A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

‘Hidden gambling problem’ among vets, service members focus of week-long effort


Responsible Gaming Education Week is a cooperative effort by Kentucky’s gaming businesses, which includes casino, lottery, horse racing and charitable gaming interests. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)


According to a joint program of public-private gaming officials, many U.S. military veterans and active-duty service members have a hidden gambling problem. Next week’s 2014 Responsible Gaming Education Week on Aug. 4-8 will focus on a growing body of evidence suggesting rates of problem and pathological gambling (also known as compulsive or addicted) gambling are at least twice the general population rate.

RGEW is a cooperative effort by Kentucky’s gaming businesses, such as lottery, horse racing and charitable gaming, as well as the Kentucky Department of Mental Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, the state’s certified gambler counselors, Ohio River casinos and the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling. Joe Barrett of Belterra Casino chairs the coalition that planned 2014 RGEW.

The focus on gambling in the military recognizes the large military presence in the state. Fort Knox, Fort Campbell and the Bluegrass Army Depot are active installations. The Kentucky National Guard encompasses thousands of additional full- and part-time personnel. Add veterans and the total is a significant percentage of Kentucky residents.

In a 2013 study published in the American Journal on Addictions, the percentage of veterans receiving care at Veterans Administration facilities for gambling addictions was 2 percent, double the estimated 1 percent rate for the general population established in previous reports.
The rate for active or retired military who experience a problem with gambling at some point in their lifetimes was 8.8 percent, compared to the approximate 3 percent rate for the entire population. Led by Dr. Joe Westermeyer, director of mental health services at Minneapolis VA Medical Center and a University of Minnesota psychiatry professor, the study noted that “Female and young veterans have rates higher than those observed in other surveys of women and young adults.”
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A 2008 study of active-duty members of the Air Force indicated 1.9 percent could not control their gambling and 10.4 percent gambled at least weekly. Most concerning, a 2003 study of veterans in a VA residential treatment program for gambling showed 40 percent had attempted suicide.

Pathological gambling, reclassified last year as an addiction in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the Mental Disorders, is characterized by an individual’s preoccupation with gambling and his/her continued gambling despite ongoing and growing negative consequences. The addicted gambler costs society an estimated $9,000-15,000 annually in bankruptcy, crime, social services and lost productivity. One study showed each addicted gambler directly affects five to 10 other people.
The National Council on Problem Gambling reports:
• Active duty military, veterans and dependents are likely to gamble and have substantial risk factors for problem gambling.
• Problem gambling among military personnel is a serious health and policy issue.
• Prevention, education and treatment services are non-existent or severely lacking.
Researchers suggest two questions to ask a veteran to determine if they have a problem with gambling:
• Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money?
• Have you ever had to lie to people important to you about how much you gambled?
If they answer yes to either question, there may be a gambling problem. For further help in Kentucky, call 800-GAMBLER (800-426-2537) or visit kygamblinghelp.org. Both services are free and confidential and can provide further information, resources or referrals to Gamblers Anonymous or certified gambler counselors.

“There are several reasons presented why gambling among military personnel and veterans is higher than for the general population,” KYCPG Executive Director Michael R. Stone said. “Gambling is associated with risk-taking, escape, isolation and boredom, all of which can be present in the military. Gambling is a progressive disease, which can explain the impact on veterans.” Stone added that studies indicate those with military-related stress disorders are at a higher risk of developing a gambling problem.

KYCPG recommends a simple three-question self-test to keep gambling fun:
1. Is it appropriate to gamble. The answer is no if you are gambling with money needed to pay bills or living expenses or if you’re using the gambling as an escape. “Gambling is an optional entertainment. It should not be considered a necessity,” Stone said.
2. Don’t gamble during an emotional crisis or when impaired by alcohol or other substances. “Gambling by definition is a game of chance, but just as the old song goes, ‘you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.’ You cannot know that when in an impaired state,” said Stone.
3. Decide beforehand how much to gamble and don’t go over that amount. In addition, set a time limit on the gambling. “Another coping action is to take frequent breaks to relax amid the intensity and concentration that may accompany gambling,” he said.

“Let me add that when gambling, do not use an ATM or get additional money to try and win back what might be lost. Compulsive gamblers call that chasing losses, and it seldom works. In fact, it usually makes it worse. They just lose more, increasing the frustration and sense of desperation.”

This is a joint program of the Kentucky Lottery, Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, Keeneland Race Course, Kentucky Downs, Turfway Park, Kentucky Department of Charitable Gaming, Kentucky Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, The Morton Center, Belterra Casino Resort, French Lick Resort and Casino, Harrah’s Metropolis Casino, Hollywood Lawrenceburg, Horseshoe Casino Southern Indiana, Rising Star Casino, Tropicana Casino, and the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling.

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