalizing An Addiction


GORDONVILLE – Those commercials for new and improved medicines? I’m sure you have seen them. So hideously that you cover your eyes out of embarrassment for whomever was responsible.

We’ll get a brief description of the minor health issue the pills are for, followed by so many dire warnings and scary side effects – up to and including sudden death — that it seems better to just have cold fingertips or hot feet in the morning.

But give them credit for laying it all out, slowly and concisely.

I wish I can say the same for the cottage gambling industry that has placed a firm chokehold on our culture.

Yeah, everybody bets a little and doing it online is probably better than going through a bookie in a dark alley, but there still seems to be a sudden casual acceptance that I find a bit troubling.

At the end of the gambling commercials, commonplace on sports-talk radio stations and during sporting events, the voiceover is so rapidfire that you can barely make out the CYA 1-800-GAMBLER part and something quickly muttered about Gambler’s Anonymous.

What is troubling, and what has this racing up my list of burgeoning pet peeves, is that many regional and national sports heroes of our recent past are used as spokespeople (pawns, really) for these operations (don’t get me started on Pete Rose not going into Cooperstown but no Hall of Fame credentials getting yanked for these ex-jocks in need of a pay day).

The statistics back up a difficult fact that our country, especially at a time when people are at home more, is dealing with a gambling problem that is most prevalent in teens and young adults who are the most computer literate and almost see gambling as a video game without real consequences.

Compared to the immediacy of drug addition, gambling addiction is pretty much swept under the rug.

Consider the following:

-As many as 10 million Americans live with a gambling addiction. While the act of gambling itself is not illegal, making it easier justifies risky gambling behaviors.

-The numbers show that the majority of people who have a gambling addiction are not self-aware enough to see it as a problem. In fact, just 21 percent of incarcerated individuals assessed as having gambling addiction thought that their gambling was problematic.

-Gambling trends indicate dire consequences with the advent of the internet making gambling more accessible. As a result, the number of lives negatively affected by gambling has also increased.

Specifically, two areas where the addiction has hit hard is with college students and with domestic violence, as studies show it is more likely to occur when a parent is a compulsive gambler.

Children of gamblers, according to experts, are more prone to develop depression and substance abuse later in life.

According to a combination of national studies, 1 in 20 college students meet the criteria for compulsive gambling.

That rate is more than double that of the overall adult population. A major reason for these high rates seem to point to the accessibility of gambling through the internet, as some studies indicate that 23 percent of college students report gambling online (with 6 percent doing so weekly).

And then there is the issue of criminality. While gambling is legal in most states, there is still a connection to breaking the law, as about half of compulsive gamblers commit predictable crimes. All are committed in an attempt to get money to gamble with and/or to pay off debts.

The crimes range from forgery to fraud to petty theft, etc. As compulsive gambling increases, and primarily under the radar, the correlation with crime will as well

Don’t believe me, try these facts and figure on for size:

  • More than two-thirds of compulsive gamblers report committing crimes directly related to gambling, and approximately 40 percent of compulsive gamblers report the only crimes they commit are related to gambling.
  • Somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of individuals who attend Gamblers Anonymous report engaging in illegal acts to get money for gambling.
  • An estimated 63 percent of Gamblers Anonymous members reported writing bad checks, and approximately 30 percent reported stealing from work.
  • Nearly 70 percent of gamblers assessed as having a severe problem reported engaging in illegal acts relating to gambling, compared to roughly 26 percent assessed to have moderate severity.
  • A study of Gamblers Anonymous members found that 57 percent had stolen to finance their gambling with a combined financial impact of theft equaling $30 million.
  • Compulsive gamblers are arrested seven times more frequently than non-gamblers.

But there is more than all these damning facts and figures.

There are the personal stories.

For me, this all hits a little too close to home and rattles skeletons rattling around in my own closet.

My stepfather was a gambler. I was a kid, and not around on weekends (at my father’s house), so I don’t really know the full extent. Looking back now at some of the uneven behavior, a lot adds up that gambling was fueling an engine often running off the road.

The sins of the stepfather were not visited upon the stepson, as my chances placing a rare bet of more than $5 on anything are less than me dunking a basketball. And I was not the victim of any sort of physical abuse.

But there was some emotional abuse, and it got worse around the same time gambling became legal in Atlantic City.

After retiring, that’s where he and my mother lived half the year. I was already a young adult when we would visit, but I remember him Jonesing to finish dinner to go off and play Black Jack and Roulette.

He played so much that there were stretches where this casino or that one would comp him (he was also frequently comped on gambling junkets on cruise ships when they spent the other half of the year in Florida).

I was fine with it, staying in those rooms and eating in those exclusive restaurants, where he would still have ants in his pants to hit the casino with what seemed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy to lose.

He would win $5K and then lose it all back within 24 hours. It was a vicious cycle, and one we couldn’t wait to get away from after a night or two when the focus should have been more on, say, a young Sofia.

There were those who had it worse. There was a friend of my stepfather that he won a Jaguar from in a high-stakes poker game, which was reminiscent of him winning – and then losing – a West Philly diner in the late 1960s (I only heard that story as a whimsical remembrance).

Even though he kept at it, owned by his compulsion (common in older men to the tune of 69 percent), he always said gambling was a game for losers and that the house always wins.

That was enough for me. For these young people I see placing bets on their phones like fiends? I’m not so sure.

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