Compulsive Gamblers—Always Losers
“COMPULSIVE gambling is an illness in the same way that alcoholism and drug addiction are illnesses,” declared Professor Jean Ades, from France. “It’s an addiction without a drug,” he said, and “more and more people are discovering they are addicted.” Even after the compulsive gamblers lose large sums of money, they are often obsessed with the need to make up their losses by gambling even more. “Most losers quickly get over their disappointment. But for some, the urge to gamble is so uncontrollable it can blight their lives,” wrote one newsman in France. “They keep on promising themselves they are going to kick the habit, yet it always gets the better of them. They are gambling addicts.”
Confessed one South African gambler: “If you’re a gambling addict, and you sit down at the roulette wheel or the blackjack table, nothing else matters. Adrenalin thunders through your veins, and you will bet every cent you have on just one more spin of the wheel, or fall of the card. . . . Drawing on my adrenalin reserves, I could stay awake for several days and nights at a stretch, watching the cards and numbers, and waiting for that eternally elusive super payout.” Then he concluded: “There are many others like me who can’t stop at a few hundred rands or even a few thousand. We will continue gambling until all we have is gone, and our family relationships are smashed beyond repair.”
Henry R. Lesieur, professor of sociology at St. John’s University, New York, wrote that the desire to gamble, win or lose, is so intense “that many gamblers will go for days without sleep, without eating, and even without going to the bathroom. Being in action pushes out all other concerns. During the period of anticipation, there is also a ‘rush,’ usually characterized by sweaty palms, rapid heart beat, and nausea.”
One former gambling addict admits that winning was not the driving force for his prolonged habit, but rather it was the “rush,” the thrill of gambling itself. “Gambling procures extraordinarily violent emotions,” he said. “When the roulette wheel is turning, when you’re waiting for Chance to give its answer, there’s a moment when the mind reels and you almost faint.” French gambler André agrees: “When you’ve got FF10,000 on a horse and there are 100 metres to go, someone could tell you your wife or your mother had died and you wouldn’t give a fig.”
André describes how he was able to continue gambling even after heavy losses. He borrowed from banks, friends, and loan sharks with exorbitant interest rates. He stole checks and falsified post office savings books. He seduced lonely women during his visits to casinos and then vanished with their credit cards. “By then,” wrote a French newsman, André “no longer even cared whether he would ever be able to put his disastrous finances in order. His wanderings were prompted solely by his obsession.” He turned to crime and was sent to prison. His marriage was wrecked.
In many cases compulsive gamblers, like drug addicts and alcoholics, keep on gambling, though it costs them their job, their business, their health, and, finally, their family.
Many cities in France have recently opened their doors to gambling. Where other businesses have failed, pawnshops are doing a flourishing business. Owners say gamblers frequently lose all the money they have and trade rings, watches, clothing, and other valuable items for gas money home. In some coastal towns in the United States, new pawnshops have opened; in some cases three or four or more can be found in a row.
Some have even turned to a life of crime in order to support their gambling habit. Studies conducted to date, according to Professor Lesieur, “uncovered a wide variety of illegal behaviors among compulsive gamblers . . . check forgery, embezzlement, theft, larceny, armed robbery, bookmaking, hustling, running con games, and fencing stolen goods.” Added to these are the white-collar crimes where gamblers steal from their employers. According to Gerry T. Fulcher, director of the Institute for the Education and Treatment of Compulsive Gamblers, 85 percent of the thousands of identified compulsive gamblers admitted to stealing from their employers. “In fact, from a purely financial point of view, compulsive gambling is potentially worse than alcoholism and drug abuse combined,” he said.
Further studies have concluded that approximately two-thirds of nonincarcerated compulsive gamblers and 97 percent of those incarcerated admit to engaging in illegal behavior to finance gambling or pay gambling-related debts. In 1993 in Gulf Coast towns in the United States, where legalized gambling is rampant, there were 16 bank robberies, a fourfold increase over the previous year. One man robbed a total of eight banks of the sum of $89,000 to continue his gambling habit. Other banks have been robbed at gunpoint by gamblers forced to pay off large sums to creditors.
“When compulsive gamblers try to kick the habit, they go through withdrawal, much like smokers or drug addicts,” says The New York Times. Gamblers admit, however, that breaking the gambling habit can be harder than breaking other habits. “Some of us have had the experience of alcoholism and drug abuse as well,” said one, “and we all agree that compulsive gambling is far worse than any of the other addictions.” Dr. Howard Shaffer, of the Center for Addiction Studies at Harvard University, said that at least 30 percent of compulsive gamblers who try to stop “show signs of irritability or experience stomach distress, sleep disorders, higher-than-normal blood pressure and pulse.”
Even if they keep on betting, said Dr. Valerie Lorenz, director of the National Center for Pathological Gambling in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A., compulsive “gamblers face medical problems: chronic headaches, migraines, breathing difficulties, angina pains, heart arrhythmias and numbness in their arms and legs.”
Then there are suicides. What could be worse than what is commonly known as a “nonfatal addiction” causing death? In one American county, for example, where gambling casinos have recently opened, “the suicide rate has inexplicably doubled,” reported The New York Times Magazine, “though no health care official was willing to tie the increase to gambling.” In South Africa, three gamblers committed suicide in one week. The number of actual suicides because of gambling and debts accrued by this means, legally or illegally, is not known.
Suicide is a tragic way to end the viselike grip of gambling. In the next article, consider how some have found a better way out.
[Blurb on page 6]
Pawnshops flourish—and so does crime