National Gambling Awareness Week

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
March 7, 2009

                Jim Bassage, prevention director of the Steuben Council on Addictions in Bath, has called for more attention to gambling addictions that result from land casino and lottery ticket gambling in light of National Gambling Awareness Week. According to Bassage, Steuben County, NY has lost its Gamblers Anonymous Center, and unlike online casinos, land casinos and national lotteries do not provide appropriate means for seeking treatment of problem gambling.

                “Because we don’t have that focal point like the Salamanca casino or Tioga’s raceway to bring the problem to head I don’t think we recognize the problem because it doesn’t come home to roost,” said Bassage, whose program is part of Catholic Charities in Steuben County.

                While nearly every online casino promotes its commitment to responsible gaming by providing resources for gambling addictions, Bassage notes that several local agencies organize trips to casinos and gambling is available at any convenience store in the form of lottery tickets and scratch off tickets – but that there is no means for local treatment of gambling addictions.

                “One of the unfortunate things about (Steuben County) is that we don’t have anybody providing gambling counseling services,” Bassage continued.

                He notes that those with problem gambling habits are prompted to contact DePaul Addiction Services in Rochester, NY, because there are no county programs available as the Gamblers Anonymous program recently disbanded due to a lack of participation. According to Joyce Bassett, who worked with the Steuben County GA, and now councils gambling addicts in DePaul, most gamblers hide their addictions and therefore have trouble seeking help.

                “It’s not different than alcohol or drugs. It shows no discrimination and people hide this addiction. The compulsive gambler is there until the last dollar is spent,” said Bassett, who was a compulsive gambler for nearly 27 years, having developed an addiction to bingo at age 9, moving up to Pokeno, blackjack and video poker.

                “What started out in quarters turned out to be hundreds of dollars daily. In a matter of two and a half years I was $80,000 in debt. I was one day from prostitution and one day from dealing drugs, writing bad checks and not paying back any of the money I owed,” she continued. “I don’t even flip a coin today. Not to say that it’s easy, the addiction is still there.”

                Bassett feels that young people, who frequent the world wide web, are more prone to gambling addictions than were in her day, although there are more resources available for help. But because a gambling addiction is often hidden by the person suffering from it, not all problem gamblers take advantage of these resources.

                “With gambling online all you need is a credit card,” said Bassett. However, just as with land casinos, there are age restrictions in online casino websites, and any reputable site will require a valid form of identification before allowing a person to gamble for real money.

Bassett noted that land casinos provide plenty of ways to lure gamers. “Out west they provide free oxygen and transportation to senior citizens to keep them going.”

Some 14 percent of New York youths are at risk of developing a gambling addiction, and studies show that suicide rates are higher with compulsive gamblers. “The suicide rate is higher with this addiction than any others. One, financial drain causes people to think right away that people will be better without them. Two, self esteem is a big part of it. They don’t like who they become. I know I never tried to commit suicide, but I didn’t care if I lived or died. If I didn’t wake up it wouldn’t have mattered,” Bassett recalls.

Gambling addictions are described as an impulse control disorder, a personality disorder characterized by an inability to resist the impulse to perform an action that may be harmful to one’s self or others. The most common impulses associated with ICD are intermittent explosive disorder, kleptomania, pyromania, compulsive gambling and trichotillomania.

Pathological gambling occurs in roughly 1-3% of the population and involves excessive gambling despite heavy monetary losses. The loss may in actuality motivate the individual to continue gambling to attempt to earn back some of what was lost.

While the cause of impulse control disorders is not fully understood, researchers say that individuals with serious head injuries and epilepsy are at a higher risk for developing them. In 2004, several study groups claimed that older adults with Parkinson’s disease become compulsive gamblers as the diseases progresses and it is thought that the gambling addiction is the side effect of dopaminergic drugs used to treat the disease.

Carcinoid syndrome is also associated with impulse control disorders. In a group of 20 consecutive patients with the syndrome, 75 percent met DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for one or another impulse control disorders. The study group surmised that the excessive amounts of serotonin produced by carcinoid tumors may lead to the disorder.

For a diagnosis of pathological gambling, five or more of the following symptoms must be present:

1. The individual is preoccupied with gambling (i.e. preoccupied    with reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble.

2. The individual needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.

3. The individual has repeated unsuccessful efforts at stopping.

4. The individual is restless or irritable with attempting to cut down.

5. The individual gambles as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (i.e., feeling of helplessness, guilty, anxiety, and depression).

6. The individual after losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even ("chasing" one’s losses).

7. The individual lies to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.

8. The individual has committed illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement to finance gambling.

9. The individual has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, education or career opportunity because of gambling.

10.The individual relies on others to provide money or relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling.

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