I have a confession to make (and maybe my mother won’t read this). Last year when my husband and I toured several states out west with one of his brothers, I actually entertained the thought of doing a little gambling when we got to Las Vegas. A little playing of slot machines, at least. I know plenty of people I respect who have, and I wanted to know what that was all about. I was excited to walk into the huge, overwhelming casino of the hotel we stayed in. So this was Vegas!
“Compulsive gambling is one of the purest forms of psychological addiction known—gamblers are stimulated by gambling and actually get high on it.”
—Dr. Robert Custer
My enthusiasm quickly morphed into some pretty stressful anxiety: like dummies, we split into two parties, my husband trying to find a place to park, and my brother-in-law and I waiting in line to check in. But we could not find where to check in, and after parking the car, my husband had no idea what hotel door to enter to find us. The check-in line was deep in the lobby and not visible from the entrance at all. Where were we, he wondered? For a while I was also separated from his brother—who didn’t have a cell phone. And our cell phone reception was only spotty inside. Would we all eventually find each other?
That was only the beginning of not the greatest night on the town in Las Vegas. (I’m sure Vegas will suffer not at all from my slightly negative review.)
I have a revision for the popular advertising slogan “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” It stays in Vegas because they want you to stay in Vegas (designing casinos so you can never find your way out). It was the most frustrating place to navigate I’ve ever been in.
I’ll save you from a blow-by-blow recounting of our evening, such as discovering that even with the highly advertised discounts on casino buffets, the cost was still too steep for our budget; to a casino guide printed with such small type that no one over the age of 50 could read it (aren’t seniors among those they especially try to attract, anyway?); to having Popeye’s chicken from the hotel food court in our hotel room because that was about the only thing we could afford. It was not a pleasant picture. But navigating was the biggest hassle, and we had to ask numerous staff for directions. At last we scored “evening entertainment” by paying one fee to ride the monorail up and down the Strip. By not getting out after one trip, we could cruise the Strip the second time for free. Whee. Heavy rollers, this threesome from Virginia.
But an addiction to gambling is no laughing matter, for sure. I’ve known of families who’ve been utterly destroyed by a gambling problem.
While the rate of official addiction is not that high—just 1 to 5 percent of U.S. adults, according to www.onhealth.com—teens are affected at a rate twice that. Men have traditionally been the heaviest gamblers, but this website says that women are developing this addiction at higher rates than ever before.
The article even mentions Bingo. By its description, an obsessed player could be considered to be gambling. But I would not be quick to judge anyone sitting down in a Bingo hall or county fair Bingo tent. In those settings, people play and know the money they lose with every round is going to a worthy community or charitable cause. You might also guess that I am one of those occasional Bingo players. And I wouldn’t have had to go clear to Vegas to do heavy duty gambling—it is all available online and can be a particularly hard lure to fight when you are bored, lonely, and forever trying to win back what you lose.
I would say that buying regular lottery tickets—especially when it becomes a fixation—qualifies as gambling, especially when an individual spends more than the family budget allows. Certainly the tickets and advertising warn players to play responsibly. But how easy is that if you have an addiction for it?
Dr. Robert Custer, psychiatrist and author of When Luck Runs out, writes that compulsive gambling is “one of the purest forms of psychological addiction known. Compulsive gamblers are stimulated by gambling and actually get high on it.” He adds that it frequently gets worse—more addictive and more compulsive as time goes on. (As quoted in Linda Allison-Lewis, When Someone You Love Has a Gambling Problem, Abbey Press, 1992, p. 3.)
Fortunately there is a lot of awareness of this problem. Groups like Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon (for families) are available to help.
And before any of us start feeling smug about not having this problem, there’s the chocolate addiction, the caffeine addiction, the gum-chewing addiction.
But if you don’t currently play and gamble, why start? If you don’t buy lottery tickets, that’s one less tax you have to pay. If you do these things and they have become a problem in your marriage or family, maybe it is time to seek help.
For a free copy of the booklet When Someone You Love Has a Gambling Problem, write to me at Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802, or email .
Posted 9/11/2014 7:00:00 AM