Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Profile Of A Gambling Addict

July 5, 2004

"There are two times when you shouldn't speculate. One time is when you can't afford it. The other time is when you can." - Mark Twain

J.T. is a suave gambler - a composite and fictitious person based on a gambler profile. He sits stone-faced placing extravagant bets while an admiring crowd gathers around. While not acknowledging the crowd or being distracted by it, he clearly loves the limelight too much.

With a flick of a card, J.T. could win or lose a fortune. He savors the moment, the action, and in a few moments, the loss. He loses with grace. He walks away without a trace of emotion.

J.T. is a compulsive gambler. His life isn't as charmed as it would appear. He is obsessed, unable to stop the addiction that has brought him to the brink of personal and financial ruin. He thirsts for the big win - redemption for the money lost and the realization of unfulfilled dreams.

When it all began. J.T. began gambling at 17 and went about 20 years before hitting bottom. What began with hitting it big with a $20 bet ends in losing his home, his family and almost his life.

J.T. clearly learned to value the money ethic in our society, especially the spending. He wasn't taught to save or budget. Early in his gambling career he had some big wins and some nice winning streaks. It is possible. He has done it before.

Money may have started it but it is the "action" that has him hooked. It is better than sex. Without the action, the risk and the atmosphere connected with gambling, he is bored. The casino is a fantasyland. All glitter and glitz. Luxury. Here J.T. feels like a "big man."

"Can I get you another drink, sir?" Prime rib, real cheap. They feed you. They nurture you. They care for you. They could care less. All they really want is for you to stay in the casino. There are no clocks on the walls.

The gambling industry doesn't gamble. They don't leave their profit margins up to chance.

The feeling of danger. J.T. is a bright, high energy kind of guy. He loves the excitement and risk. He likes the feeling of danger - to live on the edge. He feels he is above the odds - an exception to the laws of probability.

J.T. is a hopeful, naive person. He is going to hit it big. He feels it. He has a system, an edge, a feeling about a machine, a lucky dealer, the next casino.

J.T. brags about his wins and is cavalier about his losses. He loves the intellectual challenge. Gambling is hard work. It takes concentrating, reading and finding an edge. Gambling takes an incredible amount of time. When he isn't doing it, he thinks about it.

Others like J.T. could be obsessed with horse racing, sports betting, speculate on financial markets, play video lottery or bingo instead of casino games. They do not take time for much else, for family, for hobbies or anything but gambling.

When J.T. sees other gamblers down on their luck, he thinks to himself, "They don't know how to gamble, not like me." He is competitive. He is intelligent but undereducated. Gambling is his ticket to self-respect.

Last of the big time spenders. J.T. loves people. He is fun to be around. At his funeral someday, they will be telling "good guy" stories and gloss over the pain and hurt he caused.

J.T. loves children. He chases his losses so his kids can live better. Maybe he can take his wife on a big trip and make up for all the hardship and hurt he has caused.

J.T. is extravagant in his gift-giving. When he is on a hot streak, he doesn't watch his money. He is a big spender and a big tipper. When he loses big, alcohol is increasingly attractive to him - but not when he gambles.

Profile of an addiction. J.T. has a losing hand but doesn't know it. This is how he could tell:

If he 1) is preoccupied with his gambling, 2) gambles alone, 3) has special gambling money, 4) makes bets with friends even when money isn't involved, 5) bets progressively higher amounts, and 6) chases his losses, or 7) gambles after winning big.

Professional gamblers reach their limit and stop. They are disciplined and controlled. They follow the advice given in the song, "The Gambler". "You gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run."

Social and recreational gamblers are much the same way. They have their limit. Despite all his best intentions, our friend J.T. abandons his system and bets recklessly.

Betting the farm. J.T. keeps his heavy involvement with gambling and his mounting debts a secret. He intercepts the mail. He hides the bank statements. He uses his credit cards to their limits.

J.T. writes bad checks. He borrows and borrows some more. He pawns. He lies, he borrows, and finally he steals. His problems mushroom and finally catch up to him. J. T. is arrested for embezzlement.

Where to go for help. What can help? A treatment program that recognizes and treats compulsive gamblers. Gamblers Anonymous. Financial counseling and intervention. Career assessment.

There is hope. Life is too short to be left up to chance.