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The Soul of Compulsive Gambling

Experts tell us that 60%-70% of the people who gamble can do so in a “normal” way. For most people gambling is fun, entertaining, and adds a healthy dimension to their quality of life. For others gambling is a different experience. Professionals tell us that 15%-20% of those who bet  may “go over the line”; wagering more than they can afford, sometimes borrowing heavily and causing problems in their lives. Most times these “problem gamblers” keep their families together and hold their jobs but gambling holds them back from reaching their true potential in life.

There is another category of people who bet in New Jersey which numbers 5% for adults and up to 8% for those under 21 years of age. They are compulsive gamblers; professionally known since 1980 as pathological gamblers. The illness, unless treated, gets progressively worse. These people are from all walks of life, affecting various age groups and ethnic and social backgrounds. All compulsive gamblers go through three significant phases while they are actively gambling.

The initial phase is the winning phase or action phase which lasts from one to three years. The second phase is the losing phase. During this phase compulsive gamblers lose all their winnings, then their savings, then borrow to try to win back the losses. Some compulsive gamblers attempt to stop gambling but are unable to. They are unaware that without treatment their gambling will get progressively worse. The compulsive gambler enters the third phase, the desperate phase, with little hope. Although the majority of compulsive gamblers are law abiding people, 90% will eventually do illegal acts in order to gamble. In this desperate stage family members are being severely effected by the impact of the gambling problem: no money, little communication, arguments, hostility. The compulsive gambler reacts by denying and isolating from family and friends. What little hope they had gives way to bailouts, more gambling and more losing. Suicidal thoughts come more frequently as hopelessness becomes a reality.

It is during this desperate time that an intervention by a family member, an employee or a close friend can enable the gambler to seek help. Also, during this desperation phase, a call to the 1-800 GAMBLER™ Helpline may start the recovery process for the gambler and his or her family.

The social costs of compulsive gambling are staggering. Civil and criminal calendars in New Jersey courts are filled with compulsive gambling eases. Civil suits for no payment of debts and divorce issues are common. Many criminal cases have to do with embezzlement – bad checks, insurance fraud and credit card fraud are caused by compulsive gamblers who commit illegal acts during their desperate phase. The costs of public defenders are another expense passed on to taxpayers since compulsive gamblers have no money when they seek an attorney to represent them.

Another social cost of compulsive gambling is the expense of more police to deal with organized crime. Illegal gambling and the offshoot of loan sharking, high jacking, employee theft, etc. are caused by desperate gamblers. The correctional system in New Jersey holds 25,000 inmates. Studies prove that 10%- 20% may be compulsive gamblers. At $18,000- $25,000 to house one (1) inmate per year, the cost is staggering to taxpayers.

The cost of compulsive gambling on employers, insurance companies, police, judiciary and corrections is staggering but nowhere measurable to the cost of the disintegration of the family. Compulsive gamblers cause havoc and pain to all family members. The spouses and other family members also go through progressive deterioration in their own lives. In the desperate phase dysfunctional families are left with a legacy of anger, resentment, isolation and many times hate. Compulsive gambling kills families. The result is without treatment, the good life we want for our families is not possible.

The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey believes some of the important issues facing New Jersey are as follows:

  • Prevention and educational programs for our 1 million school children- presently there are not any curriculum on compulsive gambling issues.
  • Adequate financial support for treatment for compulsive gamblers and their families.
  • More research about the compulsive gambler and the costs to society as a result of compulsive gambling.
  • More education to mental health professionals in identifying compulsive gamblers.
  • Identification and treatment of compulsive gamblers who are incarcerated.

Now is the time to learn more about compulsive gambling and help those individuals and their families who remain hidden from us. You may contact the Council on Compulsive Gambling of NJ, Inc. at (609) 588-5515 x 10 or visit online at www.800gambler.org . You may e-mail the staff at ccgnj@800gambler.org .