LADY LUCK CAN CHANGE YOUR FORTUNE: FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE
Lori Z. Bahnmueller
Michigan Credit Union League - Your Money Matters
PLYMOUTH, Mich., April, 1999 — Last September, my parents and I trekked from Oakland County to Houghton-Hancock in a business/pleasure trip that found Michigan beaming in full fall splendor. It was my first color tour and the trees did not disappoint. The landscape was peppered with kaleidoscopic color — though the trees weren’t the only things flashing reds, yellows and greens.
From Mount Pleasant to Baraga, casino lights plead, taunt and tease passersby to try their luck. Our state is fast becoming rich with casinos — though it is uncertain whether its residents are any richer because of them.
There are between three million and 10 million compulsive gamblers in the U.S., according to the National Council on Compulsive Gambling in Columbia, Md. Thanks to increased access to legalized gambling, including lotteries and casinos, the addiction is reaching out to new audiences. Women now represent 30 percent of all compulsive gamblers on record.
Edward Looney, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey in Trenton (www.800gambler.org), says there’s been an incredible growth of gambling debt in the 1990s. Compulsive gamblers calling the 1-800-Gambler HelpLine in 1997 reported average gambling debts of $36,185, a figure 17 percent higher than in 1996 and 28 percent higher than in 1995. A New Jersey survey indicated that approximately 5 percent of the adult population that gambles have gambling addiction problems, Looney says.
What differentiates a social gambler from someone addicted to the thrills of big wins and losses? Gamblers Anonymous International Service Office, Los Angeles, a group founded and based on the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, has developed a list of 20 questions to help people tell when it’s time to seek help. (To contact Gamblers Anonymous, call 213-386-8789 or visit its Web site at www.gamblersanonymous.org).
Morri Behrman, Director of Information Services for the Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling in Ontario (www.cfcg.on.ca), says that in many cases, compulsive gambling leads to crime. In fact, the American Insurance Association in Washington, D.C., calls compulsive gambling the main cause of white-collar crime.
“We’ve had heads of banks in Ontario who have stolen $10 million to $12 million,” Behrman told Home & Family Finance. Although these cases are rare, and whit-collar crime involving gambling can affect everyone from the head of the corporation to the offices of the cleaner, it shows how serious crimes can become to fund a gambling habit.
Behrman stresses that gambling is much like alcoholism or drug addiction, in that the addict usually starts with small amounts of what they’re addicted to but gain tolerance over time. This causes the compulsive gambler to bet bigger and bigger sums, often until the results are catastrophic.
“Often, when gamblers steal, they genuinely believe they’re borrowing,” Behrman says. Most are just waiting until that “big win” to pay back the people or institutions they borrowed from.
For that reason, it’s important that any gambling recovery program involve financial planning. Like alcoholism and drug addiction, compulsive gambling affects not just the addict but family, loved ones, and friends. Unfortunately, it can involve employers, repossessors, and loan sharks.
Are you living with a compulsive gambler?
Here’s a sampling of some 20 questions from Gam-Anon to determine if you’re living with a compulsive gambler. The organization is a support group for friends and family members of gambling addicts.
1. Do you find yourself constantly bothered by bill collectors?
2. Is the person often away from home for long, unexplained periods of time?
3. Does this person ever lose time from work due to gambling?
4. Do you feel that this person cannot be trusted with money?
5. Does the person faithfully promise that he or she will stop gambling; beg, plead for another chance, yet gamble again and again?
6. Does this person immediately return to gambling to try to recover losses, or to win more?
7. Does this person ever gamble longer than he or she intended to, until the last dollar is gone?
8. Does this person ever gamble to get money to solve financial difficulties or have unrealistic expectations that gambling will bring the family material comfort and wealth?
9. Does this person borrow money to gamble with or to pay gambling debts?
10. Has this person’s reputation ever suffered due to gambling, even to the extent of committing illegal acts to finance gambling?
11. Have you come to the point of hiding money needed for living expenses, knowing that you and the reset of the family may go without food and clothing if you do not?
12. Do you search this person’s clothing or go through his or her wallet when the opportunity presents itself, or otherwise check on his/her activities?
13. Does this person hide money?
It is possible to find an active Gam-Anon chapter in most cities. For information about your nearest Gam-Anon chapter, contact: Gam-Anon International Service Office, Inc., P.O. Box 570157, Whitestone, NY 11357-0157. The telephone number is 718/352-1671.