Here in Las Vegas, the bright lights and big sounds of the casinos are meant to draw people in, enticing them to gamble.
For some, gambling morphs from something fun to do to an overwhelming addiction.
Gambling addiction affects roughly six percent of Nevadans – or about 180,000 people – according to the Nevada Council on Problem Gaming.
“Bill” is a person for whom gambling became an addiction.
When he moved to Las Vegas for work, he started playing live poker but over time he moved to playing video poker as a way to escape.
“It was an escape from everything going on in my life -- good or bad,” Bill told KNPR’s State of Nevada.
He would gamble during work hours. Eventually, he started dropping his then 5-year-old daughter off at day care to go to the nearby casino and would only leave when it was time to pick her up.
“Ultimately, that was the only thing that was getting me up off the chair -- that I had to pick up my daughter,” Bill said.
He hid losses from his wife by using personal credit cards and payday loans.
He tried more than once to quit but it wasn’t until his wife found out that he realized his family was on the line and he had to make a change.
“It was the idea that I would lose my family that ultimately got me into treatment,” Bill said.
By the time he was able to stop, Bill had about $70,000 to $80,000 in credit card debt alone not to mention money lost by refinancing his home to pay for gambling.
Carol O’Hare with the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling said that in some ways Bill’s experience is similar to other addicts. She said just like drug addicts use drugs, gamblers use gambling to cope.
“They’re using gambling to alter their mood. Whatever form of gambling works to alter their mood that is the one they’ll use,” O’Hare said.
Researchers at UCLA have developed a new smart phone app that looks to help people with gambling addictions.
O’Hare said that app should really be used in conjunction with a licensed counselor.
“This app allows for the client to be recording experiences,” O’Hare said.
That information on when and where they get the urge to play can help the counselor and client pinpoint ways to avoid triggers. Some people believe leaving Las Vegas, where gambling is so prevalent is the way to go, but O’Hare said location is not the real problem.
“The addiction resides in the individual not the machine or the building,” O’Hare said.
Licensed problem gambling counselor Oscar Sida said that most addictions have underlying issues like depression, anxiety or trauma that need to be dealt with in addition to their addictive behavior.
“The way we tackled that is by treating both disorders simultaneously. One having priority over the other because the one having the most impact we want to take care of first,” Sida said.
Sida said a strong support system is one of the most important things to have in tackling any addiction, which is why programs like Gamblers Anonymous can work for people.
Now, as Bill moves forward with his life and talks to his now 9-year-old daughter about his gambling problem he wants her to fully understand how for him gambling changed from a fun activity to something more sinister.
“The consequences were devastating not only financially but in terms of relationships with my family with my co-workers,” Bill said.
If you need help, call the 24-hour problem gambling hotline at: 1-800-522-4700 or go to www.whenthefunstops.org
Carol O'Hare, executive director, Nevada Council on Problem Gaming; Bill, recovering gambling addict; Oscar Sida, visiting faculty, UNLV and licensed problem gaming counselor
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