Annually the month of March provides an opportunity to focus on an aspect of gambling that doesn’t always come to light for many people when you think about gambling or the gaming industry. Each year thousands of Iowan’s across the state seek out help for a gambling related issue. Many of those calls that come in are not just from the gambler, but from those that have been impacted by a problem gambler (concerned person). Unlike with alcohol or substance abuse, a gambling addiction can and in most cases go on for a much longer period of time, allowing the disease to take hold of not only the individual but also the people around them and their community. Problem Gambling Awareness Month is an opportunity for agencies like Prelude to join with the Governor’s office to focus on providing additional awareness within the areas they serve and work with their local casino to promote responsible gaming.
When considering the demographic of who we would assume had a gambling issue has drastically changed over the years. In the 1980’s, if you were to talk to someone about who a problem gambler is, they would tell you that they were male, older (55+) and that their game of choice was Poker. To imagine back then that a person could be addicted to a simple slot machine, seemed for many to be ridiculous. Fast forward to 2018, and times have changed across the country. Last fiscal year, agencies across the state of Iowa admitted 216 individuals to the gambling treatment program (1-800-BETS OFF). Of that, 109 noted that their primary form of gambling was slot machines and only 39 stated it was table games like Poker. Males accounted for 51% of those needing help. With technology playing such a major role in our lives, individuals seek out a quicker response with little effort and no down time. As we progress more with technology and it ever evolving into new forms and creating more accessibility, gamblers won’t have to wait for the turn of a card to happen in front of them, but by a simple swipe, click of a button or tap on their handheld smart device, they can and will be able to do it from anywhere in the world.
The addiction to gambling itself is in many ways mentally the same as it would be for someone with a substance abuse or alcohol addiction. When asking problem gamblers in the program why they gambled, it was contrary to what the general public assumed. It’s never about the money, but what the casino or lottery retailer provides them, which is simple escape. One of the first gamblers I ever met almost 8 years ago said that when he would walk into a casino, it was like walking into a church when he was a child, that the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders. In the moment, I couldn’t figure out how a church could be the same as a casino, but in reality, we all have our own “church” to go to that provides us that escape. Home, work, school, friend’s house, bar, restaurant, casino, club/ball field, each of us has a place that we can go and feel like we can leave our problems, frustrations or issues at the door. The downside is that when we walk out of our place, the problems and frustrations are there and they only got worse. For gamblers, though, because you can’t see and smell a gambling problem, they are capable of covering it for a longer period of time, and in some cases even more than a decade from their families and friends.
Problem gamblers will go to great lengths to cover up their addiction. A problem gambler is only capable of surviving if they have enough funds to drive their addiction. What may start out as a form of entertainment and a social outing gradually increases into a disease that takes hold of their finances and their lives. Problem gamblers will start out by borrowing money from people that they know, telling them that they had an unexpected bill come up or in many cases play to the victims weakness as to what they know would generate a handout of whatever amount they need. The gambler will progressively start to go out to the casino more often and always alone. Taking longer lunches, showing up to work late and leaving early are hallmarks to a gamblers daily cycle. For the gambler who has family obligations, the addiction doesn’t limit itself to a 9-5 day. Missing family functions and creating excuses as to where they were and what they were doing becomes second nature to them only to know that the truth is they were mentally crippled by the lights and comfort of the machine right in front of them. The “borrowing” of money gets to a point where they are just downright stealing. They steal from one person with the thought to pay it back, when in reality, the payback will never happen. Maxing out credit cards, selling personal belongings, taking against their retirement and falling behind on fixed expenses are all key signs of someone who has a gambling problem.
Each gambler is different, but it’s important to know what to look for and how to approach them. By asking the right questions and listening to what they talk about can tip a person off to a gambler. Does the person always talk about wanting to go to the casino or aspects of gambling? Does the person always talk about the “free” items that the casino provides them? Money is a driving force and if a gambler always talks about their wins, why not ask about their losses? I won $500.00!! Great, how much did you spend to win that and what did you do with the money you won?Help has been available through 1-800-BETS OFF for several decades. Hope and help are there for anyone that feels they may struggle with a gambling issue or have someone close to them that does. Information is available over the phone, online or can be mailed to you. Be aware of those around you and the struggles that someone might be facing. If you’re not sure, additional information can be found at Yourlifeiowa.org.