At Odds with the Pitfalls of Gambling
BY ELLEN SCHMEDING
DIRECTOR, AGING & INDEPENDENCE SERVICES
of the numbers he picked came in. He had turned $1 into $500. That memory makes him smile. Then he talks about the time he won $5,000 at a local ca- sino on the same type of slot machine. His smile fades as he shares how he thought he could turn those winnings into $50,000, but instead lost it all.
“It felt really bad to walk out of there
with nothing,” he says.
Bob, 69, lives on Social Security and a small pension from General Dynam- ics. At one point, he thought he could supplement his income by gambling. But that hasn’t been in the cards for him. Instead, he had two months where he couldn’t pay his rent, relying on the kindness of friends to give him a loan.
He says that the best part of winning is being able to play longer. He has even gambled 24 hours straight.
Bob has experienced VIP treatment at the casinos. After winning streaks, he has been offered a limo to pick him up, free steak dinners, even cash in his account to tap into as he plays Keno.
“They have a way of making you feel like a big shot,” he says.
At one point not too long ago, Bob realized that he was on the brink of big trouble, however. He took $600 out of the ATM at a casino and lost it.
“I want to have fun with gambling, but I can’t afford to lose.”
Bob learned about a free treatment program for “problem gamblers” through the Union of Pan Asian Com- munities (UPAC) and funded by the
To Bob, gambling is more than the chance to make money. Gambling gives him excitement that he hasn’t found anywhere else, he says. The flip side of that thrill is how bad he feels when he loses, which comes much more often than the wins.
“I understand the extraordinary odds,” he admits. “It just sucks you in. Knowledge is not going to stop an addict. You’re not using your mind; you’re running on emotion. In fact, it’s nice not having to use my mind. I’m in my own world. A great escape.”
California Office of Problem Gambling. He is now
receiving that help.
“Some of the seniors who come to our program are already broke,” says Sunnyo Pak, Program Director for Addiction Treatment and Recovery. “They’ve lost their life savings, their 401Ks, and some even their homes. Now instead of enjoying retirement, they’re struggling to get basic needs met.”
The treatment program involves nine hours a week of
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educational and process-group meetings, including one- on-one counseling with a licensed clinician, and care management. Treatment goes for 30 days, but additional treatment is available, if needed, Sunnyo says.
“It’s a horrible illness and it hits anybody,” she says. “It doesn’t matter your social, economic, educational or ethnic background.”
She says problem gambling is particularly tough on older adults with fixed incomes: “Those seniors can no longer recoup money they’ve lost; their assets are limited. Young people can still work, but for retirees, it’s hard.”
Fortunately, Sunnyo says they have seen positive results from the treatment: “Recovery is real and attainable. The majority of people who stick to the program succeed.”
Bob says he has made significant changes, but wants to continue with the psychotherapy. He still gambles, but feels less out of control with it. He plays Keno once a month, only takes $40 and he leaves his debit card at home. He had himself banned at one casino, so if he gambles there, all his winnings will be confiscated at the end of the night and put into a fund used to mitigate gambling- related problems.
One of his biggest goals is to pursue other activities, such as golf, that give him enjoyment.
“You have such high adrenalin (with gambling),” he says. “And loneliness and boredom are great motivators (to head to a casino). I want to find healthier ways to handle that.”
For more information about the UPAC Problem Gam- bling Services, call (619) 521-5720, ext. 313, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
SIGNS OF PROBLEM GAMBLING
• Thinking about gambling frequently.
• Difficulty stopping and irritability when attempt- ing to stop gambling.
• Needing to gamble more money to achieve the same excitement.
• Gambling to escape personal problems or un- comfortable feelings.
• Placing relationships in jeopardy because of gambling.
• Gambling more to make up for past losses.
• Lying to conceal how much money or time is spent gambling.
• Relying on others for “bail outs” when faced with financial difficulties.