The odds are with the house

With gaming revenue up in Pennsylvania and a new Tavern Gaming License process going into effect this Monday, we thought it was an appropriate time to rerun this article about the impact of problem gambling.

Alluring! Enticing! Quick fix! Escape! Promise of a “Big” return! Exciting! Fun! These are some of the words to describe the time spent at a casino, bingo hall or playing the lottery. In today’s economic climate, gambling may seem like the answer to pay the bills or recapture lost funds due to unemployment or loss in the market. For some, it is the escape from depression or anxiety. Ultimately, people want to chase the win.

At times, you do win; the excitement of the win motivates you to continue to play. It makes you feel better and for a time your problems feel like they are extinct or improving. That is the inescapable hook for many. The more you play, however, losing becomes the major outcome time after time. Winning becomes elusive. Most people keep this in perspective and know when to stop.

Unfortunately, others (2-3 % according to the National Council on Problem Gambling) get caught up in the chase and cannot stop. Gambling quickly becomes their prison. These individuals, problem gamblers, will begin to increasingly spend more time gambling. Their attitudes, behaviors and physical health begin to change. They become irritable and agitated. Depression and anxiety becomes noticeably visible to others and even to themselves. Some will gamble at night after everyone has gone to bed. They will sneak out of the house and return before everyone awakes. They will gamble at breaks during work and even begin to leave work early with an excuse. At times, they will not go to work and gamble instead. Their health begins to fail due to gambling all night or over the worry to win because of the money they lost the night before. The gambler may begin to borrow money from others, their retirement funds or steal it. Their lives begin to become living nightmares for themselves and their families. Their lives have become unmanageable.

What can the family of a problem gambler do? At this point, an intervention is needed to encourage the gambler to get help. Counseling and Gamblers Anonymous are both good options. Understand that the majority of problem gamblers are going to deny a problem. Do not give up! There are still options. It will be important for the family to seek counseling to cope with the emotional turmoil and the financial loss imposed on them by the gambler.

Further, the family should investigate to assure that bills are being paid and assets are untouched, especially if the problem gambler is in charge of the finances. The family needs to look at their entire financial picture. Has the family member taken out a second or third mortgage on your house to pay for their gambling? What about retirement funds, pensions, savings and investments? If the family member is not willing to stop gambling and seek help then you need to protect your financial future before it is ruined. Speak with a financial consultant or your bank to see what you can do to have the person removed from all accounts. Have the individual’s name removed from the bills. The family needs to work together to cut off the financial lifeline. Hopefully, this will result in the gambler hitting “rock bottom” thus leading the gambler to seek help. This will not be easy. It will be an emotional roller coaster, however, remember there is help for you as well.

Patrick Damond, M.A., M.Div., LPC, supervises Substance Abuse Services at Family Services of Warren County. Make a resolution to improve yourself by enrolling in its new Stress Management or Anger Management classes. Call 723-1330 for more information.