What Gambling Does to People
A CERTAIN New York postal worker had never made a bet before. Then an Off-Track Betting parlor opened in his neighborhood. One bet led to another. Recently when his wife phoned Gamblers Anonymous the man owed $5,000, and had just run out to bet his last $16, leaving behind an empty refrigerator and two hungry children.
Experiences are often bizarre. An owner of a thriving apparel company consulted a psychiatrist because of his compulsion to gamble. To get an insight into the case, the psychiatrist accompanied the man to the track. In fascination he watched the man win money on seven of nine races. Intrigued, the psychiatrist decided to give it a try. Soon he, too, became a compulsive gambler and, in time, lost his practice.
“Unbelievable,” you say? “Typical,” replied a former gambler upon hearing this experience. “I’ve seen many cases like that.”
AN INSIDIOUS COMPULSION
This compulsion to gamble starts in a seemingly innocent way. “I see the women coming in,” explained a ticket seller at an OTB parlor. “At first they bet $2 or $4. Then it’s twenties and thirties. After a few months they’re betting $50 and $60 a race. How many have I seen like that? At my shop alone—at least 20.”
The number of people who become deeply involved in betting is astounding. “Half the [OTB] customers are betting six days a week,” a member of Gamblers Anonymous claims. Many have lost control of themselves, and are sorry they ever started. A Brooklyn housewife cried: “I wish I weren’t a regular bettor.” And a youngster lamented: “I’ve been losing so much lately . . . But I can’t stop, man, it’s in my blood.”
Many prominent businessmen, too, have become compulsive gamblers. In its article “The Hidden Executive Vice,” Dun’s Review concluded that gambling is “one of the U.S.’ most serious menaces—even above alcoholism and drug addiction.”
True, not everyone who starts becomes a compulsive gambler. In fact, many consider gambling ‘harmless fun.’ But is it really? To what does this “fun” so often lead? You may be surprised to know how many homes are affected by the sad consequences.
According to estimates by the National Institute of Mental Health, there are in the United States alone 10 million compulsive gamblers! These persons gamble to the point of serious financial and personal troubles, causing untold suffering to their families. Like drug addicts and alcoholics, these gamblers cannot seem to quit, no matter how many times they vow to do so. “There’s no question it’s addictive,” says an assistant district attorney familiar with gambling.
Nongamblers may find this addiction, or compulsion, hard to understand. Yet it is real. Dr. Robert Custer, chief of staff, Brecksville Division, Cleveland V.A. Hospital, has treated many such gamblers. “They are very desperate men when they come in,” he notes. “When the CG [compulsive gambler] asks for help, he is so frightened and confused that he’s near a state of panic. When he initially stops gambling, he’s so desperate that you would think his life was in danger.”
What causes persons to develop such a compulsion to gamble?
A DEMORALIZING DESIRE
A desire for easy money is apparently a major factor. Of course, no one wants to be poor; we all desire a sufficiency. But in gambling the prospect is held out of huge rewards without working—simply by chance or ‘good luck’ the possibility exists of becoming rich quickly. The prospect is alluring. And so often what ensnares a gambler is so-called “beginner’s luck.”
Thus in a typical experience a man in Ontario, Canada, had a remarkable winning streak at his first visit to a racetrack, turning about $4 into $1,000. “He should have stopped there,” said his wife. “But he couldn’t.” Why not?
Because gambling seemed such an easy way of making money. The win lured him on, inciting in him desire for more. The result? “He started to change,” his wife said. “It was like he was two different people.” In time he lost $60,000 gambling, and ruined his family life.
Once the desire takes root, a big winning rarely satisfies it. Like moths lured by a light bulb, gamblers are tantalized by the prospect of making an even bigger “killing.” Thus a teacher in his late thirties accumulated gambling debts to the amount of $20,000. But in an unusual four-day streak he won $25,000. Did he pay his debts? He admits: “I began thinking how easily I could double the $25,000. I began betting horses on Monday, and by the end of the week it was all gone.”
In an insidious way gambling can have this effect, eating away at the individual’s moral fiber. Almost invariably, compulsive gamblers, in time, become devious and unscrupulous. Recently a man picked four horses in what is known as a “superfecta” bet, and won $111,000 on a $3 bet. However, he refused to come to the office of Jerome T. Paul, an OTB official, to have his picture taken. Why? “He owed more than the $111,000,” Paul explained, “and he didn’t intend to pay.”
People of all walks of life are affected. An Orthodox rabbi, who had run up gambling debts totaling $100,000, explained: “I had no sense of responsibility to my family or my congregation. I’d schedule a funeral early, so I could get to the track. I made notes for my sermon between races.”
Yes, gambling does these things to people—it so often makes them greedy, dishonest and almost unbelievably inconsiderate of others. It also destroys self-control. So gambling clearly clashes with basic Bible precepts, which condemn “greedy persons,” and urge self-control and love of neighbor.—1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Gal. 5:22, 23; Matt. 22:39.
ANOTHER ADDICTIVE FACTOR
But more is apparently involved in causing compulsive gambling. Doctors who have investigated the problem find it complex, and admit that they do not really understand it. However, some believe that the gripping action and excitement involved in gambling contribute to the addiction.
Thus Dr. William H. Boyd, who has spent nine years studying the problem, concluded: “The ingredient in alcoholism is alcohol and the ingredient in drug addiction is drugs. But the ingredient in gambling is the excitement.” Dr. Robert Custer apparently agrees. “The ‘drug’ they seek,” he says, “is being in action.”
The action begins with the bet and continues until its outcome. There is joy over winning and anxiety over losing, and excitement during the whole procedure. Then, as Dr. Boyd notes, “The gambler has to go back and start over again for the thrill.” And it is a fact that the craving for the action is so great that one will hear gamblers say: “It’s not the money you owe that makes you desperate, but the idea of waking up and not having money to bet.”
True, it may be difficult to see how something without any tangible ingredient—such as the drug addict’s heroin—can cause addiction. But even in drug addiction there is more involved than just a physical addiction to some chemical. The mind is also affected somehow, bringing mental addiction. This is evident, since drug addiction continues even after the drug itself leaves the addict’s body. So, in discussing gambling, Dr. Custer draws this parallel: “Psychological demand is the essence of alcoholism and drug addiction, just as it is with compulsive gambling.”
But in whatever way it is that gambling works to demoralize people, whether by love of money or the excitement that accompanies gambling, the fact to remember is that it does insidiously get a hold on people. How wise, therefore, to avoid gambling! Do not be tempted to try it just because today’s permissive society has legalized it. Many persons started out gambling just a little—just for ‘the fun of it’—but soon became “hooked,” often with tragic results.
EFFORTS TO COPE WITH IT
Real efforts are now being made to help compulsive gamblers to quit. Gamblers Anonymous is a worldwide organization set up for that purpose, with some 200 chapters and 3,000 members in the United States alone. It endeavors to provide persons sufficient motivation to “kick” the habit. But it often fails. This is evidenced by the confessions of a cabdriver named Victor at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting in New York.
“I stood up and confessed that I couldn’t stop betting,” he said, “and I drove two shifts a day to support my habit. I told them I was so degenerate that as soon as I walked out of the meeting, I would probably drive four hours to Bowie in Maryland to play the horses. When I finished, three members were waiting for me. ‘Hey, Vic,’ they said, ‘you got room for us in the car?’”
Simply realizing one’s degeneracy, and even desiring to avoid the pain and consequences it brings, are often insufficient motivation to overcome compulsive gambling. But there is a way to “kick” the habit. Let one who had declined into the depths of compulsive gambling, but then recovered, tell about it.