A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: When gambling becomes more than an entertaining diversion, no one wins

By Michael R. Stone
Special to KyForward

Gambling can become an addiction, according to the American Psychiatric Association, when it causes disruption in any major area of life: psychological, physical, social, vocational, spiritual or emotional. The good news is gambling addiction can be prevented and treated.

It is fitting March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month. This month, millions of Americans participate in what for most is harmless entertainment: a betting pool to pick the winner of the NCAA basketball tournament. The majority of Kentucky residents gamble at least occasionally, and most gamble as an entertaining diversion. But for some, gambling can get out of control. That’s when no one wins.

Gambling addicts face health issues, including the highest rate of suicide among the mental disorders. Children of addicts have higher rates of gambling activity; tobacco, alcohol and drug use; and overeating. Addicted gamblers have higher rates of domestic abuse, and often exhibit depression and other mental issues. Addicted gamblers frequently are bankrupt and resort to crime in order to obtain money to continue gambling.

When gambling becomes more than a game, no one wins. Not only does the gambler harm himself or herself, each addicted gambler affects five to 10 other people. Each addicted gambler costs society at least $9,000 each year in criminal justice expenses, unemployment, social services, lost productivity and lost wages.

Currently, Kentucky does not have a publicly funded program for education, awareness, prevention or treatment of problem gambling in spite of state government receiving more than $200 million annual revenue from the state’s legal gambling. Approximately $2 billion is gambled legally each year in Kentucky, a figure likely to increase as gambling expands with the advent of Instant Racing and Keno. Studies indicate that as gambling opportunity increases, more individuals seek help for a gambling problem. State Representative Terry Mills introduced HB13 in the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly session. It would establish a Problem and Pathological Gambling Awareness and Treatment Program.

During National Problem Gambling Awareness Month, the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling (KYCPG) received support from the Kentucky Department of Behavioral Health to train existing substance abuse and mental health counselors to seek certification as problem gambler counselors. The training program will take place at Rough River State Resort Park March 11-13. Thirty counselors soon may become certified to treat addicted gamblers and their families.

Keeping gambling fun entertainment is the first step to prevent gambling from becoming an addiction. To do that:

• set a time limit and stick to it,
• set a money limit and stick to it,
• gamble only to have fun,
• don’t gamble when lonely or upset,
• don’t gamble to win back losses,
• don’t gamble to chase a win,
• expect to lose — not win,
• treat gambling like a leisure activity — don’t gamble with money that is designated for other obligations,
• balance gambling with other life activities.

Gambling may be a problem if someone you know is:
• preoccupied with gambling,
• gambles to escape boredom, pain or loneliness,
• loses interest in other activities,
• is argumentative and defensive about gambling behavior,
• has unexplained absences for long periods of time,
• needs to increase bets to maintain the thrill,
• lies to loved ones about gambling behavior,
• goes without basic needs in order to gamble,
• borrows money to gamble,
• is irritable and angry when trying to cut back.

The 800-GAMBLER (800-426-2537) problem gambling helpline is a source of information or referral to a certified gambler counselor, Gamblers Anonymous or Gam-Anon. More information can be found by visiting a new website, KyGamblingHelp.org.

Michael R. Stone is director of Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling.

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