, Muskogee, OK

Local News

December 20, 2008

Problem gamblers on rise

As the number of casinos in Oklahoma increases, so do the number of people who become pathological or problem gamblers.

That slippery slope that leads people to become addicted to gambling can begin with meager winnings. Very seldom do pathological gamblers convert money they win into spending money — it becomes money to further gamble with, an expert said.

“The pathological gambler doesn’t consider it real money,” said Wiley D. Hawell, executive director of the Oklahoma Association for Problem and Compulsive Gambling, a non-profit association based in Norman.

In addition to working with problem gamblers, the association also works with casinos in the state, most of which are in the in the business of helping problem gamblers, Hawell said.

The association has brochures in most of the 96 casinos in the state, he said.

Casino employees trained to look for the signs of problem gamblers know their customers, he said. At one casino in the southern part of the state, at least three customers having signs of being problem gamblers have committed suicide because of gambling problems, he said. That is hard for casino employees to deal with, he said.

Those with addictive disorders have a higher rate of suicide than people without addictive disorders — with problem gamblers having the highest of all — 18 percent, Hawell said.

The divorce rate of problem gamblers is 75 percent, where the divorce rate of non-problem gamblers is around 50 percent, Hawell said.

Problem gamblers need help, not moral condemnation, he said.

“They can’t quit (without help) — they can’t cut back,” he said. “We want to help.”

Hawell said problem gamblers go through four phases:

• The winning phase.

• The losing phase.

• The desperation phase.

• Then comes hopelessness and helplessness, he said.

Going to extremes to cover up problem

Most problem gamblers can go only about two years before they’re found out. Some have credit card bills sent to a post office box away from their home. A local businessman said he did that for several years before his wife found out.

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