Gambling can be a powerful addiction
Editor’s note: Following is the second in a series recognizing Responsible Gambling Awareness Week.
Until she was in her early 40s, all Anne (not her real name) knew about gambling was going to the horse races with her father and playing games at fairs.
“I had no interest in lotteries, scratch tickets, or anything else like that. I never would have considered that I would have a gambling problem,” she said. “About 10 years ago, I started to go to the casino as a leisure activity, not caring if I won or lost, able to quit when I wanted. Then five years ago, I won $9,000 in one night. That was the start of the gambling problem right there. I was so happy and excited. I gave some money to my kids and it wasn’t long before I spent it all because it was extra money. It would have been better if I had just had a big credit card bill and paid it off and that was it.”
It wasn’t long before she was spending all the time she could spare from her successful business at the casino looking for another big win. Friends were concerned and asked if she knew about the self-exclusion program where people decide to have themselves stopped from entering a casino for a period of time of their choice.
“I wondered why they were talking to me like there was a problem. I didn’t think I had a problem but the next time someone mentioned it, I signed myself out for six months but did not get counselling. But even though I wasn’t going there, the casino was always on my mind,” said Anne.
She kept busy by joining a gym, shopping and spending more time on her business.
“When there was one month left of the self-exclusion, I snuck into a casino in another city. I won a jackpot and by the next month I was feeling really lucky. I went back and lost about $20,000 in a couple of months. I still didn’t think I needed counselling.”
Since her partner did not approve of gambling, she found herself sneaking out to the casino and making up stories to tell him about what she was doing.
“My third self-exclusion ran out about three years ago and then I admitted to myself that I had a problem. I have to give a lot of thanks to the counselors. They were non-judgmental and totally understanding. They showed me videos, helped me understand the myths — that gambling is random, it’s pure luck. There’s no system or no lucky charm,” she said. “It helped me really understand that I had a problem and how my brain works. The pleasure I was getting was overpowering my rational thinking. I would tell myself that I was not going to go gambling, then I’d go.”
Anne has been back to the casino since the counselling. Her goal is to control her gambling rather than to quit entirely.
“I would like to be able to go to the casino with my dad and play for recreation like he does,” she said. “Gambling is still a very powerful thing for me. I think that for anyone with a gambling problem it’s impossible for them to fix themselves. Those services that the casinos offer to help are totally crucial.
“There are a lot of people in big trouble with gambling. It’s a powerful addiction, more so than I would ever have believed if anyone had told me before. You can’t just not go to the casino. It’s more powerful than smoking. There are still times when I want to get there so bad that I count the hours and the minutes until I can go there. I still have to work on it.”
Anne is working on it by having a new goal and way to spend her money; she’s buying a house she loves and will have to make mortgage payments. She suggests that people who feel they can’t stop gambling when they want to take only the cash they can afford to lose when they go to the casino and go without credit or debit cards. She plans to sign herself out of the casino again soon.
“If you think you have a problem, get some help. You’re not going to come out ahead. Ever.”
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